This may seem like funny picture to post with the topic in the title, but for me there is actually a lot of significance in it. From my early days when I was a pre-teen, I was in Air Cadets. After becoming a Sergeant, I quit and tried to forget about that whole part of my life. I spent most of the summer after I quit cadets wishing I had stayed in, that I was still connected to my friends who were out having the times of their lives, going to camps that taught them flying or advanced survival or advanced leadership. I really regret quitting, but a few years later, after having severe psychosis and acting out violently which caused me to be put into a secure unit in a psychiatric hospital a number of times, I wanted all that I had lost back. The trouble was, none of those options were still out there for me. Despite my mental health diagnosis, I took out a massive student loan in BC and tried to get my pilot’s license. This was the best time of my life. I was meeting all kinds of really attractive young women, I was travelling, and the flying was absolutely amazing. When this period of my life ended, and I found myself unable to continue flying or even take care of myself outside of psychiatric care, the depths of my pain were immeasurable. I remember feeling like my life was over, that there would be no more travelling or fun or any of it. What I didn’t really take into account was that at the time I was unable to really take a good hard look at myself when I was flying. At the time, I did experience psychosis, but only when I had been off medication for a while. What I did experience was bipolar disorder, which left me incredibly depressed or far too animated for my own good. I actually was fired from a job because I talked to customers too much. I would talk their ears off, not realizing I was experiencing a manic episode. Then around Christmas, I contacted a friend I had met at a summer camp and if there was any chance of a relationship or even a friendship, my illness made sure that would be impossible.
What was amazing though, was that somehow I was able to hold on to who I was, what mattered to me when I was discharged from the hospital in Edmonton after my return. It took a long wait and a lot of paperwork, but I was given the opportunity to return to high school and complete my grade 12. When I was there, I met the girl of my dreams. I did exceptionally well in school despite little effort, but my main tragic flaw that came was that I decided my penmanship and attractiveness were more important than my mental state and I stopped taking Lithium which was my mood stabilizer (which made my hands shake) and I also stopped taking my pill for psychosis. I don’t know how I have managed it, but that was more than 25 years ago and to this day I still have that same girl (sorry woman) as a best friend. But I had to come first to a point where I was able to admit I had a mental illness. I had to accept treatment. For a long time I lived in severe isolation. In our presentations at the Schizophrenia Society, we relay a disturbing truth. 40% of people with schizophrenia try to end their own lives-and 10% of people with the illness will succeed. It is believed that isolation and stigma are the main factors.
I have come to learn a lot about this fact, and to develop in myself a measure of compassion for those who suffer still by taking on a job at the Schizophrenia Society as a phone support person. Every few weeks I am given a list of people who are shut-ins/isolated and I just call them and talk to them. I try as hard as I can, but I hate to admit that I seem to only make a real difference in a low percentage of the cases. Some of the people though are really so interesting that I don’t understand why they isolate. The trouble is, mental illness has been so stigmatized, so shuffled off to the dirty little corners no one wants to sweep up, that some people don’t even realize that they are full members of the human race regardless of any illness. People need to come to understand that an illness is not the fault of the person who it manifests itself in. To the best of my understanding, there are millions if not billions of nerves in our bodies. Our brain is an example of a bundle of nerves so complex and active that many many things go on in it at once, even while we sleep. Mental illnesses that cause psychosis (and I really don’t think it is relevant to distinguish between diagnoses, but instead to look at how to keep the whole person and their family as healthy as possible, mentally and physically) are based in this huge complex of nerves. Nerves communicate by shooting chemicals called neurotransmitters back and forth to each other. A good deal of psychiatric medications have the end effect of helping stabilize these transmissions. They may reduce the reuptake of the transmitters (serotonin is one of the main ones) or even simply just slow down the nerve traffic so the person can ‘come down’ enough to respond to other treatments. It is worth noting that nicotine affects these same neurotransmitters in much the same way medications do. What all of this adds up to is that this is a physical illness. Yes, maybe people may seem like they are willfully acting out sometimes and doing disturbing or distasteful things, but it is because there is a storm going on in their heads that they simply can’t control. Even people on ideal doses of medications may still experience symptoms.
Well, dear readers, that is it for today. I welcome your comments and feedback. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or topic suggestions. Thanks for continuing to give me the strength to keep this blog going.