Ask the Expert - Four Questions Answered

  • Every so often I'm going to answer questions that have been on the minds of community members and have become a common thread at the Connection.  My Question of the Week ties into this too.


    What can I expect?

    This is the question we all ask when we're first diagnosed with SZ. The first year is the hardest, as I told Tom Walker, the NAMI-Athens Ohio member who interviewed me for Conversations from Studio B on WOUB 1340 AM. I talked about how after I got out of the hospital I couldn't do much, yet I attended a jewelry-making workshop. After 10 weeks in the studio, I fashioned a pendant and pair of earrings.

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    It was all I could do; what else could I do? I wasn't working and had no other prospects. Indeed, crafting something of your own that you can take away and enjoy proudly gives you the confidence to continue in your recovery. You can expect that if you work at your recovery every day, you will be able to cope better with the symptoms. With the right drug, you will possibly find good symptom relief.

    When will the full effect of the medication occur?

    At least two people have wondered how long they should expect to wait before seeing the most effect of the medication, and I'm sure others would also like to know. With any drug that you take for the first time, it could take three to four weeks to kick in initially. After that, improvement could be possible long-term. I've been solely on the Geodon for one year and have taken the extra 40 mg since last fall. Dr. Altman initiated the cross-titer from the Stelazine to the atypical in April 2007. He feels I've gotten as much benefit as I can from the new drug. So it took me two years to get to this endpoint. If it didn't work by now, he would try me on a different medication. I give myself one more year of possible change related to the Geodon.

    Does it get easier as you get older?

    The eternal debate is whether the symptoms abate as we get older and how old do we have to be before we see this reduction in severity. Though I don't know that it gets easier, my orientation towards life changed. Anais Nin, in her famous diary, is quoted: "We have the right to select our perception of the world." So too the dynamic changes if we choose to believe we can handle what life gives us.

    If we perceive the obstacle is manageable, that helps us live with the SZ. We need to build a "body of evidence" that we can achieve something. Just starting out after a diagnosis of SZ, so often in our teens and twenties, we haven't collected this evidence of what we can do. We get there by taking baby steps that lead to greater risk-taking.

    I have a theory that the chemicals in your brain begin to settle down in your forties: the time when you enjoy the fruits of your labor after all the hardworking years.

    Can someone recover?

    A person can recover if he or she is given the tools that speed along the process. Steve Lopez, the Los Angeles Times reporter and author of The Soloist who chronicled Nathaniel Anthony Ayers' descent into homelessness after developing SZ, testified before a skeptical Congress about the benefits of aggressively funding initiatives that would improve the lives of people living with SZ. Advocates want a budget allocation of $2.2 billion this year to pay for things like 15,000 new supportive housing units. A staffer for one representative told them it would be easier to push through "If there were more hard evidence that supportive housing can save money over the long term."

  • Without the faith of our leaders, is it any wonder that it's much harder for people with SZ to access vital services? Where are we supposed to live? On the streets? Certainly the current fragmented, revolving-door mental health system is not working.

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    One thing is certain: if people with SZ had access to housing and jobs, their sense of self would skyrocket. A dollar value cannot be placed on human potential. Preventive measures are more cost-effective than jails and hospitals in terms of building a positive psyche.

    So we rely on the recovery movement as an empowering force and guiding light. Seek out people diagnosed with SZ who are ahead of you on the journey. See how they did it. Take what works for you and leave the rest.

    Final words:

    If you have been good to yourself and kind, you will have won the battle. This acceptance could take years. One day you'll be shopping at the market, bent over a bin deciding whether to choose raspberries or peaches, and it will be as natural as breathing. You will not know how you got there or when you crossed over from your dark days. This is the hope that all of us must cling to: that one day, the worst will be behind us.

Published On: June 21, 2009