Schizophrenia’s Lifelong Treatments

Schizophrenia is a severe mental illness where contact with reality and insight are impaired, an example of psychosis. Symptoms of schizophrenia include psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations, delusions, and thought disorder (unusual ways of thinking), as well as reduced expression of emotions, reduced motivation to accomplish goals, difficulty in social relationships, motor impairment, and cognitive impairment. 

Schizophrenia is a severe, long-term mental health condition that requires lifelong treatment, even when symptoms subside. Treatment with medications and psychosocial therapy can help manage the condition. In some cases, hospitalization may be needed.

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Medications are the cornerstone of schizophrenia treatment, and antipsychotic medications like Seroquel, Risperdal, Lithium, or Haldol are the most commonly prescribed drugs. 

First generation antipsychotic medications, meaning discovered in the 1950s, formed one of the greatest breakthroughs in psychiatry. However, first-generation antipsychotics have frequent and potentially significant neurological side effects, including the possibility of developing a movement disorder (tardive dyskinesia) that may or may not be reversible. Fortunately, for me it was in my case. Newer, second-generation medications are often preferred because they pose a lower risk of serious side effects than do first-generation antipsychotics.

Newer mood stabilizers are also used to treat the condition, as is in my case. Mood stabilizers work for me because the hallucinations and delusions vary based on my mood. For example, on New Year’s Day of this year, I was admitted to the emergency room for breathing problems and an upper respiratory infection that was not COVID but was severe enough to scare me. And with the added stressor of loved ones not being allowed into the room with me, the voices were incredibly terrifying. So, my mood being down, the voices were predominantly negative, suggesting that I take my own life. The following three weeks found no relief since I was put on prednisone, a glucocorticoid, which amplifies feelings and/or conditions. In my case that was the negative voices.

On the other hand, I’m typically even-keeled, and some say optimistic a good portion of the time. So, the limited voices correspond to my mood and reveal themselves to be cathartic, even encouraging, but mainly limited in their ferocity thanks to the mood stabilizer, Abilify, which I’m on maximum dosage. After a few more months of this leveling off, I’ll go back down to a moderate dose. But, after many years of being overly optimistic about my condition, I’ve come to the realization that I’ll be on a mood stabilizer, if not anti-psychotic, the rest of my life.

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In addition to medication, there is the ongoing psychosocial therapy. That too, will be lifelong, hopefully not as often as I’m currently required to see the therapist. So, like the 3.5 million others battling this mental illness and the 100,000 new diagnoses each year, I will continue to press onward and upward so that I’m not in the 3.5 times more likely who ultimately take their lives. Schizophrenia isn’t a death sentence and many of us with it choose to say we battle it as opposed to suffer from it.

The most difficult thing to deal with, for many, isn’t the disease itself but the stigma surrounding it; but, for me, that’s probably in part to my social anxiety disorder, which is a comorbidity. Schizophrenia is most often seen in patients that have an underlying or overlapping condition such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, OCD, and panic disorder, which makes it difficult to diagnose and why so many suffer without the therapies, whether medication or psychotherapy, that assists them in battling the condition.  

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How do I think other people perceive me?

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While I have anxiety, OCD, and schizophrenia, I oftentimes feel that people think I’m sitting in a corner in utter anguish and hearing voices. I have stressors like everybody else so I have rough days, but those are usually days that would be stressful to anybody. Some examples are work issues, writing challenges, family matters, and such. I feel like pulling my hair out some days.

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But the voices are well-controlled with medicine, and my OCD can be uneasy at times, but it’s not noticeable. My delusions are kept in check with consistent therapy. Now for my social anxiety: I’d say that’s the most challenging for me. It’s hit or miss. Adrenaline usually helps me make the day. However, there are days when I just can’t handle the bustling crowds and choose to stay home and read a book or paint. But all in all, I think that I’m underestimated and viewed as the images above show: cowering in a corner, frantic at my computer, or hiding behind a tree.

Book review: Words on Bathroom Walls by Julia Walton

Random House, 2017

This YA fiction novel tells the story of Adam, who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, is about to start a new school, and is also in a clinical trial for an experimental drug to manage his symptoms, the most prominent being that he’s sees people that aren’t there, all the time. Adam discusses friends, family, and love as he navigates a world much different than his peers. He gains a new best friend, attracts the attention of a bully, and falls in love all the while his main concern is traversing a new social situation without giving anyone reason to think he’s “crazy.”

This book is comprised of Adam’s journal entries to his therapist. I think the end just really highlights the strong relationships Adam has, and how they can support him. Adam is an amazing character, because he feels so real. I enjoyed reading his thoughts about the little things and his vision of the world. This book will make you laugh, cry and smile. It also brings a new light on schizophrenia, a disease most people do not know much of. This book sits right next to The Fault in Our Stars and The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Words on Bathroom Walls is a beautiful, touching book, a true masterpiece. Adam is so engaging and funny, and his commentary on the cast of characters in his head so fascinating. While he wants to keep a secret from close ones at all costs, his drive behind it is that Adam just wants to be known as a normal kid. I like that Adam himself is a complex, but likeable character; he likes making people happy and does noble deeds, but he makes mistakes from time to time as well.

The conflict Adam has with himself, over keeping his mental illness a secret is well-written and the people Adam hallucinates and interacts with as a symbol throughout the book represent Adam’s thoughts and feelings, adding to the conflict. Above all, I came away with mental Illness isn’t something we can control. Learning to live with it is difficult and we should never have to apologize.

Book review: Ghosts of Harvard by Francesa Scottoline Serritella

Random House, 2020

The protagonist, Cady Archer, goes to Harvard with the intention of finding details about the suicide of her brother, Eric, who had schizophrenia which creates a division in her family with her father supporting her intent, and her mother opposed because she’s in fear of losing her daughter as well.

Serritella deftly weaves together this highly textured and atmospheric study of historical knowledge and theoretical physics to build an interesting, gripping mystery, as opposed to a typical ghost story. While high-functioning, Eric, did have psychotic episodes, and he stopped taking medication, as he became dedicated to his research on entanglement theory in a notebook that can only be described as a cryptic map of sorts which Cady ends up using in her search for what ultimately happened to her brother.

Like her brother before her, Cady, in mourning as well as danger, also “hears voices,” but are they hallucinations, aspects of medieval science or quantum physics bending time and space, or are they ghosts from Harvard’s past? Perhaps all of the above? Fortunately for Cady, one of the voices helps her escape a rapist.

What she discovers is quite startling and troubling but is a page-turning read. All in all, it’s not the YA fiction about mental illness that I’m used to reading. It came across as more supernatural with some stereotypical characters but ultimately was a well written, witty, suspenseful, and interesting read about personal growth.

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Angela Grey is a writer with paranoid schizophrenia, OCD, PTSD, and social anxiety. She has created memorable moving tales about the sometimes unexpected and challenging road to first love: Secret Whispers (a story about schizophrenia), Déjà vu (a tale about a teen with bipolar disorder), and Of Laughter & Heartbreak (a piece about obsessive-compulsive disorder).

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Mental Illness Struggles by Decade

mental health

In my twenties, after getting over the years of low self-esteem in my adolescence, which came about through parenting and realizing what really matters in life, I noticed changes first in college seeking my Associate’s degree. I began thinking someone followed me throughout my days and into the night. Paranoia also set in big time. The voices and hallucinations started slowly and, at that time, were indecipherable. Did I know something was wrong? Yes. However, I knew I couldn’t remain married to an alcoholic any longer and filed for divorce while my four children were preschool age. With that came worries about custody, so I kept my illness to myself.

The thirties brought security in my relationship in the form of Robert. I knew I’d met the love of my life and didn’t want to lose him. My jealousy turned into hallucinations, which I felt a subsequent loss of control with as days progressed. This brought about disagreements and strife. Custody issues permeated my thoughts. So I kept my illness to myself. I’d returned to college for drafting, as well as the goal of a Bachelor’s degree.

During my forties, I was deep in hallucinations. Any anxiety brought about a deeper delve into madness. This also was the start of social anxiety disorder. I think that came roughly due to the fear of being found out. I started taking more online classes for the generals. I only stepped foot in a classroom if it was through the U of M’s Center for Spirituality and Healing, such as yoga, MBSR, or other overall wellness-related topics.

Alas, the start of the fifties. Am I really this old? I don’t feel it. This time is pretty much entrenched upon the adage: Life begins at the edge of one’s comfort zone. I don’t know where I heard that, but it rings true.

For this reason, I push myself to remain part of society, and not hide away in my writing cave, in hopes of attaining real enjoyment despite discomfort to achieve such new experiences. Coming to grips with my intuition, which in turn configures new perspectives, thereby helps me conquers fears. Although it’s easier said than done…

Positive vs. Negative Symptoms for Me

strengthThe positive symptoms (in addition to reality) of schizophrenia are: hallucinations (see and hear things), delusions (false beliefs that defy reasoning), paranoia, disorganized thinking,and grandiosity (believing that I have supernatural powers),

And the negative symptoms (lacking from normally considered behavior) are: lack of emotion, slow speaking, poor hygiene, impaired memory, poor concentration or decision making skills, limited social functioning, lacking motivation, and inability to experience enjoyment in things I once found pleasurable.

I’ve highlighted the ones that I experienced. In addition to those, I experienced sleeplessness, OCD, depression, and high anxiety. All of my symptoms have been treatable. I do still experience hallucinations when the stresses in my life are too great. Things haven’t gotten easier for me; instead, with the aid of medication, psychotherapy and my support structure, I’ve learned what is and isn’t real. I can control my emotions but I still have trouble relating to other people because I fear that my symptoms may arise in their presence. But the key is that I am in control and feel empowered.

Contrary to myths, as a person with schizophrenia, I don’t have developmental disabilities, violent tendencies, or a split personality. Not being in contact with my birth family, I don’t if genetic susceptibility or environmental factors (nature or nurture) played a role. I was diagnosed with PTSD years back due to physical and emotional trauma as a child; but I believe those are irrelevant at this point in my life as I’ve gotten over and forgiven all responsible. I truly hope they are as happy as they can be in their own part of this world.

At this point, the medication works but isn’t without side effects. The worst of all is the tremors. However, restlessness comes in a close second. All in all, I prognosticate that I will be in full remission (symptom free), with the aid of medication, within six months time.

Suicidal Tendencies

Hi, my name is Angie Grey and I attempted suicide at the age of seventeen while I was pregnant. It was within six months after being released from the psychiatric ward. I jumped off a train bridge in Bismarck, North Dakota and was rescued by a boater in the water beneath me. I didn’t realize how lucky I was for him to be there that late at night because I didn’t know how to swim and was sure to die. For a long while, I was okay with living up until May of 2009. At that point, I had a suicide date in mind. Fortunately for me, I found Pathways Health Crisis Center in Minneapolis. At that time, my next door neighbor, Angela had committed suicide and I was in full blown delusion. For years, the dead woman living in my home urged me to take my life just as she did my neighbor. My grandiosity was that I could see through walls to the adjacent townhome. I saw my neighbor laying in her bathtub, with pill bottles and a bottle of wine in hand. All the while, the dead woman who lives inside my home was telling me that life wasn’t worth living. Most recently, during my psychotic break, the dead woman said my new neighbor is planning on taking his life too; but this time it will be with a gun and due to the constant hip pain he is experiencing. She (the dead woman) continued to tell me and show me how obvious it is that life isn’t worth living. Look at all the suffering. Thanks to my medicine, I see this isn’t real. Fortunately for me, I have a strong support network and Pathways as well. I feel bad for the others that don’t!

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