Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Meds and Recovery

I've gotten to the point in my life where I'm really focused on recovery. To me, that's really what this blog is about, my own personal successes and challenges with recovery from the effects of both mental illness (bipolar and schizophrenia) and substance abuse. I've noticed that the idea of "recovery" means different things to different people.  With substance abuse, recovery is generally a little more clear cut: stay sober. There are caveats of course, like don't replace one substance addiction with another, etc. but there's not a big grey area anymore at the point you realize you're an addict.  It's completely black and white - not one drop, not one toke, not one bump and so on.

There's a ginormous debate among the mentally ill, though, about what recovery means in terms of medication.  I've noticed this especially in discussions with other schizophrenics.  Do meds mean recovery or failure?  Does recovery mean that you can go without meds?

When I was first diagnosed at 24, I took meds without question.  Over the course of the next five years though, I found out how hard it is to find the "right" combination of meds.  My psychiatrist made frequent changes, for example, when I couldn't tolerate the side effects of a medication or when it just wasn't working.  I started to feel like a lab rat (and I support PETA) so I became afraid of the changes.  Eventually, I consciously went back to self-medicating and gave up on meds.  I thought that I was doing fine because I wasn't having mood swings.

I remember a therapist in a hospital one time, clearly showed me how I was an addict and explained to me also that I needed medication, even if I felt fine, because you never know when you're going to have problems and if you're already on meds, you're less likely to destabilize. Also, the medication can make you feel so much better that you think you don't need it, but it's exactly what's making you feel better and that means keep taking it.  She helped me see that I needed to sober up, but she couldn't convince me about the meds.  I thought, if I'm going to be sober then I don't want any pharmaceuticals, either.  I'll just take good care of myself and stay off all chemicals. That, I thought, meant recovery..

This attitude, this course of action, led to my major psychotic break when I was 30.  But like so many of us with schizophrenia, I wanted my delusional world. I needed it.  I just didn't think anyone would believe me if I told them what I was thinking, so I stayed to myself and tried to act "normal."  I wasn't having mood swings, though, so, without understanding the nature of my schizophrenia, I thought I was fine.  It took until I was 36 and going through horrible, rapid cycling again with my bipolar disorder that I finally agreed to go back on meds.  I was so far gone and so in need of meds that I couldn't even articulate about my psychosis for about another 6 months.  I didn't even know until then that I had spent 6 years hallucinating.

Personally, I know that meds saved my life.  I was completely suicidal when I went back on meds and utterly delusional.  Without meds I am non-functional.  The meds give me the stability I need to maintain relationships with family and friends.  I'm of the belief that meds are an intrinsic part of recovery.  I'll grant you, it's not a perfect science and any good doctor will tell you that. There isn't enough understanding about brain chemistry to "cure" mental illness yet, but the drugs we do have help, and they give us hope.

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