Recovery From An Illness Best Kept Secret For Now
There Were Many Steps
I attribute my recovery from mental illness to sound psychiatric counsel, positive lifestyle changes and consistent medication management. I have been stabilized for the past ten years, but things were not always this good, particularly before my diagnosis. Although I am delighted with my stabilization, my triumph over mental illness is wrought with certain medical problems due to the side effects of the medication I am taking. However hard these impediments might be, they have not deterred me from leading a rich and full life as a means to combat the negative effects of a possible relapse of my mental illness.
The psychosis I endured snuck up on me quite stealthily. At first it was just some voices here and there, then images and later delusions. I grappled with these bizarre thoughts for about a year until I was admitted to the in-patient unit at Payne Whitney Clinic. It was during my three week stay that I was diagnosed for the first time with late onset paranoid schizophrenia at the age of 44. When I was psychotic, I was very frightened because I knew what hearing voices meant medically—a psychiatric problem. I was also in a state of denial as I had never experienced symptoms before. I was very afraid that if I were admitted to a hospital, I would end up like my father, who also has this disease and has been institutionalized for over 40 years.
Once I was discharged from the inpatient unit, I thought I was home free. My psychiatrist said “not so fast.” I attended PW’s Continued Day Treatment Program where I was immersed for nine months in numerous helpful workshops. I did make some lasting friendships there. Once I was finished with the program I was positive I would be allowed to stay home. Again, not so. My psychiatrist strongly urged me to attend group therapy. I joined a group organized for other schizophrenic patients and was in the group for a year and a half. I was stabilized and ready to move on to a full schedule of extra-curricular activities.
Despite all the hard work everybody does for psychiatric patients at Payne Whitney Clinic, I probably would never have recovered successfully were it not for the medication I take every single day. What has also really helped is that I also stopped drinking and smoking. When I learnt from my doctor that alcohol and nicotine have adverse effects on the chemical interaction of the psychotropic medications and the brain’s chemistry, I decided to quit. Stopping drinking was harder than smoking, but after several attempts, I was able to stop both. Today, I move freely among people who drink and smoke without difficulty. Where I have trouble is with the physical problems I am experiencing with the neuroleptics I am taking. I have gained weight and this has led to some other medical problems. I am watching and managing my medical problems, but compared to the active symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia, these side effects are a small price to pay for my newly discovered “normalcy.”
My psychiatrists who have been treating me in the past were concerned about my lack of structure in my life. What they meant was that they would like to see me busy during the weekday. They were concerned that given my schizophrenia, this would lead to isolation and possible relapse. I have been attending concerts and shows, volunteering in a civic organization, doing my chores and writing. I also work out at a gym 4 days a week.
There are two drawbacks as I see it. One has to do with being unemployed when I am with others who are employed and the other has to do with disclosure about my mental illness. I choose not to disclose my mental illness to most people because of the stigma that is still associated with schizophrenia.
Be that as it may, I have had ten years to master the delicate balance of living in the world of “normals’ and interacting with the mentally ill. Sometimes I feel like I am living the life of a charade, but regrettably I cannot disclose to the public about my mental illness at this time. The circles in which I move are not ready for such a declaration. What I am grateful for are the good people at PWC who show kindness and respect toward people like us. I have never heard anyone call me a wacko, schizo, psycho, crazy, or a lunatic behind my back. And I hope I never will. My experience has taught me that in my transformation from psychotic person to stabilized individual there was something in life that was lost forever, but also tangible things that were equally gained for an eternity.