Charlie Feldman started to experience paranoid schizophrenia while in college. Like many other people these days, he has been able to recover from this illness through such things as medication, support from both peers and professionals, work, volunteer work, and spirituality. Charlie has written his recovery story to document what it was like going through the illness, as well as to give people an understanding that recovery is possible. While still living with this illness, Charlie is no longer affected by the symptoms. Throughout the illness, and the hard times leading to recovery, Charlie’s main interest was in finding meaning in life, which he now finds through his spirituality and community.
To read Charles Feldman’s story from the beginning, go here.
Editor’s note: In the previous chapter, Charles Feldman began to rebuild his life free from the worst symptoms of his illness. In this final chapter of his recovery story, Charles finds his spiritual home.
I found out about a consumer organization that had been formed, then called the Coalition of Consumer Self Advocates, now called Mental Health Consumer Advocates of Rhode Island (MHCA). They eventually convinced me to be on their board, and I have served in various positions, such as Chair and Secretary.
Then I found out about a job opening at NAMI Rhode Island. The first thing the then Executive Director, Nicki Sahlin, told me my interview, was: “Don’t worry, you have the job.” She already knew me from my other advocacy work. I have now been working for NAMI Rhode Island for fourteen years, the longest job I have ever held. My responsibilities have increased gradually over the years. I work twenty hours a week, in addition to volunteering to help facilitate a support group. I also got elected as the NAMI Consumer Council Representative from Rhode Island.
From my antiwar and socialist advocacy in college, to my anarchist advocacy through my thought waves during my psychosis, I have mostly ended up doing mental health advocacy. I am a founder and have been Chair of the Save Our Mental Health Services (SOS) Coalition, of which both NAMI and MHCA are members. I have recently attended some antiwar meetings, after realizing that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are eating up the money that could be going to mental health and other services.
I have joined the board of directors of the Rhode Island ACLU, due to my concerns with undercover infiltration of innocent organizations, as well as other issues. People often laugh at me when I bring this up.
I hope that I am being paranoid, because if I am, then it is not really happening. My current opinion, in my recovery, is that my background of paranoia has allowed me to pick up on things that other people miss, such as people subtly putting down the political or religious group they are in, and in various ways encouraging others not to participate. As an aside, when I was actively psychotic, it did not occur to me that anyone was in an undercover spy agency.
Even though I was doing advocacy during the day, in the evening I would come home to a major identity crisis. I felt that my most important activity of the day was my political, religious, and philosophical thinking, which I would do when I was home for the evening. For a number of years I was a member of the First Unitarian Church of Providence, where I ended up doing (what else?) mental health advocacy. The First U, with its openness to ideas from many perspectives, did not give me any resolution to my identity crisis. The only place I could talk about this identity crisis was in my therapy group.
A few years ago, I found the Vedanta Society of Providence, which has a spirituality that I can actually identify with. I have finally found a spiritual home. I have learned to meditate, which I couldn’t do before. The Vedanta Society has given me something that therapy, day program trips, the consumer movement, and other advocacy, could not give me. It has given me some peace of mind and purpose in life. A few years before I found Vedanta, I had resolved my political identity crisis on my own by coming up with my two theories, the balance of ideals and the balance of authority. Now my spiritual identity crisis has been resolved, and my life is meaningful. This, for me, is the culmination of recovery.
It took me years to get to where I am. In a project I undertook for a Center for Mental Heath Services/Addiction Technology Transfer Center Leadership Institute, I found that people tend to accept their mental illness more as they get older, and feel that it has been a more worthwhile and less defeating experience. This may give younger people with mental illness something to look forward to.
When I was a kid, I lived in France for a year. There, I read a popular comic book series called Tintin. One of the books had people being shot with poison arrows, which would drive them crazy. When I read these descriptions of people with mental illness, I never thought in a million years that I would end up with a mental illness. Now I couldn’t conceive of living any other life.
I continue to advocate even in these tough times. I now believe that we all get what our karma gives us. By doing good in the world, we can eventually transcend the world. In the days when I was asking my nurse for euthanasia every week, and in the days when I made three suicide attempts, I never would have thought that I would have the fulfilling life that I now have.
I was in a weekly songwriting group once at The Providence Center, where I wrote about seventy songs in a period of a little over a year. I wrote some songs viewing mental illness from a humorous point of view. I performed at an Alternatives Conference, at The Providence Center, at a local coffee house called AS220, at a college in Connecticut, and at a national NAMI convention. When my meds changed, I stopped writing songs, but felt much better, so I think the trade-off was worth it. Now I occasionally write a spiritual or political song. Years later, I was looking at the lyrics of one of my old songs, where I wrote: “I do not live, but merely exist.”
Things have changed for me so much that I found it hard to believe that I ever felt that way. I still get anxious and depressed at times, but I now feel that these are part of normal life, and that the important thing is my spiritual search, along with my advocacy work and my relationships with family and friends. That, I feel, is recovery.
To return to Part 1 of Charlie’s recovery story, go here.