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The High-Functioning Schizophrenic Checklist

Recently, I read an article by Elyn Saks about successful schizophrenics. Elyn Saks is a fellow high-functioning schizophrenic who has helped research how and why some people with schizophrenia can become high-functioning and successful. This article gives a brief synopsis of the things we do to manage our illness effectively. Here’s a list I’ve written based on the article:

  • Taking medication
  • Receives therapy
  • Self-administered cognitive therapy
  • Identifying triggers
  • Controlling sensory inputs
  • Exercise
  • Healthy diet
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Avoiding drugs/alcohol
  • Being spiritual
  • Keeping the mind busy (work, video games, etc.)
  • Supporting friends/family

Taking Medication + Therapy

In my opinion, this is the foundation of staying healthy as a person with schizophrenia. Without medication to keep us level, everything else is going to fall apart. Being regular with dosages and checking in regularly with our doctor to make sure the dosage is still effective is the best way to stay level. From there, we can build on better well-being by doing all of the other recommended things on the list.

Cognitive Therapy, Identifying Triggers, Controlling Sensory Inputs

Knowing what can cause stress and heightened emotions are the first step toward mitigating situations and environments that can make psychotic symptoms more prevalent. For identifying triggers, I try my best to avoid political news and discussions. Just because I avoid political news doesn’t mean I don’t try to stay informed, but I have to be extremely careful about how I consume news and who I am trusting with the information I am taking in. I’ve gone down some pretty frightening rabbit holes because of fear-mongers like CNN and Alex Jones. For controlling my sensory inputs, I have to avoid going to events with large crowds of people. Things like concerts are especially distressing to be around not just because of the loud noises and flashing lights, but also because of the immense number of strangers around me. Being surrounded by people who I don’t know sends my brain into overdrive because it’s trying to assess whether every single one of them is a threat or not.

Healthy Diet, Exercise, Getting Enough Sleep

Sticking to my low-carb diet puts me on the fast-track toward higher functioning. Without it, everything else is insurmountably difficult. Once I’m on my low-carb diet, I can get to the gym more often, which boosts my high-functioning to an even higher level. As of this writing, I am in the process of developing a better sleep schedule, but at the very least, I am getting enough sleep. I find my productivity and symptom-reduction also gets better when I am getting enough sleep.

Avoiding Drugs/Alcohol

Fortunately, I’ve never been exposed to street drugs, but I do get a lot of enjoyment out of drinking a local craft beer. Unfortunately, it does seem to affect my ability to manage symptoms and generally makes my body feel worse. I also tend to get some pretty nasty eczema flare-ups on my face when I have more than one beer over a day or two. I suspect my body doesn’t handle alcohol well, which probably means drinking it makes my schizophrenia worse.

Keeping the Mind Busy

Ever since my schizophrenia started to develop around the age of 11, I naturally found myself playing video games more and more often. At the age of 28, when I found myself naturally no longer playing video games, I realized that between the age of 11 and 28, I was not so much a video game addict as I was looking for something to keep my mind busy. I am now 32 and have been without video games for four years now. I do not have the urge to play, because my career as an entrepreneur has filled the gap the video games did previously. Keeping busy with my work is a massive part of what keeps me healthy. Staying distracted from my symptoms helps my mind from wandering into all the distressing and toxic places a psychotic brain can take me. For this reason, I am a firm believer that if you have schizophrenia, you need a job or some video games that you love and never want to part with.

Supportive Friends/Family

Despite my pervasive inclinations to isolate myself, I sincerely appreciate the efforts my family and friends have made to be present in my life, and their patience with me when I am in my more extreme phases. Having people in my life that know me well and can help me identify when things are getting out of hand does wonders with helping me make course corrections toward better health.

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Photo Credit: Glenn Carstens-Peters

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Life is an ongoing series of lessons. Because I live with schizophrenia, my hope is that the lessons I learn and the solutions that come from those lessons will help you and anyone else dealing with schizophrenia or mental illness/mental health issues.

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