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First Person: Schizophrenia, Medication and Naivete

By Jack Bragen
Tuesday August 17, 2010 - 02:36:00 PM

Schizophrenia is a widespread illness that has been around a long time. There are those who believe it is a biologically based condition requiring medication, and there are others of the opinion that the brain can recover on its own. There is a sometimes-fiery debate between these groups. 

I think part of the anger of the anti-medication folk stems from the mistreatment that has traditionally ridden upon the back of the medicines. The anger isn’t just about medication, it is about being forced to take medication in the absence of trying something else, and it is about being put in restraints, being denied basic dignities, and being thought of and treated as an idiot in comparison to the all-knowing mental health professionals. 

The belief in medication hypothetically removes some of the stigma of mental illness, but this is not so in practice. If you have a biologically based brain disorder, as science believes, it implies that you could be every bit as psychologically fit and emotionally mature as the psychotherapists who are paid well to put us on the right track. But in practice, it is assumed that you are an adult with the psychological and intellectual development of a child. Some of the anger stems from that. 

And when someone who works for the system tries to get out of the rap directed at him or her by saying we’re imagining the problem due to our mental illness, it is an invalidation that is a big part of the abuse. Sometimes therapists avoid accountability by analyzing; “what’s your deep psychological issue that makes you think incorrectly that I did something wrong?” It takes valid anger and turns it into mushy helplessness; it’s psychological castration. (You might guess I’m angry about it.) 

The problem with being caught up too much in anger toward “the system” is that we deny ourselves essential help. I’m sorry, but it is a fool’s game to try to detox from anti-psychotic medication. While it’s arguable, according to some people, not me, that there are alternatives to medication for a psychotic person, it is clear that if you have been on medication for a period of years, essentially you can never get off of it. 

In all fairness, most mental health professionals are good people who want to help. 

My brain’s reaction to going off anti-psychotic medication, (and the last time I tried that was fifteen years ago), was very profound, like being swept up by a tornado, and not in a good way. I was witnessed wandering the streets of Martinez and Concord, and finally walked to a church in Pleasant Hill, where the people at first tried to help me, and finally, after phoning my relatives, realized that I needed to be taken to the hospital by the police; this is known as a 51-50. 

While medicated, I have retained my faculties, something that many mentally ill people haven’t done. One reason for this might be that I have applied myself; this includes my career in electronics, my sometimes written meditation, my efforts at various types of employment, my continual efforts toward professional writing, and trying hard at life in general. Another reason could be that I have relapsed only about four times; and these relapses have been years apart. Or, I could just be lucky. It is possible that the damage that medication does to the brain is by means of atrophy. The medication, by blocking serotonin and dopamine, makes everything in life harder, and this makes it tempting to allow oneself to become immobilized. 

It is a naïve and arrogant attitude to believe in the fundamental helplessness and inferiority of the mentally ill person, and projecting this belief on us starts to promote its reality. 

A family member said to me that I could handle any situation. That person is aware of some of the things in life I’ve dealt with, but might not realize how fearful I was in some of the situations, and how difficult it was to get through them. While in some cases I was thrown to the wolves and became a better person for it, I would have chosen a less extreme estimate of my capabilities, and a bit more comfort. Now that things have settled down, I am aware that the feeling of being secure can only be produced and maintained on the inside. Yet, actual security requires a lot of work, and is a fleeting commodity. 

I am glad that people aren’t, in some subtle way, calling me an idiot; they’re more liable to asking me for help with their computer.