• Dr. Altman wore a hot pink shirt when I saw him on Friday. I give credit to any professional with the confidence to wear such a shirt. As I suspected, he wanted to keep me on 1 mg Stelazine for another month before I'm solely on the Geodon. I look forward to seeing him in April, because I'm convinced it will be even better once I take the G alone.

     

    Just a couple weeks ago on the Connection Web site, I read a link to info on Stelazine, and one of the side effects was trouble sleeping. For the twenty years I took that drug, I could rarely fall asleep before 1 a.m. At the same time, I was so fatigued in the morning that I couldn't get out of bed. I was late to work for nearly every job I had. Before Dr. Altman increased the Stela to 10 mg (he did this four years ago), I had Seasonal Affective Disorder, starting in the late fall and ending, miraculously, on the first day of spring. For as long as I can remember, when it was dark outside, I'd be in my apartment on the couch, bawled up in tears for two hours every night.

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    By writing this, I want to show you that it's never too late for things to change. The drugs out there today could help you. Already, I notice an improvement with the Geodon: I fall asleep earlier on most nights, I sleep more soundly, and I wake up at 8:00 a.m. nearly every day. A lot of the mental chatter is gone, too. In the 1990s, I also struggled with troublesome thoughts. That was when I took 5 mgs of Stelazine. So you see, finding the right medication, at an effective dose, changes things.

     

    Finding the right psychiatrist makes all the difference as well. In here, I've posted two memoir excerpts contrasting how Dr. Altman and the other pdoc, Dr. Tarnoff, treated me. My therapist, Max, has suggested that the placebo effect could be in force when someone switches medication. I didn't trust the other doctor, and his grubby demeanor rubbed me the wrong way. So it's entirely possible I wouldn't have done well if I tried an atypical while I was under his care. Sometimes, the power of suggestion could lead to a self-fulfilling outcome.

     

    In Friday's session, I talked with Dr. Altman about my coup: shortly, if all goes well, I'll post here a Q&A with Dr. Xavier Amador, who wrote the book I Am Not Sick, I Don't Need Help. We talked about how a lack of insight that you have schizophrenia is often a symptom, not outright denial; anosognosia is the clinical term. Dr. Altman said that the schizoaffective patient who bludgeoned a psychiatrist with a meat cleaver recently in New York City, had a history of not taking his medication.

     

    How then would the anti-psychiatry folk spin this? If they don't think drugs are necessary, how can they account for what happened? As I spoke with Dr. Altman, I realized it's a sensitive issue: do those of us taking meds wonder if we could turn that way if we were on a drug holiday? Where are our loyalties? At the end of the day, and when the media quiets down, we all have schizophrenia. What separates us from them?

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    A good friend of mine committed a crime while psychotic, and was acquitted. I met him ten years after this happened, and he was fully-functioning on 5 mgs of Zyprexa. He suggested that we need to have compassion for others who do the unimaginable. Another friend believes people should have the right to refuse medication, yet are responsible for their actions.

     

    In April, Dr. Altman will stop the Stelazine, and I'll be on the maintenance dose of Geodon exclusively. He may decide to have me take half the 1 mg for another month, and that would be okay. On Friday, I was honest about what goes on. He asked if my worry had increased, and I told him, no. In reality, it has gotten better. The Geodon takes care of the symptoms, which I can't control, and my desire to educate myself and reach out to others helps me change what I can. It's the serenity prayer in action: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

     

    It's coming up on my 21st year living with the schizophrenia. I accept that I can't change this truth, and I have the courage to speak out to change people's perceptions of what it's like to live with the sz; I'm wise enough to know that not everyone will be kind to us.

     

    Each day I get up and do what I have to do to keep healthy. Dr. Altman is my ally and confidant in this endeavor. His discernment and compassionate eye are worth the trek into the City on a Friday night. Now, more than ever, I enjoy seeing a psychiatrist, and no longer dread such visits, which used to remind me that I was different in some way.

     

    Dr. Altman treats me like a human being, and actively listens to me.

     

    At the end of Friday's visit, he cheered: "Have a very good night, Christina."

     

    I sailed out of his office, happy to be alive.

Published On: March 17, 2008