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.