My story is unusual: My mother drove me to the hospital within 24 hours of my breakdown, a day later I started taking Stelazine, and within three weeks I no longer had any of the symptoms I presented when I got sick. Close to five years later I tried a three-month drug holiday that failed, and after that I took the Stelazine for 20 years.
Almost five years ago I started on the Geodon with immediate good effect too.
I want to write about how to stay out of a psych ward because it is possible to not have to go into a hospital. Some people are comforted to know the hospital is there if they need it. I, on the other hand, if I could have no other goal in my recovery, would set the bare minimum that I don’t go in the hospital ever again.
You don’t want to live in those places for long. At best, you will get stabilized on the right medication and get symptom relief. At the worst, the staff will not treat you with compassion.
I was hospitalized for a total of only five weeks another rare thing it seems. I can tell you the number-one secret to staying out of the hospital: taking your medication every day as prescribed. After you do this, you can entertain finding the work or “work” you love that fulfills you and enables you to feel productive, like you’re able to function.
Often, a change in dose or change in medication can take place at routine visits to your psychiatrist instead of checking into a hospital. The visits might be weekly while you adjust your drug routine. This is how I went on the cross-titer from the Stelazine to the Geodon.
Develop a Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) as a way to live well. The National Alliance on Mental Illness offers the nine-week Peer-to-Peer education course in which you learn about the mental illnesses and develop a relapse prevention plan. Call (800) 950-NAMI (6264) to find the local chapter in your city or town that offers this course.
See the links at the end for details on these options.
It starts when you can identify the triggers and determine what sets you off. Ask yourself, “What happened before the symptom came on? What happened before that? And before that?”
Sometimes the link won’t always be clear, and breakthrough symptoms seem to come out of the blue. In this instance, I would examine the level of stress in your life. Has it increased? Has anything changed in your routine? Have you taken on a new challenge?
It is not possible, nor healthy to live without any stress. Yoga and meditation can help as an adjunct to the medication too. Taking deep breaths and focusing your awareness on your breathing is a technique to still your mind.
The sure-fire way to stay out of the hospital is to keep busy instead of watching Gilligan’s Island re-runs. I would add that healthful eating does wonders for you physically and mentally. You can’t go wrong adding fruits and vegetables to the mix.
The last two things I can suggest are to create a support team and to communicate honestly with your therapist and psychiatrist. Tell them as soon as you experience breakthrough symptoms, side effects or are otherwise agitated in your recovery. Schedule an emergency visit as soon as you need to before things get worse.
Attend a support group. Work a room if you’re in recovery from an addiction too.
Be patient with yourself, and be kind to your mind. Strive to live happily and humbly in the world. Perfection is an impossible standard to live up to. Be okay with “good enough.” Remember to go easy on yourself as you move along.
If all else fails, and a trip to the hospital is unavoidable, I’ll talk in September about how to navigate life on a psych ward.
Christina Bruni wrote about schizophrenia for HealthCentral as a Patient Expert. She is a mental health activist and freelance journalist.