Living Life with Schizophrenia
“It’s been a long road and I have struggled in the past with work and living arrangements, but now I live independently, drive myself to work and manage all my own affairs” states Fred Botruff, a 53-year-old man living with schizophrenia. Fred provides hope to many who are struggling with finding recovery. “Recovery is possible, just don’t give up” shares Fred. I met Fred two months ago when I began my internship at Genesis House in Fowlerville, Michigan. Genesis House is a clubhouse for adults who suffer from mental illness. The clubhouse model (Clubhouse International) provides psychosocial rehabilitation and offers a work-ordered day for members who are striving for independence. Clubhouses provide social support as well as employment assistance to members who are interested and feel ready. Clubhouses are a stepping stone for adults who are building and rebuilding their lives after a diagnosis of mental illness.
I had the opportunity to interview Fred and learned more than I could ever imagine.
Emily Hicks: How would you describe yourself?
Fred Botruff: I am reserved and shy. But I am getting better. I am much better than I used to be.
EH: How old were you when you were diagnosed?
FB: I was in my early 20’s.
EH: How did you know that something was going on with you?
FB: When I was in my late teens, my brother began to tell me that I was doing things that I had no memory of doing. It’s really weird to have a part of your personality that you don’t know what they are doing or saying.
EH: Wow. That sounds scary. How did you handle it?
FB: I went into a psychiatric hospital when I was about 21 and they diagnosed me with paranoid schizophrenia.
EH: Did you know what that was?
FB: Yeah because my dad is schizophrenic, so I knew about it.
EH: How did you handle the diagnosis?
FB: Not well at first. I didn’t want to admit that I was sick. I fought it for a long time. Once I admitted that I was sick, life got much easier.
EH: What was life like living with your diagnosis?
FB: Well, it was really tough at first. I was in and out of hospitals, mainly because I would skip doses of my medication, or the medication wasn’t right yet. They had to change my meds a lot, but once they found the right combination and I was taking them regularly, I got much better.
EH: Were you able to live alone?
FB: Not at first. I lived with my mom and step-dad as a kid, then I lived with my brother and I also lived with my biological father.
EH: Was that hard, since he is schizophrenic?
FB: No, it was fine. He was on medication so I never was affected by his illness. I never saw his schizophrenia in a bad way.
EH: So, if your dad seemed normal to you, why was it hard for you to accept your diagnosis?
FB: Mainly because I didn’t feel sick. I had a hard time realizing that I had a lifetime illness. I really just wanted to be well and it was hard to accept that I wasn’t.
EH: How would you describe your battle?
FB: During my 20’s, 30’s and early 40’s, I was pretty depressed. I slept a lot. I tried to get used to my medication but because I didn’t always take it the way I was supposed to, I ended up in the psych ward a few times.
EH: How did things turn around for you?
FB: I found out about Genesis House from my brother’s neighbor and I started coming in 2013. My life started coming together and I became much more independent.
EH: How did coming to Genesis help you the most?
FB: I would say the biggest help was with social support. Having a place to come every day, and a place where I could work (volunteer) in the kitchen really helped me build my social skills. I also got help with employment. I worked with transitional employment at County Mental Health as a mail courier, then I worked for Old Navy and finally, I got an independent job at Kroger and recently I got the job as the van driver for Genesis House.
EH: How is life going now?
FB: Great. I am living in my own apartment, pay all my own bills, drive, grocery shop, cook and take care of all my own needs.
EH: What would you say is one of your biggest accomplishments?
FB: A few years ago, I spoke in front of 250 people at the Michigan Clubhouse conference. I shared my story. I spoke about living with schizophrenia and how the clubhouse helped me get into the workforce, keep a job, and live independently for the first time in my life.
EH: Do you have any advice for someone who might be recently diagnosed with schizophrenia or any other mental illness?
FB: Don’t lose hope. Do what your doctors tell you. Go to your appointments, take your medication and keep trying. Life gets easier. Don’t let your diagnosis stop you from setting and reaching your goals in life. If I can do it, you can too. Just don’t give up!
Honestly, engaging in this conversation with Fred opened my eyes to recovery from mental disease. I was not sure really what it meant to say you were in “recovery” considering that the illness does not go away. I have learned that recovery means to take charge of your life, to learn to live with the illness, and to gain coping strategies that help build life skills for healthy living!
Fred Botruff was born in 1964 in Detroit, Michigan. He is a high school graduate and a long-term resident of Hazel Park, Michigan. Fred enjoys bowling, visiting his brother and family, snowmobiling, going out to eat and hanging out with friends at Genesis Clubhouse. Fred is very passionate about cars and driving and he especially enjoys the annual auto show held in Detroit. Fred currently lives in Fowlerville, Michigan.