A friend of mine from Africa has died from AIDS. This news has hit me hard. It was not completely unexpected. His home country variously is said to have a life expectancy of 34 for women and 37 for men, or according to the World Bank, 58. I have not seen my friend since 2002. Since then, he married and had three children who are now orphans (his wife died of AIDS too).
When I learned the news I was triggered to think of the past, possibilities and synchronicities that I have experienced over the years. There have been many. When I had my first two episodes I thought it was because of a deep spiritual connection to this person. Nonetheless, I would religiously take my medications because, as a friend had very reasonably pointed out to me, what if it’s not spiritual and it is due to biochemical changes in the brain? I am someone who likes to cover all the bases, so I have always taken my meds.
Lately, I have begun to notice a correlation between death and my episodes. Some friends alluded to the possibility that I might have a psychic ability. A connection in Africa died around the time of my first episode (although I didn’t know of her death until later). I had a miscarriage around the time of my second. My third had no known correlation, but my fourth and fifth respectively preceded the deaths of my Dad and my Mom by about a week. There were no other episodes. Now I find myself wondering: it is a year since my friend died, but other than noticing that his letters had stopped, I had had no such premonition.
Maybe it is biochemical. Some people have hypothesized that it is viral. Others say it’s genetic. All agree that you should stay on your medications.
Yesterday I was cleaning out my filing cabinet when I came across one of those fridge magnet words that people write poems and messages with. This one was short but meaningful. ‘Fly’. The question in my mind was, as always, where? Although I can handle myself in my friend’s African country, I have more to lose since having my son. Risks I used to laugh at are ones I dare not take any more. So is this a synchronicity or, as my son would say, just another meaningless statistical probability?
On hearing the news of my friend’s death I let myself cry while listening to a recently purchased John Denver CD. Somehow “Sunshine on my Shoulders” flooded me with memories of Africa that poured out into tears. I would now never get to ask my friend so many questions that had needed answering. As with previous episodes I have had, all the songs took on a literal meaning: “I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane” and “Country Road Take Me Home” to name a couple. When the synchronicities start going overboard I have to keep myself in check. Otherwise all grounding is lost and life becomes an intense series of wandering directionless thoughts.
Given that I currently feel the potential to have an episode I will review here what I do to stay grounded. The following are my rules for avoiding or minimizing an episode.
- Take your medications as prescribed. Use a dosette so you’ll notice if you miss any days.
- Eat properly and drink lots of water. This means fruits, veggies and at least one protein source every day.
- Get to bed on time and make sure you get a good night’s sleep.
- Take care of your personal hygiene. Now, more than ever, it is important to have structure. Have your shower first thing in the morning. Brush your teeth right after meals. I find there is a certain amount of truth to the old adage “If I look good, I feel good.”
- Take care of your household chores. Clean the apartment, do the laundry, get groceries.
- Reach out to friends and family. Giving your life structure, laughter and normalcy helps to make it so.
- Go to work if you have a job where you can function with a low level of distraction, otherwise take a week off and, most importantly, keep yourself busy.
- Exercise every day. Cardio is exceptionally good at getting the cobwebs out of the mind. Make it part of your day’s structure if you are really confused so that you don’t forget about it or accidentally choose to do something else. I find exercise useful for getting out of my mind and into my body. It’s a grounding experience.
- Do something creative that allows you to ground yourself. For me, that includes crocheting, knitting and colouring mandalas.
- Take public transit, walk or carpool instead of driving, if there’s any more than a slight fear of an episode.
- Participate in meaningful rituals. This may include going to church, sharing a meal with family or friends or going for a daily walk. For me, this time, it meant burning many years of correspondence and photos…symbolically freeing my friend’s spirit to travel where it will.
These approaches may seem self-evident to some, but when feeling an approaching episode it is useful to remind yourself of the basics. I have averted episodes by doing such grounding activities.
About Hazel Green
I am a 50 year old woman who lives in Ottawa with my 15 year old son. I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder in 2003. Prior to my diagnosis I completed two Bachelors’ of Science degrees. The second one was in an allied health care profession. I have been on disability since my diagnosis, but have worked part-time with children with disabilities. I am attempting a return to my profession as I feel greatest fulfillment when helping people. Unfortunately, stigma being what it is, and with the general fear that people have of people with a schizophrenic type diagnosis, I am very guarded as to whom I come “out” to. I long for a career where I can help people and not have to worry about people fearing me should they learn of my diagnosis. I am passionate about helping people, my family and taking care of my son. I knit, crochet and strive to think positively. I yearn for a full recovery that would allow me to work overseas in my chosen profession.