The Medicine is Working

By September 29, 2016Blog

Some mornings I wake up and think, “I can make it today. I feel like a normal person.” What naturally follows is the thought that I’m not mentally ill and that I could stop taking these meds and get on with my life. As if in response to such folly, I find myself badgered by nervous patterns, little mini-reminders of delusional thinking. Out of the blue there’s some symptomatic “leakage” offering a nanosecond of comparison to the medicated me, and I stop and think, when clarity affords itself, “I feel better because the medicine is working.”

Statistics show that most relapses occur when the client feels stable enough that they forget what life is like without medication. I’m only eight months into using my current meds after breaking down last winter, but the symbiosis appears to be holding steady. And yet I still experience the aforementioned leakage which acts as a reminder of where I don’t want to be. So I take the pills and stay closely monitored by my psychiatrist.

Emotional flatness. Weight gain. Anxiety. Loss of libido. Side effects that frustrate me every day, and yet somehow the tradeoff seems reasonable. On the one hand it’s psychosis and hospitals; on the other it’s smooth sailing with only a modicum of doubt. The choice seems obvious.

I’ve grown weary of the derogatory statement “Off their meds” for the stigma it perpetuates, but that’s where the barb embeds itself, in the soft tissue of self confidence. If the public had any idea what it’s like to be on said meds and why, perhaps the gibe would fall flat and be interpreted as the insult that it is. I see the Queen of Hearts shouting wildly, “Off with their meds!” But there’d have to be a reason.

If I wanted to stop taking the medicine for a legitimate health concern, say, the onset of Tardive Dyskinesia, my doctor and I could put a plan into effect which could wane me off the medications over time. Better than electing to go cold turkey on my own and run the risk of damaging my body and my brain. But so far, so good. I’m getting past the point where TD is a consideration, which is a relief. It’s all about remaining flexible in my thinking, running the same kind of life that I would were I not mentally ill. A nutritious diet. Regular sleep. Exercise. I don’t need to be Superman, I just need to be healthy. Talk therapy in conjunction with the medicine— always a good idea. Self-care includes a lot of outside help. Taking a proactive stance in my treatment is something to be proud of.

I didn’t always see it this way. I used to take the position that all medicines were bad for me because they would take away my personality. Watching my friends laugh when I tell a joke, having them compliment me when I write a new piece, these are indicators that I’m not a lifeless zombie.

I used to believe that there was nothing wrong with me, that I didn’t have a mental illness. I never looked at my life through the lens of a loved one who wondered why their brother/uncle/son was so eccentric and obtuse, withdrawn and hyper, anxious and depressed, and socially awkward. It was never me, it was them, or so I thought. When my former boss suggested that I seek help after watching my work and attendance slide, I felt insulted at the suggestion that an Employee Assistance Program was being offered to me. Apprehensive, I saw my first therapist for the requisite three sessions paid for by insurance. Later I found myself working with a different therapist who had a sliding scale, which afforded me the chance to increase my sessions to twice weekly, helping me to bond further and benefit from it.

As I learned more about myself, I learned more about my illness. My diagnosis of schizophrenia hit me like a ton of bricks, but on closer inspection, it made perfect sense. When I’d suffered through my most recent psychotic break and subsequent suicide attempt, and then agreed to medication, my life changed for the better. I was no longer in resistance to the reality of my situation. I accepted that the doctors knew more about my illness than I did, that they had a perspective which put them in the unique position to help me. All I had to do was accept that help and quit white- knuckling it through one episode after another, one more trip to the hospital, one more round of shame.

Some mornings I wake up and say to myself, “I can make it today despite being mentally ill,” and some mornings I don’t need to say anything at all. Because the medicine is working.

16 Comments

  • Annemarie says:

    You are strong and brave Nd I feel your pain! I have to cope, struggle daily!

    • Henry Boy says:

      Thank you, Annmarie. We do have to cope, and there are many positive ways in which to do so. That’s a good reminder you’ve presented there. I hope your struggles lessen over time. Mine have, although different things trigger certain symptoms still. Stay strong!

  • Mari B says:

    I am looking to again change the terms used: I am not mentally ill–my mind is fine, even brilliant, despite having sought and gotten a psychiatric diagnosis of manic-depressive/bi-polar. “Psyche” means “soul”–there is a deeper, richer, broader set of meanings here. I like terms like “psychiatric disorder” (actually, practically ever dis- word applies, such as distress, discomfort, dis-ease–note hyphen, discombobulation.) Most people who are diagnosed “bi-polar” are highly intelligent, even geniuses–even though there are other people, with PTSD, depression, etc, who are of other grades of intelligence. I am glad the medicine is working for this writer–for 10 years, psyche-meds worked for me, then not. Right now, I am keeping my life together with lots of vitamins, etc. I am concerned that some people have gained 100 lbs with psyche-meds, and become diabetic. I think that we are still a marginalized population, and the drug-developers don’t care enough about us as a group–many of us don’t work, but get government aid, or are otherwise poor, and having a hard enough time keeping our own lives together, we aren’t able to organize to fight this oppression. Better than being considered possessed by devils, or shut up in the attic, but still…

    • Henry Boy says:

      Thank you for your comment, Mari. I agree with you that we are a marginalized population, but until mental health is on par with medical health, we will need to continue with grassroots groups and the assistance of larger organizations (like NAMI and NIMH) to break the stigma and discrimination. Slowly but surely there’s a change being made—we’re a part of it!

  • smileandrelax says:

    This piece is very wide-ranging. I want to focus here on two statements you made, the first being “statistics show that most relapses occur when the client feels stable enough that they forget what life is like without medication.” And the second: “I used to take the position that all medicines were bad for me because they would take away my personality.”

    I volunteer at a family support group that meets weekly at a state psychiatric hospital. One of the most frequent questions asked is how to help a family member become compliant with (or as you put it, “no longer resistant to”) treatment.

    I think it is obvious that inadequate attention is given to the lost sense of meaning and purpose experienced by most patients who start their treatment with strong doses of affect-dulling meds. You mentioned feeling ashamed after hospitalisation. It was also my experience that hospitalisation occurred after illness and failures in decision making in early adulthood. I also felt depressed, hopeless, and ashamed. I’m pretty sure that I only persevered with treatment – meds and talk therapy – because my psychiatrist and therapist both instilled in me a sense of hope that my life would improve with time. Perhaps just as critically, my family insisted on my getting back to work and school as soon as it was feasible, even though that means increased pressure and stress and was a risky strategy. Work and school provided meaning, purpose, and accomplishment – not at all at once, and not even steadily – but, interspersed with failure and struggle, at least the experience of being a genuine agent in the world with something to contribute and to receive from life.

    I think in terms of motivating patients – family members or friends or work colleagues or neighbors – to seek and stay in treatment, it is essential to realise that each person has to find intrinsic reasons to keep on going… meaningful experiences that make life worth living and the hardships of side effects, particularly, worth enduring.

    • Marc Rios-Klein says:

      I really respect your reply to Henry. I worked for 25 years at a state psychiatric hospital, and I really feel that you nailed the “intrinsic” issue of self-value and the motivation and hope that evolves from that centered and supported approach to life! Great feedback!!

    • Henry Boy says:

      Thanks for weighing-in, smileandrelax; it’s always good to hear from you. That sense of hope that life would improve with time was also instilled in me by my therapist, and after my recent hospitalization, the care team as well. Having a life to look forward to was so important to my mental health and my sense of self. It took a long time for me to become compliant to pharmaceutical treatment, having had a handful of negative experiences early on (the lost sense of meaning and purpose which you addressed). This round seems to be working, hence the focus in this week’s blog.

      Your insight into maintaining motivation and creating meaningful experience really resonates with me. Thank you. I hope you consider submitting your story to BC2M if you haven’t already. Cheers!

      • smileandrelax says:

        You’re joking, right? I’m weak on brevity.

        • Henry Boy says:

          No, I’m not joking. Submissions are usually around 500 words, and I think you probably have a good, solid story to tell. It takes a while for the staff to sift through submissions (they receive a lot of them), but I’ll bet yours would be seen. You have a way with words, smileandrelax. Something to consider.

  • Linda says:

    Henry always appreciate you writing. Thank you for educating millions

  • Marc Rios-Klein says:

    Dear Henry,
    First of all, thank you for yet another heartfelt sharing with all of us readers/admirers on BC2M. You cannot realize the trememdous impact that you are truly having on those who get the opportunity to read your blogs!

    I did, as promised (to myself) go back and read a number of your earliest blogs, and then picked random ones with your catchy titles (that was almost all of them actually) to also read as you have continued to evolve forward in your increasing mental wellness….like the rest of us, trying to figure it out, day by day. I see the series of trials and tribulations that you have been through; some internal and some systemic. You are really a thriver, not just a survivor, Henry. Your quest for a healthier world to exist in, to feel a sense of groundedness with purpose, is felt in the most soulful way I believe another human can communicate these thoughts and feelings with others.

    I am so very happy for you that you are not tormented any longer at the depths in which you struggled. I know that this does not mean; you’re cured, but moreso like cancer; the illness is abated and put into a state of remission where it’s intensity is not longer negatively impacted your world in horrific ways. Psychiatric medications are far from perfect. Like any medication which I take (and I fill a 7-day pill dispenser every Friday), the potential of side effects is there as a reality. This includes Sudafed, Tylenol, any antibiotic….basically all synthetic agents. However, my rule of thumb is to weigh, as you have, the benefits versus losses from it’s entry into my body. I choose to not have my reflux react regularly. I cannot use my willpower to control my blood pressure. Psychiatric conditions are no different in that regard and imbalances of bio-chemicals in our bodies is akin to a wheel on a washing machine being imbalanced against the other 3. The washer bounces all over in reaction. The trade-off for someone facing deep depression and/or psychosis is more significant than me having gastrointestinal eruptions for not taking my Aciphex; as mood and thoughts can be altered, and rather quickly, as my experience has shown. All those, yourself included, who have weighed out these trade-offs in their own lives, have hopefully allowed themselves to “grieve” that process, talk about it with others they trust, and gain support for the mature adult decisions they’ve made behind the scenes!!!!

    And yes, btw, your writing DID get much more coherent and focused over time…however it was honest from the outset for sure. Take good care Henry. Maybe one day, we’ll get to meet. I have only been to Seattle and Washington for that matter one time, and had a blast to say the least. Loved the city and the surrounding area….and the great seafood to boot!!!!!

    • Henry Boy says:

      Thanks for the comments, Marc…benefits vs losses for the win!

      Your washer analogy actually fits in very nicely with my day-to-day living. I am fortunate enough to have a washer in my unit. At two points during any given wash cycle I need to stop the machine to re-set it, or perhaps more accurately *realign* it. Once per cycle I pause it for fabric softener. The meds and I work on a similar paradigm: the anti-psychotics “re-set” my perception and the mood stabilizers and my PRN both soften reality for me. As smileandrelax intimated, it’s all about maintenance.

      I’m humbled, and I appreciate, that you went back through the digest and read some of my earlier blogs. It compels me to write when people let me know that the blog matters to them—the feedback feels essential. So thank you very much.

  • Todd says:

    I’ve learned something about stopping my medication for Bipolar I. It took a 3 year long manic episode with psychotic features to get it. I’ve told all my professional care providers and family, friends, “If my judgement and decision making abilities are so poor that I would choose to stop some or all of my meds, I am already I’ll.” Mostly, I don’t need atypical antipsychotics. I have some really extreme side effects with many, equilibrioceptive hallucinations, triple vision, increased hallucinations or delusions, etc. I decided to be proactive, and now atypicals are listed in all my physicians allergy list. There is one I will take to reboot my brain, but I must take a half dose only. These decisions are made, always, with my psychiatrist’s involvement. I do have Type II diabetes. The one atypical that I will take does cause havoc with my blood glucose and is extremely sedating. The half dose worked last time, and it only took a week worth. I must take medication. Thank you for this perspective, and even though we have different diagnoses, we do have this common denominator. Sexual side effects are distressing and at times depressing. The feeling that the “real me” is hidden underneath the meds is valid, but as you said and in my opinion, “Fat and happier. Poor libido, etc., yes, but where there is will there is a way.”

    • Henry Boy says:

      Thanks for your comment, Todd. I’m glad that you address proactivity with respect to your personal pharmaceutical care and involvement with your professional team. Advocating for ourselves is paramount. And yeah, side effects *can* be distressing, but I like your positive attitude. Acceptance is key. Thanks again for writing in!

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