by Elizabeth Morton, a CIRCuiTS user in New Zealand
I could feel everything good floating away. Two decades into a schizophrenia diagnosis, I felt like I was being undone, nerve by nerve, dream by dream. For a long time, I bobbed along, held above water by good premorbid function and indefatigable supporters. But the charm of adolescence and young adulthood wore off, and no longer provided the imaginative script that had me getting back to ‘normal’, riding into the sunset while the credits come down and everybody claps.
A writer and an occasional academic, many of the staples of those industries have left me these last couple of years. Until recently, I struggled to read a sentence, follow a recipe, catch a bus, keep a conversation on its rails. I couldn’t watch a movie. I couldn’t read back through my own words. But I have the reckless persistence of a cockroach and have since completed an MSc in Applied Neuroscience through KCL (from an inpatient mental health facility here in New Zealand, which was quite a wild ride)! It was through this MSc that I came across the CIRCuiTS™ programme.
I was invited by my excellent mental health team to commence the CIRCuiTS™ course a month back, and am so impressed by the programme interface, the gentle easing-in, and the scope and applicability of tasks. Before my initial CIRCuiTS™ encounter, I was spooked at the prospect of formalised assessments and concerned that people around me would see me for my deficits. But CIRCuiTS™ alleviated these fears by encouraging flexible learning through making mistakes, starting over, and experimenting with a new strategy. Errors in CIRCuiTS™ do not feel like failures. Because the programme extends beyond abstract tasks, using the strategies and accomplishment goals feels real and meaningful. I am feeling more positive about both academic, occupational, and day to day goals going forward.
I am going to the supermarket. I am catching the buses.
We mental health service users are sometimes under compulsory treatment orders, put in difficult places, given meds that make us wonder who we are beneath it all, and left feeling as though we’ve lost agency within our lives and the mental health system time and time again. As a population, we have a reputation of being difficult to engage, but the CIRCuiTS™ group here seems to defy that prophecy and are congruent with our goals and what we want. We show up to the Auckland-based clinic for two hours twice a week and engage with and advocate for the strategies learned. Our group facilitators display this same 'showing up' and enthusiasm.
In a world that often feels like 'meds and beds', to me, CIRCuiTS™ feels radically different, hopeful, and transformative. I’m so glad to be aboard. It’s really early days for me but I feel like nerve by nerve, dream by dream, I’m being reclad and am beginning to plan my life again. Now that I'm in the community, I'm able to take the strategies I learned in CIRCuiTS™ to the world at large. I hope to someday be able to give something back.