ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Thirty-Two Years on Antipsychotic Medications

Jack Bragen
Friday February 26, 2016 - 04:26:00 PM

Antipsychotic medications haven't made my intellect inoperative. I haven't become impaired from them. I am able to feel pain and to cry, and I am able to enjoy certain things. My mind is nimble enough to where I am not verbally outmaneuvered by most psychotherapists unless I allow it. 

I function on a lot of levels. Because I have practiced a lot of mindfulness, I am partly able to observe myself in a more aware perspective. I have studied meditation and have used this as a tool to deal with residual symptoms, medication side effects, and the difficulties of life.  

I believe the brain isn't the sole seat of thought. People and other creatures have something that goes deeper than the firings of neurons, the operation of gray matter. Many people seem to believe that the human mind is no more than a super-powered computer. A computer doesn't have the ability to be self-aware. People and certainly other creatures have available to us a deeper level of thought. 

The abovementioned concept has allowed me to get more use of my imperfect brain than I would get otherwise. The extra perspective that I have accessed gives me the ability to make maps of the workings of my mind, it often allows me to focus my mind, as though focusing a lens; and it allows me to take my foibles and difficulties less seriously than I otherwise would. 

Thirty-two years taking antipsychotic drugs hasn't ruined my brain and it hasn't ruined my life, either. While the medication introduces a limit to how much energy I have available, and introduces other limits, I credit the medication with essentially saving my life. 

I do not believe the cause of getting my illness was solely biological. However, once the illness had progressed into full-blown paranoid schizophrenia, it became non-negotiable that I needed to be medicated. The problem was and still is at a severity such that neurochemical intervention is necessary, for me.  

Had I not become schizophrenic, I would have accomplished a lot more in life by this age. Yet the illness and the accompanying circumstances have taught me some things and some humility that I wouldn't have learned otherwise. I have spent time among oppressed people. I have spent time among the down and out.  

The choice is, risking irreversible side effects from meds as well as risking possible neurological damage from them, versus not voluntarily taking medication and having repeated relapses. A relapse is much worse, since, according to one psychiatrist, it causes a setback of about ten years for each relapse. The setback consists of having a badly damaged operating system in the mind, synaptic or neurological damage to the brain, and life circumstances often being ruined. 

Upon getting older, I have less ability to recover following the brain dump of a psychotic episode. I am fortunate that I gained enough insight into my condition in time to commit to treatment on a permanent basis. Had I not gained such insight, I would be in the "revolving door" as one psychologist described it. 

His name was Fernando, and he was once my counselor, about thirty years ago. He described "the revolving door" of the mental health system as the predicament where persons with mental illness keep going in and out of the hospital due to not properly dealing with their illness. Going on and off of medication is like playing Russian Roulette with one's brain condition and one's life. 

It is not easy to be medicated. Psych meds can cause a psychiatric consumer to feel miserable. This is especially so for the first year or two of taking them. 

Psychiatric medications, because they slow the brain, can cause brain atrophy. I have avoided atrophy because I have put a great deal of effort into the use of my mind and into remaining active. If on antipsychotic medication, we must have activities that keep the brain engaged, or we could risk losing function. Something as simple as brushing one's teeth is sometimes harder when on meds. Putting effort into life, but not to the extent of self-torture, is essential. 

When we fight against the effects of the illness, and push against the limits imposed by medication, inevitably we will win some of the battles and lose some of them. When unable to do something, or when we have a bad day, we need not be discouraged.  


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