Monthly Archives: August 2012

How Metacognitive Therapy Helped Me

Today’s guest blogger is Sandra Yuen MacKay, an artist and the author of My Schizophrenic Life: The Road to Recovery from Mental Illness, a memoir about her struggle with schizoaffective disorder. She states, “This painting on the cover of my book expresses the impact of mental illness on my life – the fragmentation – but also the vivid colours symbolize my hopes and dreams.” Sandra is the recipient of the 2012 Courage to Come Back Award in the mental health category. For more information about her book, interviews, and links to her art, please visit: http://symackay.blogspot.com . Today she shares what has helped her develop insight.

How Metacognitive Therapy Helped Me

 By Sandra Yuen MacKay

When I was first diagnosed in 1980, my mind was filled with false beliefs. I denied I was ill. After stabilizing on medication and educating myself around mental illness, I gradually developed insight but I continued to go back and forth between reality and my delusionary world.

Over thirty years later, I have a very different outlook because of good things in my life, growth in self-esteem and confidence, and support from others, and have learned to let go of some very strong delusions I had. I met people who had similar past experiences within the mental health community so I felt I wasn’t alone in my struggles. I learned wellness tools from the Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP), Building Recovery of Individual Dreams and Goals through Education and Support (BRIDGES) and metacognitive therapy.

I’d like to share more about metacognitive therapy training (MCT), an innovative program developed by Steffen Moritz at the University Medical Centre Hamburg-Eppendorf in Germany and Todd Woodward, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia. Todd is also an award-winning research scientist at the BC Mental Health & Addictions Research Institute (BCMHARI) in Vancouver.

I attended a 16-session MCT program at Midtown Mental Health Team led by two staff members. The program is designed to help people to improve cognitive skills through interactive powerpoint presentations. They led the group through different exercises involving memory, logic, reasoning, and awareness. For example, we viewed a picture of an individual and tried to figure out things about him based on his appearance. But one can’t always judge a book by its cover. I discovered my perception was based on my own biases or experience. Through the program, I discovered how I might misinterpret an event, which if left unchecked, may contribute to my anxiety or false belief systems.

For example, if I have a foreign thought, I may jump to the conclusion that someone is sending me a telepathic message or controlling my mind, which may make me anxious. Instead, if I retrain my thinking and realize it is a symptom of my illness or has another explanation, I am better able to dismiss it through mindfulness or by distracting myself.

Or if I’m walking down the street and I hear a stranger swear, I might think the person is angry at me. However, maybe he’s having a bad day, on a cellphone, or talking to himself. Just because he said something, doesn’t mean it has anything to do with me but may be more to do with him or the situation or circumstance.

The powerpoint modules in this program are available on the internet, however, I found it much more beneficial to do the exercises with others and be led through it with the aid of staff. It was insightful to hear the other participants’ interpretations and suggestions. By questioning myself, I can recognize symptoms more readily and see experiences from different angles rather than seeing only my point of view. MCT may not cure me, but it is a very useful wellness tool.

So if you have a group or know a mental health team that might want to get started with the MCT program, you may contact Todd Woodward at todd.woodward@ubc.ca

Or for more info, visit: http://www.heretohelp.bc.ca/publications/cbt/alt/3 – article on MCT

http://uke.de/mkt – program modules and materials

I Had Insight Into My Recovery

This post is from one of our guest contributers who shares a turning point in his recovery journey. Zerom is a Peer Support Worker and author of two books: “Not Guilty but not Free” and “Alone in the Crowd.”

I Had Insight Into My Recovery

By Zerom Seyoum

I have been suffering from mental illness called paranoid schizophrenia. The medications do work and offer relief but always to a degree. The first medications I took were effective mainly in blocking the voices but not the paranoia. The medications had terrible side effects. So I kept saying I am doing very well although some of my treatment team found it difficult to agree. The psychiatrist decided to keep me on the same treatment. I kept complaining of the side effects. My psychiatrist did everything else to alleviate the pain but changing the medication. My psychiatrist left for another city and a new psychiatrist was assigned to me. I told him that I was doing very well and that I had recovered. My life experience was: any sick person would take medications and gets well in two weeks or in a month or six months or cease to live. I had no experience with a sick person who would take medications through out his life.  So the psychiatrist believed me and took me off the medications as I requested. It was a big relief from the side effects. But I had difficult sleeping although I was on sleeping medications. It took only two or three months to be deluded with paranoia again. I experienced again the same symptoms as my first experience with schizophrenia. All the delusions I was experiencing were realities to me. A close staff approached me and told me that staff were saying I was very sick and he asked me to tell him how I was feeling. I told him I was doing fine.  I trusted him and told him that the hospital was the one hiring mercenaries to kill me or to drive me crazy and that I would keep on fighting it. Medications wouldn’t fight for me. I didn’t know that he would report this to my treatment team. The delusions, fear of everybody outside me, were eternal torture. But I preferred this eternal torture to being put back on the same medications and suffer from the excruciating side effects.  Unfortunately/fortunately what I feared came to be realized.  The psychiatrist concluded that I was sick again and he put me on the same medications I was put on before.  But this time he gave me the same medication in injection form and not pills. My delusions gradually vanished. I was relieved from the paranoid delusions I was suffering from. Besides this time, the medications had very little side effects compared to the pills. For the first time I knew I couldn’t go without the medications. For the first time I had insight to my mental illness.  

 But due to the medications or the illness or the hospital environment, I was unable to concentrate for more than an hour a day on the French language correspondence course I was taking at the hospital. Then an hour later I couldn’t remember what I read or learned. I said to myself, “not to worry; one day I will be out of the hospital. Nobody will force me to take these medications and I will join a university and get my PhD or at least MSc and live a good normal life like the other people.”

It took me a while to learn that I have changed and that I will never be able to tackle life as I once did. I came to know I was different from whom I was before I was sick. I came to know I couldn’t do what I was able to do before I got sick. For the first time I was able to have insight to my mental illness. And I dropped all the dreams of PhD or MSc. Once I knew this, I stared the long journey to recovery.

 In the hospital I had no hope. I had no future. I had no dream.  Everyday and night I was thinking of ending my life.  I used to dream about it. In fact I attempted three unsuccessful times. Eventually, I left the hospital.

With the support of one mental health organization, I was placed in a one bed room apartment. I started a new life different from what I knew in the hospital. There was nobody I could talk to. There was nobody I could laugh with. Days and nights were very long. Although I had it all !!, everything became meaningless and redundant. I had too much time in my hands and nothing to do. There was no social life. I kept attending one mental health social club for two to three hours a day. But I couldn’t win a friend. I had a visit, one day a week, from out-reach workers. But the extra time and loneliness reached the highest point in my life. I concluded that the best thing for me was to end my life. My apartment was in the second floor and one day I went to the balcony to throw myself down to the cement ground to my death.  To my surprise, for the first time in my schizophrenic life, I was scared of death. Sweat started running down my cheeks. I looked back and looked at my room. I had everything I ever needed. Above all I had freedom which I was deprived of when I was in the hospital.  For the first time I had value for my life.  This made me think of better things than death. Once I had insight to life with mental illness, I started thinking of ways I could volunteer and contribute and be productive. I started the long journey of recovery.

A short time later I was admitted to a peer support worker training. It was not easy because I was falling asleep in class while attending the training and I had difficult remembering what I learned afterwards. Whenever we had a break one classmate used to bug (annoy) me saying, “I saw you. You were sleeping in class.” I also used to sleep on the bus on my way to class and back. Once I had a Starbucks coffee in my hand and I fell asleep on the bus. One of the passengers thought I would spill the coffee on him and woke me up and said, “I guess the coffee is not helping.” I studied the course day and night. I gave it all I could. Best of all I won a friend and I successfully completed the training. I obtained a part-time job as a peer support worker. Ever since I have been sharing hope with my clients. Working as a peer support worker has speeded up my recovery. Helping clients who are going through what I went through has given me self-satisfaction and self-esteem.  There is no contribution and a more productive thing than helping a person who feels he has no hope for recovery, no future, no dreams and who feels lonely and alone. I am a good listener and a close companion to each of my clients. Isn’t that what a peer means?

25 years later, I still take medications four times a day and another medications in injection form twice a month. I tell you, I know when my recovery started but I have no idea when it ends.