On Mental Illness: The Suffering of Schizophrenia

By Jack Bragen
Tuesday July 12, 2011 - 12:53:00 PM

I can not overstate the intensity of suffering that goes along with being schizophrenic and having a full-blown psychotic episode. Part of it comes from imagined events that are perceived as completely real, and these imagined events are often horrific, awful, and terrifying. Part of the suffering is from the fact that the brain is malfunctioning in a considerable way. Because of the brain lacking its normal regulatory mechanisms, the suffering that is felt could be as much as tenfold what a non-afflicted person can feel. And thirdly, additional suffering is created by real events; caused by the outcomes of the disorganized and sometimes dangerous behavior of a person having a psychotic episode. 

During an episode of acute psychosis, the sufferer could believe that they are living through a nuclear holocaust. The atomic blasts could be partly hallucinated and partly imagined to exist via delusions. The imagined scenario of a delusional person is not always the end of the world, but whatever it is, can be quite vivid and terrifying. The psychotic person could believe that family members have died, or that the world is taken over by “the devil.” There is no limit to the strange things that can be imagined and believed. Additionally, the paranoid aspect of this illness can create a great deal of fear. The reader may ridicule this and may think that you can’t suffer very much by your imagination. It is true that fighting in a war in reality and watching people get killed and maimed is harder than being psychotic. Yet being psychotic is still very unpleasant. The psychotic person, at the least, is awfully ill and is suffering from a badly malfunctioning brain; that person can not interact normally. The suffering that is experienced could be equated to that of other illnesses even though most of the pain is psychological. 

If the person with Schizophrenia survives the episode of psychosis, and they sometimes don’t, the return to “tracking” reality due to being hospitalized and medicated doesn’t mean that the suffering is over. The person is then dealing with medication side effects, post psychotic depression, and a situation of at times receiving poor treatment from the psychiatric treatment providers. The hospitalization that follows a psychotic episode is usually better than the preceding episode, but there is still no shortage of pain. 

The first thought upon resuming living in “reality” following a repeat psychotic episode is something like “here I am again, back in the hospital.” Often, it is a feeling of shame, disappointment, or even despair. The progress that was made prior to having the repeat episode is partly lost. The person may be “reset” back to a lower level of functioning for several years to come. A psychiatrist said that it takes ten years to completely recover from a psychotic episode. If someone has these episodes more frequently than ten years apart, he or she never gets to feel a full recovery. (This is not to say a person can stop medication after the ten years of being stable. On the contrary, the medication is largely the cause of avoiding another episode.) 

Upon recovery, the person with schizophrenia discovers that the “reality” that he or she has returned to may be one of limited prospects. This is not to say anything against mentally ill people who have gotten an education and/or “made something” of themselves. Not all persons with mental illness can pull that off. And some of those who do may still find themselves stuck with repeat episodes, an occurrence which may sabotage some otherwise successful careers. Living happily ever after is a scenario that’s somewhat rare for someone with chronic mental illness. 


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