Lecturer at the University of Miami School of Nursing and Health Studies, Secretary for the National Alliance on Mental Illness
Living with schizophrenia

Since initially facing uncertainty following his diagnosis of schizophrenia as a young adult, Carlos has found a stronger sense of purpose and service from having a mental health condition. He attributes much of his journey to stability to the care of his mother and to NAMI. He stays well through a healthy lifestyle, peer support, and community. Now, he works to speak out about his experience and encourage others in similar situations.

Carlos’s Story

When were you first aware of your condition?  What was your most difficult time?

Schizophrenia has profoundly changed my life. Initially, it de-railed me from a normal course of development and achievement, but ultimately, I have been able to make sense of the experience through a new sense of purpose and dedication to my work and mission. I first started experiencing psychotic symptoms in my final year of college, however I experienced prodromal symptoms as early as high school.

The most difficult time was a period of acute psychosis and the period shortly after my diagnosis. This was when I was most sick and most unsure of what my life would be like with schizophrenia.

What is your life like now?  What does living well look like for you?

I currently work as a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner providing care for patients. I teach at the University of Miami and Miami Dade College. I serve my community through non-profit board membership and engage in research-related activities.

Living well means enjoying my life and work. I enjoy traveling domestically and internationally, engaging in creative activities such as writing and performing music, and staying physically active. I enjoy my relationships with friends and family, and I appreciate these activities without taking for granted my capacity to do so.

Who in your life or what specific strategies helped you to get well and move to stability?   

My mother has been the person that most helped me to get well and move into stability. She advocated for me to get care during the period where I was psychotic and most vulnerable. She encouraged me early on to own the experience and encouraged me to speak out about it, write about it, and work towards helping others who have been less fortunate then myself in their recoveries.

NAMI has also been instrumental in my ability to get well and move to stability. NAMI provided a safe space where I could speak about my experience without shame or guilt. I met professional mentors and others in recovery who encouraged me to take on leadership roles. Lastly, it has provided a means for making a more significant impact in my community than I could do alone.

What do you do to manage your condition and stay healthy on an ongoing basis?

I manage my condition by taking mediations (which are a necessity for me), checking in with my psychiatrist, and engaging in peer support. Other than those medical and psychosocial interventions, I try to live as normal and healthy a life as possible. I abstain from any substances that might alter my mood, thoughts, or behaviors (except for coffee) and I try to stay physically active by going to the gym. I have also found a sense of community through my work with NAMI and a sense of purpose through serving and caring for others.

Are there positives that have come from having a mental health condition?  If so, what?

I have found a stronger sense of purpose and service from having a mental health condition. I consider myself fortunate in that I have had a good response to medication, early intervention, and appropriate resources and services in place to engage fully with my recovery. I feel a sense of duty to pay it forward to others who have not been so fortunate, and a sense of responsibility to speak up and advocate for the population that I am part of.

What encouragement or advice would you give to someone struggling with a condition similar to yours?  

The first piece of advice I would give someone struggling with a condition similar to mine is to recognize that you are not alone. These conditions are a common part of the human experience, and even in the most extreme cases, they are still fairly prevalent. Also, I would encourage the person to reach out to other people who have gone through similar experiences for mentorship and guidance. Also, if and when they feel comfortable and safe in doing so, I encourage them to share their story. This helps combat the stigma associated with mental health and also helps one make sense of their experience in their own terms.

Are there resources that helped and/or inspired you that you would recommend to others?

I was inspired by several books that I read early on during my recovery including, Crazy by Pete Early, The Center Cannot Hold by Elyn Saks, and Touched with Fire/ An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison. Surviving Schizophrenia by E. Fuller Torrey was also helpful.

Is there anything else you want to share?

I would like to share my website: www.carloslarrauri.com and my band website: www.fogdogmusic.net

The definition of “Fogdog” is the point at which light breaks through a fog. We hope our music and storytelling helps shed light on living with mental health conditions. My bandmate and I both have lived experience with schizophrenia, and we are both mental health professionals and advocates. We perform at various mental health advocacy and research conferences.

Also, I would like to encourage others to get involved with organizations such as NAMI, SAARDA, MHA or the Stability Network. These organizations are advocating for others living with mental health conditions and provide a great way to get involved and give back.