September 22, 2007
This is an essay I wrote that details my experience with schizophrenia...
The Life of a Schizophrenic
Note: The names of the psychiatric people have been left out to protect the innocent and guilty
What is Schizophrenia? A living breathing nightmare. An episode of the Twilight Zone without the entertainment, where bizarre paranoid ideation and hellish voices completely dominate the patient. Schizophrenia, once known as Dementia Praecox, affects 1% of the American population. And guess what? I'm one of them. Even though my father is undoubtedly manic depressive, I have a psychotic disorder. This is my story with this horrid illness and how I am trying to recover after my schizophrenic break.
I remember the first time I got paranoid like it was yesterday. The awful snow storm was finally clearing up, and I had taken my staff with me into the ice. I was still shaken up about the online IQ test that I flunked. When, as if by some dark magic, I had the thought, "It's all a conspiracy." I spent the rest of that day coming to conclusions, that didn't even make sense; Men in cars serving the evil Otis, overlord of Earth which was a machine, and I wasn't plugged into it like everyone else. As you can imagine, I thought that there were obviously people "out to get me." I had heard of schizophrenia before having read "A Beautiful Mind" that week. So I put two and two together and came up with a conclusion: I have schizophrenia. Of course, this was when the illness didn't have a complete stranglehold over me. And believe you me, when you have a history of obsessive compulsive tendencies and low self esteem, you can't convince any parent that you have the biggest and worse illness of all illnesses with psychosis.
I had heard a voice, for maybe 5 to 10 minutes. It was a voice that I could recognize, the voice of Joe Peschi. As my illness continued to develop his voice would be joined by many other voices, including the voices of Will Ferrell, Jack Lemon and the voices of my teachers at the time, Marco, Terry, Chris and Denise, the voice of Otis and an unidentified male voice. They were all either insulting me or commanding me to do something which might have been violent to others or me. Days went by and I got much worse. I was convinced that everyone was my enemy and that there were secret messages in common words and certain signs that signaled things that were in motion. It was time to get help. I had been seeing a behavioral therapist, and so I returned to her because my mother wanted answers. She immediately called for a hospitalization, which I accepted, not because I wanted help, but because it was part of my delusional thinking. My thoughts were "Why not? Otis would jump with joy. Right into the Lion's den with me!"
My tearful mother drove me to Children's Hospital which was a somewhat pleasant sight. We made our way onto the inpatient psychiatric unit where I was admitted. It was then, that things really got serious...
I was seen by a psychiatric nurse and a quack doctor in bed with the pharmaceuticals, both of whom attempted to convince me to take Risperdal regularly. I was on the lowest dose possible, through personal request and my mother and I butted heads with these people. I remember one of the conversations with the psychiatric nurse well:
"I don't have psychosis."
"You do have psychosis."
"If I do then why can't I just take the Risperdal when I need it?"
"That's not how it works. You have what makes bipolar disorder serious. You have what makes schizophrenia serious."
"No, I don't. That's what you think."
While in the hospital I attempted not to take the medication whenever possible, which ended as a very foolish decision. While we did increase the Risperdal, I had medication compliance issues. I stopped taking the Risperdal and sure as day, I started hallucinating again, thinking that Otis had planted evil monsters that hid in the shadows that were going to eat me. I also came to the conclusion that famous actors were watching my every move, people who looked at me were cameras for Otis that Christians were praying to Otis, that during Armageddon Otis's angels would skin me alive and that food and water were poisoned, but a necessary poison, as I knew that without food or water I would die. I ate less than usual and drank less, all the while becoming more and more delusional, until it was discovered that I had not been taking the Risperdal. I was put back on it and once again, became stable. But a new evil was just around the corner...
One night, after a visit with my mother's friends, I started to feel a little too happy. My speech became faster at first as ideas poured into my head. I was extremely hyperactive. I had no real goals except the fact that I wanted to see and be around people.
It now seemed that I had had a manic break as well as a schizophrenic break. In the days to come I felt more moody, but it was mostly due to my thoughts and how I felt about certain things, until of course there were no thoughts, but I was just moody, cycling from anger to sadness to happiness and to apathy. I was taken once again to the hospital. In that visit, schizophrenia was dismissed and I was immediately bipolar. Even though, when you look at it, I had full consciousness of my moods and during moods I would have thoughts similar to this: "OK, I'm angry. I'm going to go to apathetic now." I would also do things that increased the intensity of my moods as opposed to letting them pass. These are two things I never told them. I was put on Lithium as well as Risperdal and within three days my moodiness stopped, which is unusual considering it takes Lithium 3 weeks to get into one's system fully. That made my dad suspicious as to the diagnosis. But everyone else told him to dismiss his incendiary theories. It was at this point that I began seeing a psychiatrist that should have never became one...
The doctor was diagnostically biased and had a couple catchphrases which included "It's a tough illness" and "hang in there." He once said: "Your illness is probably a manic depressive illness and it's probably a lot like your dad's." He was wrong on both statements, as I am not manic depressive and therefore my illness is not similar to my father's. But I'm getting ahead of myself...
We continued medication therapy as he is an MD and therefore can prescribe medication. He always wrote both prescriptions for "moodiness" which made me wonder. I wanted to tell him he was wrong and that the Risperdal was for psychosis, but I was in no position to argue. So I tolerated it, until of course I had a nightmare. My mother proposed getting off the Risperdal, convinced that it had caused the nightmare and so it was done...
But within a few days, the voices and delusions returned, worse than ever. I heard the voice of Satan and what I thought to be his main associate, a blonde female fortune teller. It was then that I began to visually hallucinate. The day after the voices came back the walls began to breathe and my mother looked very different, as if her face was sagging and masculine. I refused medication and eventually through my own work, I was able to stop the voices. It was then that the Risperdal was increased.
The Lithium too would be increased, following an episode of happiness and anger driven by my thoughts. What were my thoughts? My crooked spine, otherwise known as mild scoliosis was the cause of every problem, which, through research seems unlikely. But at that moment I was so convinced I started to become verbally abusive to both my father and mother. We then switched to Abilify, which was a disaster. At 5mg, I had nausea, restlessness and sedation. So we kicked the Abilify away and went back to Risperdal. It was at this point that the next nightmare came. It was about an evil videotape that featured innocent people being tortured, along with scenes of vampires, witches and werewolves. I talked to my psychiatrist about this, fearing that I would be the next victim. He told me to calm down and think hard basically. This seemingly innocent incident quickly deteriorated into intense paranoia. Everyone I did not know was working for the same evil fortune teller who was the leader of the videotape. Every person, phone call or environment fueled my beliefs. We continued to increase the Risperdal, but to no avail. We reached 4 out of 6 mg but nothing helped. So we switched to Geodon, the medication I currently take. The paranoia continued, but began to decrease with the lowering of the Risperdal and the increase of the Geodon. Whilst getting the dosage to a reasonable level I had numerous psychotic attacks, treated by an increase of medication.
The superhero episode followed shortly. What was this you may ask? It was an episode during which I believed I was a superhero. I heard voices and had moodiness driven by my thoughts. In the end however, I took the medications, not knowing what to do. The Lithium was then increased to 1800 mg. and it was then that I reached toxic level. I became a Lithium zombie, unable to read write or do math. I also started to have some religiosity, believing I had been chosen and forsaken by god. Not long after that I became depressed. Depressed because I believed God had forsaken me and that I was condemned to be a grunt in Satan's army, which was strange, considering I had no background of religious beliefs and consider myself agnostic. I was put on an antidepressant named Celexa by the doctor, not telling him my religiosity caused the depression. But soon had to be hospitalized because I had a paranoid episode during which I believed that an invisible agent of Satan had taken over my body. I conveniently believed that the hospital was the only place where the invisibles couldn't get me, so once again, I agreed to be hospitalized.
I switched the Lithium for Depakote and found it to be a vast improvement at the time. My paranoia was paid attention to the most being the most distressing issue. I developed a strategy to combat paranoia. But one day before I left, I started feeling depressed again and cut myself with a plastic knife after throwing newspaper against the door. (For I was in a conference room right next to the group) They made me stay a few extra days and then released me. In about two weeks I was back in for depression, having tried to kill myself by standing in the middle of our residential street. (where cars rarely drive by) I attempted to elude capture but was caught by my step father and taken to the hospital, during which I became agitated and almost had a tussle with security in the ER.
I was admitted once more and treated with a higher dose of Celexa. It was at this point that the possibility of Schizoaffective Disorder was introduced, because I incorrectly stated that I had had a major depressive episode. For those who don't know, Schizoaffective Disorder which is a combination of either major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. And so I was diagnosed with the bipolar subtype and sent on my way.
It was during that stay that I met my current psychiatrist, who is a wonderful doctor. Smart, witty and easy to talk to, it was a relief after meeting the incompetent psych doc that had treated me for all those months.
Since my fourth hospitalization a few things have changed. I am no longer Schizoaffective as it was decided that my moodiness was driven by my thoughts, I am no longer on the Celexa and am planning to get rid of the Depakote and Geodon. Why? These meds, similar to the Lithium and Geodon combination are impacting my ability to think. Plus, it seems that I don't need the Depakote or any mood stabilizer considering my moodiness is secondary to my psychosis. We plan to switch to a medication called Seroquel, another antipsychotic medication. If that doesn't work out we plan to try an older antipsychotic. As far as day to day, I try to function normally, occasionally having paranoia or delusional thinking. I manage pretty well considering I have schizophrenia. Doesn't seem like the worst affliction. Probably in the mild to moderate range. In the end, after all the therapy and medications it's what life gave me. As that old saying goes "If life hands you lemons, make lemonade." Well, I've made enough lemonade for a small army! (Ha ha)