This is a great presentation/speech. I hope you can watch and share it! It really needs to go viral! Hopefully the correct video will play. It is a TED talk about mental illness and community.
Recently I made a medication change (with the help of my psychiatrist), and as you might know from your own interactions with meds sometimes it can cause issues to develop. I was happily strolling along for a couple of months with a few bad days here and there, and then I started to notice the bad days piling up more often. I was really irritable, sad, became unmotivated, and suicide starting sounding better. I became alarmed, because I knew something was going wrong, but how was I supposed to explain to my psychiatrist that “irritable” is a symptom for me?
The problem with mental illness is that even when we fit into a diagnosed category of disorder, we all have our own unique symptoms that we need to pay attention to. I have schizophrenia, but for years I didn’t appear “sick enough” to most doctors, because they expected me to be talking to the walls and completely disheveled. There were times when I was talking to the walls and completely disheveled, but the doctors rarely saw me during those times, so they figured I wasn’t that bad off. Because I could communicate relatively well most doctors dismissed schizophrenia as a diagnosis.
Over the years I have come to realize what my symptoms are (for the most part), and now that I am doing better I can advocate for myself more effectively. However, it still isn’t easy to call up my psychiatrist and say “wow, I’m extremely irritable, this isn’t normal for me, and I need to increase my meds.” Most psychiatrists won’t believe that “irritable” is in any way related to schizophrenia, but for me (and many others) it is. I don’t become psychotic over night, and I don’t believe that I should have to be talking to walls in order to get the help I need. I also don’t believe that people should have to try to kill themselves before mental health professionals take people seriously.
Unfortunately, a lot of mental health professionals won’t take a person seriously unless they are debilitated to the point of needing to be hospitalized. So, as people living with mental illness or people who love people with mental illness, we have to be very proactive about getting the help we need before it turns into a crisis. Think about the good days and what you are like on those days, and compare them to the bad days. What are YOUR symptoms? How do things manifest in your day to day life? You might want to write down what you know your symptoms to be, and take that list with you when you talk to your doctor. It isn’t easy or fun, but we have to advocate for ourselves even when we are not doing our best.
In the end, you know your symptoms the best. Remember that you aren’t “crazy” for wanting to feel better and you aren’t making up excuses. Be pragmatic and straightforward, and get the help you need.
Some of you may remember that I have been getting Haldol Decanoate injections for the past 13 years or so in order to keep my schizophrenia in check. I wrote about it here: https://kristinbell.org/2012/06/14/the-haldol-injections-after-10-years/. Recently Abilify Maintena, the long-acting injectable form of Abilify came onto the market. After discussing it with my doctor, we decided to give it a try. I have been taking the oral form of Abilify along with the Haldol Dec injections for about two or three years with no adverse side effects, and it has really improved my functioning as well. The long term risks of side effects like tardive dyskinesia are much higher with the Haldol than with the Abilify which is one reason why we decided to switch. Abilify also has fewer metabolic side effects (things like less weight gain are associated with Abilify). We are taking a giant leap into the great unknown. I got my first injection of the Abilify tonight. It comes in an injection kit with sterile water that must be mixed with the powder Abilify and then injected. The Haldol is an oil-based mixture that is also injected. I am hoping to also have less sedation side effects from the Abilify. I’m just crossing my fingers that all will go well. I will keep you all updated as time passes. It is also interesting to note that Abilify Maintena has been approved for much longer in many other countries, but it just became available in the US. The US also lags behind many European countries in the administration of injectable forms of antipsychotics. Personally, I think that all people with chronic schizophrenia should give injectable antipsychotics a try. The injections don’t hurt and it is much easier to manage than oral medications. I’m including some pics of what my injection kit looks like too. It looks complicated, but it really only took about 4-5 minutes to administer including reading the directions! I’m saying Hello to Abilify Maintena and goodbye to my old friend Haldol Decanoate!
I thought I’d do a little mental health update, since it has been quite some time since I’ve blogged about my overall mental health. As some of you dear readers may know, I have schizophrenia. I first had issues with it when I was about 15. My first hospitalization was when I was 16. Towards the end of 2000 I got mostly stabilized with my Haldol injections and Zoloft. I haven’t been in the hospital since then! Yay! Quite a long run I’ve had and I hope it continues! For quite some time I had problems getting things done, being motivated and feeling down…that sort of thing, even though I was mostly fine. I think it was last year that I started taking Abilify and it has made a HUGE difference! I’m still taking Zoloft, Buspar, Haldol and some non-psychiatric meds in addition to the Abilify, but the addition of the Abilify was great. I’m doing really pretty well these days. Sometimes I have anxiety, although I think it might generally be related to performance issues with school. I also tried taking Topamax to help with weight loss, but I thought it might be making me stupid and giving me more anxiety, so I quit taking it. I think overall, the Topamax was not helping. It seemed like I was becoming less motivated and more sad with it. I also had that bad anxiety day that I wrote about recently.
So, I think I was just hoping for a magic weightloss bullet with the Topamax. It didn’t work. Boo. I have lost about 90-100 pounds though which is good, but I still need to be less sedentary. I’m also a believer in fat acceptance, but of course it is hard to say that I never want to try to lose weight. I would be an even bigger believer in fat acceptance if I wasn’t actually fat I think!!! hahaha. I know that sounds ridiculous, but it is kind of true. I can accept the hell out of everyone’s fatness, but my own! lol.
Anyway, enough about fatness for now. What I want to say is that I’m doing well on the whole. My sleep patterns have improved with my sleep apnea machine, and while I’m not sleeping on any kind of normal schedule yet, I’m getting sleep every day and mostly at the same time! I still tend to be somewhat paranoid, but I’ve found that opening up with people over the years on the internet has really helped me to realize that I don’t need to be afraid of everyone in the world. I still have some delusional thoughts that blow through my brain now and then, but I consider them to be more of a slight annoyance than a big deal right now. But seriously, it is because of the medicine. If I wasn’t taking my meds, and doing so faithfully, I would be in and out of hospitals and massively psychotic. Some people don’t believe me, because I “seem so normal,” but I have to wonder what THAT means anyway? And, I don’t know, it seems like I should be insulted when people say that to me, but I’m not sure why I find it so insulting! I don’t necessarily want to be abnormal, even though I pretty much am, but I think it just bothers me that people attach a kind of value judgement to the term “normal” as if “normal” is superior. It is definitely easier to live in the world if you are “normal,” but it isn’t the only way to be in the world, that’s for sure. Normal is just such a peculiar word, no?
So, I’m doing fine. Some anxiety here and there, some weird thoughts here and there…a depressed mood now and then, but mostly just good. Which is nice. Thank you meds and thank you lucky stars! So, that’s my update after living with schizophrenia for 24 years. Wow! 24 years! Man am I getting old!!! LOL.
I’m very pleased to report that this last term at school went great! I took the first term of Calculus and Intro. to Linear Algebra and got A’s in both classes! I also had a really good time with the classes. I had great teachers too! I have seen a real improvement in my ability to actually get to classes because of my bipap sleep machine and have seen an even greater increase in my ability to do homework and concentrate since I started taking Abilify last January. Doing well in school has always been important to me, but because of my schizophrenia and sleep problems I have had a lot of issues with being able to attend and get through classes.
When I first became ill when I was 15 my grades really suffered. For the first time in my life I wasn’t a straight A student which was quite disheartening. The last two terms in school I have been feeling a lot like my old self for the first time since I was 15!!!
Anyway, this last term was great and a real ego booster! I just hope I can keep up the success! :)