In my last blog I was questioning what appeared to be an uptick in my symptoms. I was concerned about residual schizophrenia or worse, a relapse. After visiting with my psychiatrist and having an open and frank discussion with him, I came away with a clearer understanding of what’s going on, what the meds can and can’t do, and a glimpse into my future for good measure. A year with the chems as a part of my treatment plan, and I’m still a newbie. Better to be fresh and learning than cynical and jaded. I’m in this for the long haul. I like being able to take care of myself.
The good news is that my dosages stay the same, which is fine by me. I really didn’t want to increase them. Sometimes my body and brain feel a tad slogged down by the medications. I enjoy the days when I don’t notice them working. There’s a sense of freedom there. An awareness. Much preferred over the clouded days filled with whispers, threats, and paranoia. Replacing that lonely world with one filled with hope is all new to me as of this past year, and I am grateful for it. I just had no clue that things could be better. I thought that I would be white-knuckling it through episode after episode for the rest of my life, wearing out friendships and losing reality.
While I waited for my bus to the clinic I watched a man come up the sidewalk, muttering—a disheveled, broken person, seemingly lost in conversation with no one but himself. He dug through the trash can and found a half empty coffee cup, popped the lid, and sat down on the park bench to drink it, legs crossed, pinkie up, like a real gentleman. He spied a cigarette butt near his feet, picked it up, and lit it. He continued talking and gesturing to his imaginary friend until his coffee break was over. He stubbed out his smoke and wandered up the street.
I was that man once not long ago. I talked with invisible guests. I dug through the garbage. I affected a life that I thought reflected the trappings of a normal person. Not to the degree that this morning’s traveller exhibited, or so I tell myself, but kindred spirits nonetheless. Same coin, different sides of the street. One stumbling through psychosis, the other riding towards hope. In my past he would have been a projection of myself, a spirit, a composite of all of my difficulties cobbled together to form an entity I could hang a notion on when the hallucinations started. Today, my heart just went out to him. I knew the world he was in, I share that world with him. My prayer was that he could find his way out from under and seek the kind of help that I’m currently receiving.
The medications help to manage my delusions and hallucinations, aid in organizing my scattered thoughts, and keep a lid on my agitation. Manage, not eliminate. The symptoms will always be there behind the meds. When they’re working I won’t experience the paranoid delusions, I won’t hear the voices, I won’t misinterpret reality. Under stress, the symptoms may leak through briefly. I have my therapist, my psychiatrist, and my case manager to talk about these upticks with when they occur, just as I used to before medication. I have my two best friends to check in with. Keeping my support network close and informed is to my advantage.
What the medicine won’t help with is my reduced affect, alogia, or avolition. The negative symptoms are here to stay, but with the positive symptoms in check they’re easier to manage. I don’t feel as overwhelmed. I can keep things in perspective. I’m not conversing in disorganized speech. I’m a little slow on the uptake, but not so much that I can’t stay in the conversation. Get me talking and I’m good to go. I can make sense. I can get past my shyness. I can contribute to the stream of life. Because I’m not battling demons. Literally. They aren’t there on those days when the medicine and my body are in harmony.
So it’s a matter of dealing with schizophrenia through this treatment plan of drugs and talk therapy, of maintaining a healthy diet and exercise, and of staying plugged in to the things that bring me joy. I like to watch the Marvel superhero movies. I love a good romantic comedy. I enjoy the occasional coffee date, as well as my weekly breakfasts out with friends.
I’m coming to terms with my mental illness, step by step. My fractured mind will always be so, and I understand that now. The choice to be gentle with it, to nurture it and treat it with respect, is what I can do if I want a new normal that works for me.