My upbringing wasn’t highly unusual. I believed I was much more different a person than I actually was. I was a fairly typical Jewish boy; shy with girls, intellectual, and ambitious. However, in high school, I was bullied to the extent that I wanted to get out of school and go to work early. This I did. However, my job wasn’t much to brag about, looking back on it. The job also caused me to be somewhat isolated. And at age seventeen, my behavior inexplicably became bizarre and dangerous. My older brother had exhibited mental problems at the same age. Now I was acting strange and bad enough that I was put into a mental hospital.
At eighteen, my diagnosis indicated a serious disease of the brain; Paranoid Schizophrenia.
My prescribing physician was very mild mannered and had a kind attitude. I wasn’t aware that this doctor was trying to help me. I didn’t want to go along with the diagnosis, or the medication mandated by it. After a few months of treatment, I refused to take medication. I did this secretly at first--without telling this to either my psychiatrist or family members. When my noncompliance was discovered, I still refused to be treated, claiming that I didn’t really have mental problems and I would soon move out of my parent’s house and support myself.
I had recently had trouble with the law which was caused by my disease making me enact bad decisions. When family members discovered that I wasn’t taking medication, they were quite upset about it and tried hard to convince me that I needed the medication. They had already gone through a lot of grief, as I had, due to my initial episode of psychosis.
Unfortunately, one of the curses of this disease is an increased tendency toward denial of all types, including the denial that one has this illness. The brain has lost the ability to judge, including the judgment that one needs help.
After six or more months without medication, I thought I had proved everyone wrong. I was working full time, and I had moved out of my parent’s house into a share rental. It seemed that I had my act together.
At the eight month point, I was hearing voices while I worked, and believed I was in telepathic communication with a spiritual teacher. I wrote to this teacher, who was in Oregon, asking whether or not, at his end, he felt that there was telepathic communication. He didn’t respond to my question. To this day, I resent this distant “yogi,” now deceased, who passed up an opportunity to help me, at no cost to him.
Shortly after my nineteenth birthday, there was a robbery at one of the supermarkets where I worked, and I was at gunpoint for ten hours while the armed robbers waited, during my overnight shift, for someone to show up who could open the safe. Even though I survived this experience, it accelerated my mental deterioration. Had this incident not happened, I believe I still would have deteriorated, only it would have taken longer.
After a year off medication, I was completely delusional and disoriented, and could no longer work, even on “autopilot.” I was picked up by an ambulance after trying to steal gasoline to get to Oregon. The cop who showed up had me check my jacket for cash; some was there, and the policeman gave it to the gas station cashier. Because of this, I didn’t have the rap of stealing the gasoline. I was hospitalized. I was given antipsychotic medication that quickly brought me back to tracking reality.
When I am medicated and stabilized I tend to be very law-abiding. I did very well on medication for the next six years; I held several challenging jobs that included electronic repair, and I had a social life.
After six years on medication and stabilized, I believed I could survive without taking medication, and I again discontinued it against medical advice. I had forgotten just how awful it is to experience a psychotic episode. After just a short time, I was back in the hospital, and my brain had suffered a setback. When I got home, I was less able to function in life than I had been before.
The six year cycle repeated itself one more time. And then I decided I was through, for the rest of my life, with refusing treatment for this awful disease from which I suffer. It has been nearly fifteen years that I’ve stayed with treatment and haven’t returned to the hospital. I believe this is a good number of years for someone with my diagnosis, as noncompliance is common. Getting married to my wife, Joanna, is one of the key factors that has kept me doing well.
My parents are now too old to deal with me as a psychotic person, or even help me get out of a bad situation that I have created for myself. Were I to quit medication at this point, I might have very little help in getting the pieces picked up once again. My brain would experience yet another jolt of psychosis, from which it takes several years to recover. My chances would be slim of having a successful existence after such a decision.
My admission that I need the help of others, some of the time, is an instance of humility that has helped me recover. When I decided it doesn’t matter to my self image that my brain has a problem, it allowed me to like myself exactly as I am. The realization that other people suffer as much as I do, when I go psychotic, is one more factor that seals the deal in my taking of medication.
Refusal of treatment, in my case, was an irresponsible decision; one that has haunted me long after each instance of psychosis and recuperation.
I don’t know everyone else’s situation and can’t claim that medication is necessary for all people who have suffered from psychosis. I only know what works for me, and also hope that I am creating a good example in life.