ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Delusions and Recovery

By Jack Bragen
Friday January 24, 2014 - 12:22:00 PM

Aside from moans about the evil mental health treatment system (which sometimes it is) it is obvious to anyone who can think that the life of a person with a major mental illness, at least some of the time, is pure hell.  

Most people have no concept of what it is like to be medicated on a heavy dosage of antipsychotic medication. These medications are like using a sledgehammer to go after a mosquito. The feeling of taking some of these medications is like going snorkeling with a hangover. Sometimes it is a feeling that you want to jump out of your skin. Sometimes it is a drug-induced hopelessness.  

People do not understand the terror and the suffering that a person can have when delusional. Part of the fear comes from the delusions themselves in which a person may believe that their life is threatened. And part comes from the reality of one's situation, that one is disconnected from the environment, can't think properly and is experiencing peril because of that. On some deep level, a psychotic person is probably aware that something is very wrong with them.  

Normal status of emotions and thought, for some people, occurs after many months of treatment. When emerging from the delusional state, it can be a relief to know that many of the things we thought were happening, in fact, weren't. It can also be painful, because some of the delusions may have promised good things.  

Emerging from a relapse is partly a bad feeling, because we may realize we have a very long road of recovery ahead of us. Although most of the delusions may be gone after a few months of treatment, it doesn't mean that we have achieved a full recovery. According to one psychiatrist, it takes about ten years to get back to being fairly normal following a psychotic episode.  

The thing we should remember is that there can always be hope of a better life. Life may never be completely normal, and we may never own a house in the suburbs with a picket fence, two car garage, spouse, kids and dog. And yet, things can be better than they are now, if we work for that. If you don't try, you are guaranteed of getting nothing.  

As I write this I have nearly eighteen years without a relapse of psychosis, largely because I have been medication compliant, and because I make an effort to get along with people. I am recovering from a bout with the intestinal flu (I was warned to get a flu shot but I ignored it), and I find that being sick with the flu causes me to have increased symptoms of mental illness. I am also dealing with a car that keeps breaking down, thus I am forced to get rides from people, and sometimes I have to beg for this.  

When you try to do things the right way, at some point people will recognize that and will often try to help.  

The secret to success is that generally there are no shortcuts and that life makes no promises. We all must figure out how to navigate, and it is always a work in progress.