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Coping with serious mental illness during challenging times

Jason was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2004 and now lives with schizoaffective disorder. As a way of coping with his day-to-day symptoms during COVID-19, he has developed a strong daily routine and treatment plan. Here, he shares his perspective.

The outbreak of coronavirus has rocked my world, causing stress or worry beyond what I might normally experience with my severe mental health diagnosis. With my mental illness, I already practice some degree of self-isolation. For me, a hidden benefit of the social distancing we are now required to practice is I don’t have to change my routine drastically because of this new normal for everyone else. I was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2004 and currently live with schizoaffective disorder. As a way of coping with my day-to-day symptoms, I have worked hard to establish a daily routine that gives me purpose.

Continuing my routine has been an important part of my coping during the COVID-19 pandemic. Without a routine, my days would go by slowly, and I would lose my purpose.

Perhaps the most important part of my routine is adhering to my treatment plan. And for me, that involves going to my doctor’s office for a once-monthly injection. The office is usually a very busy place, but on my most recent visit there were only two other people in the waiting room. For added security, they had someone at the door, asking questions to make sure anyone entering the building didn’t have symptoms, and most people were wearing masks for protection. My psychiatrist informed me that we would begin doing phone appointments for our sessions. However, I still will be going for my blood work and injection. This experience let me know how serious the spread of the coronavirus can be. Everyone is affected by the changes that are taking place, and there are ways to adapt my schedule to accommodate what is going on.

With everything closed outside, there is no real limit as to how long I can sleep every day, but part of my routine is setting a clock to wake me in the morning so I can get up and get going.

Once I’m up, I follow an indoor workout on DVD that provides different experiences each day. I’ve started this new activity because the place where I take my kickboxing classes is closed, along with the fitness center at my apartment complex. Exercise and physical activity has been an important part of my routine and treatment journey. Watching the DVD and participating along with the instructor keeps me in good physical shape even though I’m doing something different.

According to the new rules of social distancing for many in the country, we should not go out except for essential services such as buying groceries. Since there are guidelines about being six feet apart when we are in lines, I was called out for being too close to another customer on my last visit to the grocery store. The cashier was correct, and I apologized for not following the new rule — it’s hard to get used to! I also noticed I was one of the few people without a mask, so my mom made one for me for next time. My family and support team have always been important to me, and I rely on them now more than ever.

With today’s technological advances, it is easy to stay in touch with family and friends. I recently had a video chat with some friends who were just checking up on how I was doing. It was good to hear from them. It is important for me to have human contact with those outside my apartment. It’s not enough to just say hello to my neighbors from my balcony, I have to feel more connected. I also continue to talk to my parents every day by phone.

Since being forgetful is one of the symptoms I deal with regularly and I can lose track of the days, I write down a daily itinerary. There was a time in my treatment journey when I put showering and brushing my teeth on my daily itinerary, but now my lists include things like groceries, self-care, and cleaning my apartment. It is important to me to practice self-care when it comes to my appearance. I also try to regularly spend time cleaning my apartment, which helps me stay organized.

Even though I have to distance myself from some of the people who care for me and there is a lot of uncertainty in the world, I am managing to cope because of my established routine, support network, and treatment plan. I have everything I need to live, and I can continue to adapt as needed.

Every story is unique. If you are an adult living with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder, talk to your doctor to figure out a treatment plan that’s right for you.

Jason is a volunteer with the SHARE Network, a Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc., program made up of people who are dedicated to inspiring others through their personal health journeys and stories of caring.

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