Solutions: Taking the Medications

  • When I was a disc jockey, I'd mix intuitive segues: rock-n-roll and the blues, classical and punk. So, too, with my writing, I make connective leaps, and right now I found the perfect words to link to this blog entry on taking medications.

     

    Elizabeth Gilbert-a smart, beautiful, kind writer-wrote in Eat Pray Love: "If faith were rational, it wouldn't be-by definition-faith. Faith is belief in what you cannot see or prove or touch. Faith is walking face-first and full-speed into the dark."

     

    What was that dark when I first got out of the hospital? The idea that I could recover, that somewhere down the road I'd be well. To get here I had to take the medication, every day faithfully as prescribed. It's a knee-jerk reaction to rail against corporations that gross billions of dollars a year. I have no qualms about making Pfizer rich. I have no problem swallowing pills every day.

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    Taking the medication is an act of faith when we don't know how or why it works, when we don't know what causes schizophrenia and exactly how the drugs work on the brain. For 20 years I was on 5 mgs. of Stelazine at night. The drug slowly stopped working over the last three or four years. I remember having unusual thoughts and not thinking they were a symptom, only something I could control if only I tried hard enough.

     

    At a NAMI education conference, I brought this up in a session and was told to talk to my psychiatrist about it. The content of my thoughts so troubled me that I was afraid to disclose it openly, and I never told the shrink until April of this year. That's when he executed the cross-titer to a newer atypical, which now works better than the Stela did in the final years.

     

    As soon as I was put on the Geodon, the noise in my head-what I called "chatter"-quieted down and five months later, it's barely a hum. As an expert, I want to share with you some insight into the nature of recovery. First, you have to believe you have something you need to recover from. Next, you must filter out the guilt and shame about having an illness. How do you do that? By getting support from others who've been in your shoes. By meeting with them in a safe environment-a room-where you vow to "protect and respect" each other.

     

    I'm convinced if I had had a support group to go to in the early 1990s - when I first started full-time work - I might not have decided to go off the meds. I was doing so well and I didn't know anyone else who lived independently and held a job, so I thought I could live without the Stelazine. Four months into the psychiatrist-approved drug holiday, I got paranoid again and had to be rehospitalized.

     

    At my first job as an administrative assistant to the director of an insurance brokerage, my boss knew I could do more, so sent me to obtain my property and casualty insurance broker's license. Due to a staffing change, I had to do telemarketing and make cold calls to businesses to set up meetings with the producers who'd sell the prospects insurance policies.

     

    I won't romanticize that time. In retrospect, I know it was stressful because I did it all alone; I had no one else with a mental illness to give me support, who had been there and could provide feedback. Today I'll tell you this: medication is like an insurance policy to safeguard your mental health. If it's possible that people with schizophrenia are more sensitive, it makes perfect sense to take the medication even if you're doing well.

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    In the 1990s, I revolved in and out of jobs at corporations, and in the fall of 1997 I returned to school. I don't remember school being stressful, but I do recall the stress was self-imposed: I worked full-time, took two courses a semester, and edited, wrote, reported for and published the library science program newsletter, Keyword, which took 40 extra hours each semester. I was also on the student association and the chair of the law librarian lecture series.

     

    Now I'm convinced this came at a cost. I don't recommend you do what I did. At the time, the Stela was working, but I didn't have a support group, and hadn't developed the coping skills I have today. An incident happened that greatly affected me, and its effect lingered for close to ten years. So had I realized then I should've increased the medication, I gladly would have.

     

    With all this talk of the drugs, you need to recognize that they are only the gateway to health. They enable you to work or go to school if you wish, or do other things like attend a clubhouse or be out in the world in other ways. The truth is, if I wasn't on the medication, I wouldn't be writing this blog, and I wouldn't be working as a public service librarian, and absolutely nothing would be possible for me.

     

    Even with the meds, we need coping skills like cognitive reframing and thought blockages. I remember when I first lived alone and worked as the assistant, I needed to halt the worrisome thoughts by telling myself "Stop!" frequently. And even when you take the drugs, there could be residual symptoms. The solution is to keep taking the medication, or switch to a new one with your psychiatrist's supervision.

     

    For the past two years, my intrusive thoughts were loud as a fire engine. What did I do? I didn't give up. When the situation got untenable, I told Dr. Altman. I recommend you don't wait as long as I did, that you seek help as soon as you develop a new symptom or an old symptom comes back or is more severe.

     

    Right now I want to acknowledge other bloggers like Pamela Spiro Wagner and Kate Kiernan, both of whom I'm interviewed here. They bear witness to the truth: that, no matter how hard it gets, the human spirit will triumph.

     

    People tell me I'm courageous for speaking out. I do it because treatment works. If just one person reads something I write and decides to choose wellness over illness, I'll have done my job.

Published On: November 27, 2007