ON MENTAL ILLNESS: April Fool's Day—Twenty Years

Jack Bragen
Friday March 25, 2016 - 04:54:00 PM

April Fool's Day marks twenty years since my most recent admission to an inpatient psychiatric ward. (It coincided with a big explosion at the Shell refinery here in Martinez, an unrelated but not irrelevant event.) It was my last attempt to wean myself off of antipsychotic medication, and it was unsuccessful, as it had been with previous attempts.  

A week or three beforehand, while I was "decompensating," I'd had one nonviolent run-in with Concord Police on the front lawn of the house where my girlfriend (now wife; nineteen years) lived. My symptoms kept getting worse as I continued to go without medication, and was seen wandering the streets of Martinez.  

A few hours before the explosion, I believed I was in mortal danger and had to get out of the area. I walked about ten miles to a church in Pleasant Hill, where I was 5150'd. The explosion at the refinery happened about that time, and could be seen at the church, which was situated on a hill.  

Upon being hospitalized and reinstated on medication, my recovery was slow. It took me a very long time to sort out the fact that I was suffering from delusions, and that I needed to start correcting my thoughts. Meanwhile, I had been released to the care of my [then] girlfriend.  

I stayed in one of the two inpatient psychiatry wards in the old Martinez Merrithew Hospital, called "I ward." The first building of the replacement hospital now standing was under construction, and from the window of the psych ward, I could see workers welding girders of the frame.  

At "I ward" I had the delusion (among many other delusions) that I was in a museum of historic mental hospitals. The facility dated back to the time of World War II.  

I owe a large part of my long term recovery to my wife, who said several times that if I went off medication, she would move out. She was and still is a voice of reason and a caring person. She has turned out to be exactly "what the doctor ordered."  

Something was different about my most recent recovery that began twenty years ago, in comparison to earlier recoveries. I had apparently struck "pay-dirt" in my meditation practices that I did beforehand and afterward. While I was recovering, I made numerous observations about how my mind works. I put these observations to work in making a better, albeit slower, recovery.  

In my recovery of the last twenty years, numerous times I have flashed upon various events in my life, and came to the realization, among other realizations, that there had been a large gap in my perceptions. I had been unable to comprehend my life situations with a good level of clarity.  

Perhaps clarity has the potential to come with age. And also, as I got older, I had not been crystallized into an ignorant pattern of thought and behavior. Looking at the recovery of my older brother in the past ten years (he is also schizophrenic) I realize that something similar seemed to happen for him. He is functioning at a better level than he had in his past.  

It is an established theory in psychiatry that for people with schizophrenia, if you live long enough, the illness tapers off when you reach later years. I am benefiting today from the fact that I have physically survived the hazards of my illness, have remained intact, and can now enjoy later years in which things are not quite as hard.