ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Seventeen Years, No Relapse

By Jack Bragen
Thursday May 02, 2013 - 08:30:00 PM

As of this spring, I have gone seventeen years since my last admission to an inpatient psychiatry ward. (I was hospitalized on April Fool's Day, 1996.) I'm not bragging when I say this is a significant accomplishment given my diagnosis of Paranoid-type Schizophrenia, and the severity of my case of this illness. 

Much of the credit for this belongs to my wife, since she said she would move out if I became medication noncompliant. Also, following this last episode, I promised myself that I would not forget how bad an experience it is to go through a full-blown psychotic episode. And I promised myself that I would never again make the mistake of becoming medication noncompliant. 

I was in my early thirties, and I realized that my parents were getting too old to deal with me as a psychotic person. Also, I realized that I was getting old enough to where I might not physically survive the stresses on the body that are induced by being psychotic. 

The psychosis that I would get when off medication would cause me to be very verbally aggressive as well as unable to care for myself. I would also behave erratically, albeit with some safety mechanisms that prevented me from doing anything super dumb. 

Once stabilized, it would take me four, or maybe five years to get back to a good level of functioning. (Also, I previously had a pattern of relapsing every six years.) 

A psychotic episode causes long-term damage. Recovery after psychosis tends to be slow for most people. Recovery after repeated psychotic episodes is even slower because more damage has occurred. 

I consider myself lucky that I retained enough brain cells to eventually be able to write for publication. I still have a number of life difficulties that are a direct or indirect result of the illness. Daily living, doing all of the things that are needed to get by (paying rent, taking out the trash, putting gas in the tank, and so on) is an ongoing struggle. 

I believe that persons with mental illness can be helped by becoming educated about their illnesses. Furthermore, I think noncompliance would occur less often if life conditions were made better. Many persons with mental illness may not have much to look forward to, and this can create a despair that leads to noncompliance, in the usually vain hope that the illness can be left behind. 

In Buddhism it is said that we ought to "live in the moment." However, if the moment stinks, you need to live on hope for the future. For person's with mental illness, it isn't always realistic to enjoy the now moment, since we must sometimes endure symptoms and circumstances that we do not control, which entail a great depth of misery. It is important to remember, no matter what, we should always remain hopeful, since at some point, things will invariably get better.