Stories of Hope: An Interview with Rebecca Chamaa
This is part of a series featuring individuals who share their life experiences with mental health issues. Recently, I asked author and blogger Rebecca Chamaa about her history of mental health challenges and about some of her current advocacy work. Here’s our interview:
DS: Tell us about when you first started becoming aware of concerns related to your mental health. How did these issues continue to affect you before you sought treatment?
RC: For several years in my twenties I was treated for depression. I was on antidepressants when I started to become increasingly suspicious, fearful and paranoid. I believed there was a conspiracy against me. I thought my cigarettes, coffee and food were all poisoned. I stopped eating much of anything. I couldn’t sleep.
These symptoms increased until I was fully psychotic (lost touch with reality), terrified, and eventually hospitalized. In the hospital it took seven days for the antipsychotic medication to start working and for the terror and paranoia to begin to subside.
Although I had had some previous problems with depression, no one was aware of the extent of my issues until that time. After I was stabilized in the hospital, I then started treatment with a psychiatrist. I was initially given the diagnosis of bipolar disorder. It would be nearly two decades later before I received the diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia.
DS: What was the turning point that led you to decide to seek help?
RC: At first, I denied the severity of my illness and went on and off medication. It was falling in love with my current husband and a suicide attempt that pushed me to become serious about my medication and overall treatment.
DS: What has your treatment consisted of, and what have you found that has worked well for you?
RC: My husband and I work as a team to help me live the best life I can. He attends all of my doctor’s appointments with me and takes charge of my medications. My husband and I make sacrifices in order to protect my mental health on a daily basis. I take my medications very seriously as well as getting enough sleep, eating right, exercising, eliminating as much stress as possible and creating a very calm and routine environment.
We eat meals around the same time every day because my medication must be taken with food. Eating meals at the same times often means we turn down later dinner with friends, or if we do go, we forgo eating because we had our meal much earlier. We also try to keep a routine in terms of sleeping which can mean earlier nights and early bedtimes. Another thing we sacrifice is our love of travel. I frequently have a difficult time when traveling so we choose our trips wisely and don’t take adventures as much as we used to.
DS: How are things going for you now? What have you learned that has helped you stay positive and healthy?
RC: I take my medications seriously. I feel like they are a life saver. I have also learned that I have real limits that other people don’t have and I need to live inside those limits in order to stay healthy. Some of my symptoms have increased with age and others have diminished or lessened. I have active symptoms daily, but with the help of my husband and a stable routine the impact isn’t as severe as it could be.
I am a happy and hopeful person and I try to keep a positive attitude. I don’t feel sorry for myself and I think that goes a long way in helping me have a sense of gratitude for the good things in my life – I have been married to a great guy for almost twenty years – many people can’t manage that even without a severe mental illness so that is a joy and accomplishment I am forever thankful for.
DS: Tell us about your blog, your book and social media activities.
RC: I wrote a short book of prose and poetry where I try to give the reader a glimpse into my life with schizophrenia (it is available on Amazon). I keep a blog called ajourneywithyou.com where I write about the daily ups and downs of living with schizophrenia. I also write about things that interest me. I have a blog on Psych Central too but I have to admit I’m not great at keeping it up to date. I had a column in a literary magazine called Drunken Boat about the intersection between creativity and mental illness. You can still find the articles I wrote for them on Medium.
I have written dozens and dozens of articles about living with schizophrenia you can find them on The Mighty, on OC87 Recovery Diaries, Stigma Fighters, and many others. The essays I am the most proud of have nothing to do with living with schizophrenia though. I wrote an essay titled, “The Extraordinary Ordinary Death” in an online magazine, Angel’s Flight: Literary West that I think is my very best piece.
DS: What would you like to say to encourage others who are still working on their journey of recovery?
RC: I don’t feel as if I have “recovered.” It is true that I am not actively psychotic but I live with symptoms of schizophrenia every day and it is a challenge. I think finding something you love to do and finding people who support you are the best things you can do for yourself along with following your doctor’s advice for medical treatment.
Rebecca Chamaa spent a large portion of her life as a social worker. Now, because of the symptoms of her illness, she works from home as a freelance writer. She wrote the book, “Pills, Poetry and Prose: Life with Schizophrenia,” and she has two blogs: one on ajourneywithyou.com and one on Psych Central. She has written and published dozens of essays about living with schizophrenia. You can find her in California riding out earthquakes and enjoying the sun. Connect with Rebecca via her blogs, Facebook, or on Twitter.
Thanks so much to Rebecca for sharing her terrific story of hope!
Would you like to share your story of hope? I plan to feature more personal accounts like this from time to time on my blog. If you are interested in sharing your story, please notify me via my contact page. Also, please subscribe to my blog and feel free to follow me on Twitter, “like” my Facebook page, or connect on LinkedIn. Thanks!