Schizophrenia Prodromal Treatment: A First-Person Account
I wanted to write about my own experiences because I'm a big fan of treating a person in the prodromal stage of schizophrenia to halt the impact of disability or ideally to totally stop a person from having a disability to begin with.
My "treatment" in the two years prior to my break was to have a career as a disc jockey doing something creative that gave me joy and allowed me to interact with listeners and the other student disc jockeys.
I had a break in the fall of 1987. Exactly one year earlier in October 1986 I thought something wasn't right and sought help at the counseling center in town. The receptionist told me it was only for teens and gave me two options located at my college: the student life office and the mental health center.
I opted to talk with a woman at the student life office. After two sessions, I stopped going because I didn't click with her. I couldn't articulate why I thought something wasn't right. I remember not a lot about those sessions, just her meek presence and how I quoted song lyrics to try to get at how I felt.
A month before I graduated in June 1987, I sought help at the mental health center on campus. The therapist thought I was just another student nervous about graduating and unsure of what she wanted to do in life. He told me he couldn't help me and that I was on my own from there.
Five months after I talked to that therapist, I had a break and was hospitalized within 24 hours. I was immediately given medication, and three weeks later the symptoms had stopped completely.
My contention is that I think it could've been different had prodromal treatment existed when I was 21 in 1986: I might not have had a total break if I had been treated beforehand. The prodromal treatment that exists today circa 2014 is promising and I'm a big fan of how it can help halt the progression of disability from an illness like schizophrenia.
My first therapist after I got out of the hospital told me that most likely I had an easier time of it pre- and post-illness because I had a job as a disc jockey on the FM radio station that broadcast at my college campus. For two years, I played music on-air and commanded a large following at WSIA, Staten Island 88.9 FM.
The time I spent as an on-air personality was the happiest time of my young life. My psychic intuition that I should join the radio station so I could express myself and be creative was a subconscious tactic to halt the impact of the hard time I was having in my last year at school.
It has long been recognized that a person's premorbid level of functioning-a fancy term for a person's level of functioning prior to developing schizophrenia-often clearly determines their prognosis and the outcome of their life post-illness.
A woman I used to talk with once told me "The patient is always the first to diagnose herself correctly." In the fall of 1986 I used the word psychosis in a journal entry.
I'll end here with an entreaty that I give everyone. I've given it in the Living Life column I used to write for SZ magazine: If you're a family member, encourage your son or daughter to go out into the world and do things like volunteer work or an actual job or to browse museums. Travel as a family with your kids in America and if you can afford to in Europe.
If you're a young person and your life is hard, as hard as it is, try to get outside your room. A fortune cookie boasts: The best angle from which to approach any problem is the TRYangle.
Of course I was always determined to do what I set out to do. For you, it can be as simple as going to a local coffeehouse and having a latte while you write in your journal.
Being proactive when you don't have an illness and being proactive after you have a break is the best way to halt the impact of disability. There's something to be said for adopting healthy habits from a young age so that if the worst happens and you have a break you're better able to recover.
Prodromal treatment: I'm all for it.
Getting the right help as soon as you have a break: I'm all for this too.