My name is Sandra Yuen MacKay and I have schizoaffective disorder, a combination of schizophrenia and a mood disorder. The teenage onset of my illness was gradual–so much that I believed the voices and ideas in my head were real. Even after being diagnosed, I was entrenched in my false beliefs. Still I took my medication and fought to keep my head above water and live as normal a life as I could. My family suffered with me every time I experienced a crisis or ended up back in the hospital. It wasn't until my last major relapse at the age of 32, I realized I had to change my negativity and self-critical attitude if I was going to improve. I exercised at the gym and swam, introduced positive self-talk, learned about recovery, and rekindled my interest in painting. I began to write and get published. I made new friends. Recovery to me meant having purpose and happiness in life, finding a niche, and social inclusion. I redefined who I was as an artist, writer and public speaker. By becoming pro-active in my own recovery and aiding others by sharing my story, I evolved into a more confident, resilient, and mature Sandra.
Nowadays, when I have an interfering thought, I question it. Is it true or part of paranoia? Is it similar to other delusions I've had in the past? Am I stressed about something else which is causing me to have a symptom?
Everyone's story is different. There are mental health consumers who can't work and can't afford food or other needs even with disability assistance. But I believe recovery is possible with newer medications, improved care and supports, and increased government funding. If their basic needs are met, consumers have a better chance to recover. In British Columbia, Vancouver Coastal Health has opened over 200 new tertiary mental health beds, which will offer consumers holistic care and give them the tools to reintegrate into the community when they are ready. But there is more work to be done.
The sooner one gets help the better the prognosis. Support from family and friends was crucial in my case. First, I had to believe in myself, educate myself about mental illness and create a wellness toolbox including a daily maintenance plan to keep well, stress management, coping strategies, and access to proper medication. I recognized small successes and replaced self-stigma with a better self-image and opened the door to take on new challenges.
This year I also received the Courage to Come Back Award in the mental health category for people who have faced severe adversity, risen above it and given back to the community.
To learn more about my memoir, My Schizophrenic Life: The Road to Recovery from Mental Illness, and my art, please visit my blog at: http://symackay.blogspot.com