Understanding Mental Illness, and Maintenance of Such

I get physically tired sometimes, but at least I get a good night’s sleep.  This is so important for maintaining focus and energy during the day.  And when I am well-rested, I can even do my work faster than if I’m tired.

I take a medication that is incredibly sedating: Clozapine.  Don’t get me wrong… it’s a miracle of a drug for me, and it had totally changed my life.  Before starting Clozapine three years ago, my soul was crippled by the whims of my ill brain, especially after I developed schizophrenia in 2007.  I’d take my medications faithfully, but still I would relapse to hospital level.  And each time, I lost everything I had worked for, and was reduced to living at home.

It was discouraging to see my life fall apart again and again, no matter how much I focused my mind on success.  It was discouraging to see myself gain ninety pounds from a medication.  And even after all this, I still wasn’t able to work.

Where is the “wellness” in that?  Is the medication worth it, when your life is just as void and empty as without it?

I guess it was.  Without medicine, I think I’m evil, 24/7.  That I’m the Antichrist.

I’m even getting tired of telling this story.  Don’t get me wrong though.  It’s my past, and it’s my challenge that I have emerged from triumphantly.  These days, I never think for even a second that I am the Antichrist.  I’ve beaten this!

Of course, I’m not going to get prideful and take myself off my meds anymore.  I’d rather live the life I’ve always dreamed of, with meds, than struggle to keep my head over water without them.

The sense of self-pride that previously motivated me to go off my meds… it was rooted in a sense of shame within me.  Shame that I was weak, and not like other “normal” people who were fine without meds.  I wanted to be like them: free and without mental weakness.

Of course, I realize now that no one is perfect.  But even more than this, I realize that my sense of shame… it is a result of societal stigma against mental illness.  Many an unaffected person thinks that taking a cocktail of meds means that you’re “fucked up.”  Someone might roll their eyes as they refer to a family member with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, lamenting about how much of a shame they are.

Do I want to be a “loser” on meds too?  Certainly not.  But I’ve learned my lesson the hard way.  After trying to go off my meds, I know now that I cannot do this.  Possibly for the rest of my life.  But I’m ok with this.

I blend in easily enough these days.  When I tell people that I am diagnosed with Schizoaffective disorder, people always say to me:

“Yea, but you’re different.  My brother… he’s just a mess.  He’s always going off his meds, doesn’t have a job, nothing.  He barely gets by.”  Then a sigh.

But am I so different?  I look into my past, and I see myself being the same thing.  I spent a few years not working, simply staying at my mother’s while I piddled away time on the Internet, unable to hold down a job.  My medications are a big part of what makes me the functional self than I am today.  People don’t see that though.  They see me as “normal,” and assume that I am ok without my meds.

If only they knew.

I hope general society can start to become informed about the basics of psychiatric care.  The same way that people know how those with diabetes need to take insulin shots and test their blood sugar several times a day, so too should everyone know about the basics of how one exercises self-maintenance with a mental illness.  Below, I’ll make a casual list of ideas that people should know in this regard:

1. A person sees a PSYCHIATRIST to receive medications for mental illness, and a PSYCHOLOGIST or therapist to have talk therapy.

2. The Freudian style of psychoanalysis is not an actively-practiced technique in therapy.  Therapeutic techniques have developed and evolved significantly since the 1920s.

And an additional comment on his: therapy is not about talking about your mother anymore.  Please stop making jokes about this.  It’s insulting.

3. When a person has a mental illness, and takes medications, you have no right to judge that person for doing so.  You also have no right to offer suggestions about how they should heal themselves naturally by changing diet, or adopting a spiritual faith.  I’ll warrant, that people have had success in this regard.  But everyone is different, and such advice-givers have no idea of another person’s past.  Someone who developed mental illness in their thirties could maybe naturally heal their illness away.  But with me, I’ve had that cloud over my head since age three.  I don’t think macrobiotic organic food is going to cure me.  When I went vegetarian for a year and a half, I felt weak and my psychosis flared up.  People need to realize that miracle cures only work for some people. The way Clozapine works for me and not others, so too is natural healing.  Please get with it.  Please.

And leading into #4…

4. Don’t give advice as if you know what you’re taking about.  Unless you are a professional in the field, you don’t know very much.

5. Get rid of the notion that “Everyone has problems.”  This is usually a blanket statement that people utter, when they don’t want to talk about mental illness.  Sure, we all have problems.  But if you are unanle to empathize with a person with mental illness, then it’s not about a person exaggerating their problems.  It’s a failure on your part, not realizing that you have more problems than you think you do.

Another comment I get from people is a bit circumstantial, but still alarming:

“Why are you talking about mental illness all the time?  You’re more than your illness!  And also… why do you surround yourself with people who have mental illness?  You should be around normal people!”

In response to this, I will say one word: maintenance.  I have fallen real hard, and a couple of those times, it was due to me going off my medications.  I went off, partially because I had forgotten how bad I was before.

I don’t want to forget anymore, because my life is so good now.  It’s sort of like being a member of Alcoholics Anonymous.  Always, the same phrase is uttered: “Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic.”  This constant affirmation may seem negative, but it is necessary for one to always remain mindful of what could happen again.  And even if one remains sober for years, or even if I am mentally well and such… I can never forget.

This is why I want to work as a peer specialist.  Because I don’t only help others.  I help myself too.

My dream is to spread the peer mission throughout society, in all communities.  Peer work is powerful.  The community of peers is made up of many dynamic people who have survived immense defeat and failures.  We hold our heads up with pride, and support one another in the process too.

I also hope… that even if a single person reads what I write, and then wants to become a peer, or even learn more about peer work… that is a huge change made in this world.

Maybe you will be that next person.

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