ON MENTAL ILLNESS: A Piece of My History: Functioning in Society While Psychotic

Jack Bragen
Friday January 04, 2019 - 04:38:00 PM

In 1996, I went off antipsychotic medication, and this was a mistake. This came after a series of crises in which I was threatened, assaulted, victimized by con artists, and otherwise attacked. By the time a stable situation was restored, I had deteriorated, and had lost the insight that the medication was the only thing that remained that held me together. 

I was 5150'd after walking ten miles or more to a church in Pleasant Hill. I was put in "I" Ward, at Merrithew Memorial Hospital, long since replaced by Contra Costa Regional Medical Center. In fact, through the window at "I" Ward, I could see workers welding together the frame of the first new building. 

When I was released from my stay at the then County Hospital, I was still very delusional because the antipsychotics weren't working as well as they previously had worked. I was cared for by my then fiancé, who is now my wife of twenty-two years. 

Even though I was very delusional, I was somehow able to function and meet my basic needs. This was a pretty good feat. The awareness exercises that I did before the psychotic episode may have worked for me. 

I was able to ground by attaching myself to what came in through the "here and now" five senses. Thus, while most of my mind followed the delusions, I had a compartment that maintained contact with some of the simpler, more immediate realities. I paid rent when I got out of the hospital. I kept myself fed, medicated, and bathed. My then fiancé was a major support. In previous episodes of psychosis, I was not in a steady relationship. 

When home, which, at the time, was a small unit at Riverhouse (all of the units there are small) in Martinez, California, I had a corner in which I would sit, smoke cigarettes, listen to acid rock, and explore the innards of my then psychotic mind. From this study arose many fundamental truths that continue to serve me to this day. 

You might think that if you are to meditate, you should not have distractions. Yet, psychosis or no psychosis, if parts of the mind need to be taken out of the equation, because they detract, distractions may liberate the parts of the mind that you want to use.  

(Smoking is always bad for health. Yet, if you are schizophrenic and hooked, this monkey on your back hangs on tight. It is hard for anyone to quit. I have a friend who is a couple decades older than I, who has to be on oxygen, who told me that quitting smoking was the hardest thing she ever did. And I expect it will be the same with me, only worse.) 

Yet, the main point of this week's column is to say that schizophrenic people can often function in society, often including when we have delusions. When I was meditating, I realized that, to a large extent, my mind would do what I told it to do. So, I told it to get rid of the delusions. That doesn't replace being medicated. But it does put into effect some self-correcting mechanisms. 

Even when significantly delusional, I did not need to be on conservatorship; I was able to handle my own business. I attribute this partly to not being hooked on illicit drugs, and partly to having good levels of autopilot. 

But, can schizophrenic people cure themselves? No. When on medication, and with external help, we can work hard to lower symptoms and improve levels of functioning. It is an uphill battle. Yet, it is worth the effort, since effort of this kind can improve quality of life. 

For those with mental illness, I encourage CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy). Medication alone isn't enough. People who are subject to psychosis and other psychiatric issues are well-advised to do exercises that increase levels of insight, and exercises that bring relief from worries, from anger, and from depression.