ON MENTAL ILLNESS: The Effects of Stress on Fragile People

Jack Bragen
Friday August 23, 2019 - 02:46:00 PM

As a human being with more than the typical vulnerabilities, I know that in several ways, I'm not very strong. When life becomes excessively demanding, or when events occur in my life that I find traumatic, the repercussions that follow include an increase in the symptoms of my psychiatric condition. 

Following a difficult event or series of events, assuming things settle down and I have some alone time, I'm left with the task of finding my way out of psychosis and other problems, not just with meds, but also through mindfulness techniques. 

I'm guessing that other mentally ill people have similar reactions to mine. I've also seen other mentally ill people go through stress, and some have reacted by having a complete relapse of their illness. 

When older, a psychiatric consumer no longer has the privilege to have an episode. The result of invoking one through noncompliance with treatment is sometimes fatal, and, at the least, an episode is devastating for the person's future condition and future life circumstances. To clarify, most of the time, mentally ill people don't decide they want a psychotic episode and thus stop taking medication. It is more like, stress gets the better of the individual and they deteriorate, and somewhere in the process of this, compliance goes out the window. 

Extreme stresses are poisonous to anyone, disabled or not. The stresses of losing a parent, a sibling, a spouse or an offspring, are hard to face. For someone with a life-changing mental illness, this kind of stress can quickly cause us to become ill. In some instances, the stress reaction is delayed by up to several months. 

An early relapse of my illness took place about a year after I'd quit medication AMA (against medical advice). I had decompensated part-way over a period of nine months. Then, there was a life-threatening armed robbery incident where I worked. (I was captive of two gunmen for eleven hours overnight.) 

Following the above incident, my condition worsened at a faster pace. Over a period of two more months, I became completely psychotic. But I continued to work at my job, in a manner that resembled autopilot. And I finally stopped showing up for work. Soon after, I was 5150'd at a gas station. 

Decades later, I had a friend who also, was a threat, because he could get violently out of control when having a manic episode, and he was twice my size. Yet, he was sensitive, and he was very politically conscious. Following the death of his mother and the 9/11 attack, his mania returned, and he became a dangerous man. Additionally, he may have lost his housing. Later, I was shocked to hear of his death from a heart attack. 

I don't know the exact circumstances of his death. He may have possibly died during a 5150 or may have died from exposure to outdoor high temperatures. I was never privy to this information.  

I've known one or two people who became ill following an ended relationship. Relationships are a challenge, and a breakup is stressful. It seems that those who have a strong desire for a relationship to the point where it is obsessive, are the least able to handle a relationship. The human drive to partner is a powerful instinct and has a lot of potential to disrupt the mind. Learning to handle relationships without becoming obsessive or destabilized is a significant accomplishment, not just for someone with a psychiatric disability. 

I've seen people become destabilized from work situations that were too hard, also from a major career loss. But also, trying to meet demands and expectations imposed by other people or by life situations, if those demands are too much, can trigger a relapse. 

People with psych disabilities should not be put into situations that are more than we can handle. We cannot handle as much stress or as many demands compared to non-afflicted people--that's just reality. The results of excessive expectations can be disastrous. We may seem strong on the outside, but we have vulnerabilities that others do not have. 

One of numerous reasons that I've chosen to self-publish my books rather than seeking a literary agent is that I don't have to do public speaking, I don't have to handle complex book contracts, and I don't have to do a myriad of other things involved in traditional publishing. There are other reasons that make traditional publishing impractical for me. But I find that self-publishing is very low-key and doesn't involve much, and this suits me. (The self-publishing I've done in the past seven years has yielded more receipts than my expenses.) 

People with psychiatric disabilities are better off keeping life relatively simple and straightforward. This is not to imply that we are incompetent. While many mentally ill people can't handle as much as a non-medicated, non-disabled person, many of us are fully able to live as adults.