We all need some sense of purpose in life. We may not need to feel that we were sent here on some sort of divine mission to save France from the scourge of the English, but we want to feel that our actions matter, maybe not to the entire world but to those in our own one.
For many years I did not have a purpose. I could say that schizophrenia robbed me off it, though that isn’t quite accurate. It was more that when I was diagnosed I thought the upper boundary of my life was at best maybe a part-time computer repairman and and more likely a life spent mostly on a couch staring into space. I didn’t really have a purpose because I couldn’t picture what was possible.
Things changed, though not at first. Going back to school and getting involved in research (among many other things) changed my perspective on my purpose or lack thereof. I started feeling that there were places for me in this world, places that had nothing to do with what I had been diagnosed with.
I readily admit that my self-image has not completely adjusted to all of my success. However, to say that finding a place where I could not only function but excel had an excellent effect on my morale is an understatement that will do until the next one I come up with.
I think that an important aspect of recovery and management of a mental illness is to ensure that the individual can feel like they can accomplish something in life. I think that being able to say to someone facing this sort of hard road that they can, with help, recover and live a life that is rich with friends, loved ones and achieve meaningful things.
I would never arrogantly suggest that my path is typical. Nor would I suggest that my path is the best to emulate or that I have found all that I need in regards to purpose. However, it is my hope that my story can give some hope to those sitting on couches (and their families, friends and loved ones) wondering if they can ever find a purpose. I am not saying that it will be easy, or that good times will come in all cases. I am a realist (at least I hope I am).
The trouble about finding a purpose is that even without something like having schizophrenia, one can have trouble finding it. Often one doesn’t know what one is good at and enjoy doing it until after one has tried it. I didn’t decide on that couch that I was going to go back to school and become a researcher in tertiary level technology integration and mathematics. It was a journey that has a lot to do with accident and happenstance as it did with me making concrete decisions on my future.
So how do we help others find purpose? Well we give them encouragement and hope, that’s the first step. Fighting stigma so that a person can feel that it is okay to get help and that there’s nothing wrong with having a mental illness is another Beyond that, I think we need to be flexible in how we accommodate those with mental illness in life and employment. What works for me may not work for others. However I think that the ability for me to work my own hours and having a supportive work environment really helps me thrive in my research.
I think that a better future is possible for everyone.