Monthly Archives: June 2006
REGARDING THE INTERNET
When I became ill, I lost all my friends. This is a common experience among people with mental illnesses. People you thought loved you run away when they learn that you’ve gone crazy.
I made friends in the mental health system, fellow patients who had been through similar experiences to my own, but most of these relationships were short-lived. You can feel close to someone in the hospital, fall in love even, but once you’re both discharged, you find out you don’t have anything in common.
Some relationships do stick. I met Joe in 1986, at <st1laceName>Emerson</st1laceName> <st1laceType>Hospital</st1laceType>, and if someone had told me that in four years we’d fall madly in love with each other, I wouldn’t have believed it. I didn’t think he’d want to continue a friendship after discharge, but he gave me his phone number, scrawled on a little slip of yellow paper. By some twist of fate I didn’t lose that little yellow paper. And in the end it was only death that parted us. We knew each other for 17 years.
I didn’t have many friends when I got sick. What few I had fell away as bark falls from a diseased tree. My social circles narrowed as the years wore on. In 1997 my friends numbered three: Joe, Susan, and Phoebe. Phoebe moved to New York and unexpectedly severed all ties with her Boston friends. I believe she had a drug relapse, but I never found out for sure. My relationship with Susan deteriorated when I told her I wasn’t feeling well enough to see her. She got tired of waiting, I suppose. Joe got sick and moved in with his parents, and I barely saw him after that. I can’t say for certain but I believe his parents felt I was a bad influence on him. They did everything they could to keep us separated, for a number of months.
By August, I was desperate and lonely enough to make an attempt on my life. During the months that followed I thought of nothing but death: how to do it, where to do it, and when. Even <st1laceName>McLean</st1laceName> <st1laceType>Hospital</st1laceType>, one of the country’s top mental institutions, failed me, declaring me “no longer in need of hospitalization” exactly when my insurance ran out. In October my treatment team gave me an ultimatum: shape up or get shipped to the back wards of the state hospital for an extended vacation.
What happened during those dark months I remember fairly well. My life had taken a tragic turn. I kept detailed records of those days that I haven’t read since I wrote them. I spent many hours by the railroad tracks, daring myself to jump in front of a commuter train. I smoked in a little wooded area by the cemetery until a cop found me hiding there, waiting for a train to pass. After that, I never returned to my secret hideout, but ambled out by the river with a loaf of white bread, tossing it to the ducks and geese that waited by the water’s edge. It was a cold, crispy and dismal autumn, a season with a tone in synch with my current mood.
During the first week of December 1997, my mother took me to a store to buy a computer. I had a not-so-crazy notion of having e-mail pals. Within a week I sailed into cyberspace.
I am not exaggerating when I say the Internet saved my life. I met about 200 people over the next few days. Through correspondence, through writing, I was able to make friends in a way that felt comfortable to me in my narrow, limited world. Some of those people are still good friends of mine. I befriended people ages 17 to 79, from the US and abroad, people with problems, people I could help. I had never helped anyone before, never felt valued enough as a friend to offer advice or consolation. But here, in cyberspace, I flourished. My typing speed increased from 45 to 70 words per minute, my eyes went dry, my wrists threatened to develop carpal tunnel syndrome, but I was not deterred.
There were pitfalls, as you will see in future entries. But I have never gone back to the desperate state I was in during 1996 and 1997. It is simply not true that cyber-relationships are shallow, or without meaning or substance. Studies have shown that heavy Internet users tend to be depressed; you can chicken-and-egg this one all you want, but the truth is that the Internet gives solace to those who are depressed and links them together in a way never before possible. For every person who becomes depressed as a result of Internet use, ten are pulled out of depression; of this I am certain. Never, never again will I be entirely alone. The Internet indeed saved me.
QB: Yes, dogs need shrinks, too!
QB, putting on a happy face! Age 2-1/2 months
I first met QB when he was only 19 days old, and I brought him home at age eight weeks. He was a lively little guy with a major case of separation anxiety that still troubles him; I can leave him at home in the bedroom and he’ll be happy, but if he sees me leave him (for example, if I tie him outside a store and go in) he gets very upset, and usually barks until he realizes it’s doing him no good.
QB first showed behavior problems at age 18 weeks, upon finishing puppy kindergarten. He bit me and jumped on me nonstop, snapping at my shirttails, pant legs, and shoelaces, and deliberately (I’m certain of this) causing trouble, and though he has never destroyed anything of value, he had me convinced that he would surely tear the house apart. Nothing I could do would stop QB’s constant attack on me.
One has to be aware of my circumstances at the time to understand the full impact of his behavior on me. It was March 2004 and my boyfriend, Joe, has passed away suddenly the previous August. In October, my dog Tiger died. I had lost the two people more important to me than anyone in the world. I was making a meager attempt at full-time graduate study at Goddard College’s low-residency MFA in Creative Writing program. And there I was with an out-of-control puppy monster.
I began a “program” with him: We took five walks a day, three for an hour and two fifteen-minute walks for “potty.” We covered three and a half miles every day, rain or shine. In between walks, he slept in his crate. Gradually, I introduced playtime, increasing its duration from fifteen minutes to a half hour, then longer as he became better behaved. At six months he had outgrown the puppy “fear stage” and I was able to spray him with water whenever he jumped on me and bit me, using the command, “Off!”
It worked. QB’s behavior indoors improved ten-fold, and continues to improve. He is now allowed run of the house and needs almost no supervision except companionship and interactive play. He no longer jumps on me or bites me, though he jumps on other people whenever he thinks he can get away with it. His outdoor behavior is what concerns me now.
I cannot walk QB without disturbing my neighbors. No matter the time of day, he snarls and barks at everyone and everything, including pedestrians, children and babies, bicycles, cars, trucks, motorcycles, lawnmowers, newspapers, basketballs, trash, telephone poles, other dogs, and so on. Children and adults alike are afraid of him, even if I reassure them (though I may not be certain myself) that he is “showing off.” He is completely unmanageable, quite the contrast to his indoor personality.
I began taking him to Pooch Palace (www.thepoochpalace.com – click on “boarding” for a full description of the premises) for day care once a week. Just because I don’t have a social life doesn’t mean he can’t have one! He runs and plays all day with other dogs, and when the day is over, sometimes gets a brushing, bath, and blow-dry. What a life! He comes home tired and happy.
But even Pooch Palace didn’t solve his behavior problems. Over the past week he’s been hiding in his crate all day sulking, refusing to come out and play, until around 4pm, then wreaks havoc when we go outside. It’s true that people, when depressed, frequently feel worse in the morning, and this is the way it seems to be with QB.
One may argue that dogs can’t get the doggie equivalent of human psychiatric illnesses, but why not? Surely, dogs can have chemical imbalances in their brains just like humans can. Mental illness is a physical illness; not unlike disorders of the liver or kidneys, brain disorders can manifest in any creature that has a brain. I feel confident that I’m giving QB the best life I can give him, but physical problems can’t be solved by love alone. It takes experienced veterinarians to treat the animal and restore him to health.
Pet behavior problems have a stigma attached, just like human psychiatric problems. I am the guilty mother. People think I abuse him, or don’t discipline him enough. People think all sorts of things. I wonder if this is anything close to what my parents experienced when I became ill–embarrassed, ashamed, guilty.
Yesterday, I telephoned the New England Veterinary Behavioral Specialists (www.petbehaviorproblems.com) and made an appointment for QB. I want him to have the best care possible, especially now that he isn’t feeling well. I’m sure that with the right help, he can recover and have a happy life again. He’ll be on a six-month program, which will include a physical exam and behavior observation, diagnosis, and treatment.
Check back at this site for updates on QB!
Before Seroquel After Seroquel
SEROQUEL: BEFORE AND AFTER
Looking at these two photos, I can laugh or I can cry, and finally, after I’ve spent a year and a half even fatter than “After Seroquel,” I’ve decided I might as well laugh. In the “Before Seroquel” photo I weighed about 100 pounds, in the “After,” taken early in May of this year, I weighed 168. I was at my highest weight, 197, when I finally decided enough was enough–there was enough of me–I had to get off Seroquel, an “atypical” antipsychotic, which was causing me to take up more space in the world than I wanted to fill. I huffed and puffed my way into Dr. P’s office and told her the Seroquel had to go. One of my friends, who is a therapist, confided in me that among his patients that take Seroquel or Zyprexa, another “atypical,” the average weight gain is 50 to 60 pounds. I gained over 100. And yes, that is a rat on my shoulder.
Now, Dr. P, do you believe me?
My parents insisted that I see a vitamin doctor. They didn’t like what the medications did to me. They blamed my entire condition on the meds.
The truth was, the meds were keeping me alive.
They asked my shrink, who said, “Can’t hurt.” Yeah, sure.
It was 1985 or ’86. My parents had read a book by a Dr. Pfeiffer, called Mental and Elemental Nutrients. Something like that. He founded the Brain Bio Center<ST1 in New Jersey.
My parents picked me up where I lived in North Bennington, Vermont, and drove me to Princeton, New Jersey. All those hours in the car with them was unbearable, but we brought my dog, Hoofy, with me, which consoled me somewhat.
For the umpteenth time, they thought they were going to save me.
I was taking Lithium and Thorazine. Lithium made my face break out in pimples, and gave me hand tremors. I had a slight “shuffle,” that is, I marched in place involuntarily, a condition called akethesia, from the Thorazine. I drank copious amounts of water because Lithium, being a salt, made me extremely thirsty. To make things worse, I was a heavy smoker at the time.
I am no longer a smoker, I don’t march in place, my skin has cleared, and my hands don’t shake. I do like my water, though. And I am still on Thorazine.
I don’t recall what the <ST1Brain Bio Center looked like, but I do remember Hoofy keeping me amused with his antics during the long ride down there.
Dr. Pfeiffer was a fiftyish gentleman with broad shoulders and white hair. He met with my parents alone, first, which annoyed me because I was 27 years old and was perfectly capable of speaking for myself. I didn’t need Mommy and Daddy’s opinions to cloud up the evaluation.
Then I met with Dr. Pfeiffer. He asked me a few questions (obviously he believed my parents over me), and looked at my hands, then asked me about my feet, which I refused to show him.
“I have cute toes,” I said.
“Cute toes! Cute toes! Ha ha ha!” He chuckled for what seemed like a long time. “Cute toes!”
Then he invited my parents back in. He cleared his throat, and said, “Julie, I want you to eat a carrot every day, an egg every day, a three-egg omelet once a week, and canned fish three times a week.”
My parents nodded to each other approvingly. “And she needs vitamins,” said my mother.
“No, just the carrots, eggs, and fish will suffice.”
I asked, “What about cholesterol?”
“Er, never mind about that. By the way,” he turned to my parents. “She has cute toes, ha ha ha.” I was wishing he would shut up about my toes.
On the ride home, my mother danced around the car: “An egg a day, a carrot a day, so simple!”
I wasn’t exactly excited about this new diet. I had just been to nursing school, or rather, I had just been kicked out of nursing school (topic for another blog entry), and I knew that one shouldn’t eat more than two eggs a week, if that.
In the end, I dismissed Dr. Pfeiffer as a quack. I abandoned the diet, especially the eggs and canned fish.
I never found out how much my parents paid for the appointment. I had some kind of follow-up meeting, but I canceled it.
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Vitamin theories haven’t held up very well in the psychiatric field, and although it’s very important to eat well, drink plenty of fluids, and exercise, there are no magic foods. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
For more information on vitamin farces, see www.schizophrenia.com. And have a nice day.
The following are the known side effects of one of my medications, Thorazine:
“Drowsiness, dizziness, dry mouth, blurred vision, tiredness, nausea, constipation, and trouble sleeping may occur. You may also be more sensitive to sunburn and less able to tolerate heat/strenuous exercise (see Precautions section). If any of these effects persist or worsen, notify your doctor or pharmacist promptly.
“Remember that your doctor has prescribed this medication because he or she has judged that the benefit to you is greater than the risk of side effects. Many people using this medication for longer time periods may develop serious side effects, but with frequent visits to your doctor, this risk can be minimized.
“Tell your doctor immediately if any of these unlikely but serious side effects occur: feelings of restlessness/agitation/jitteriness, mask-like facial expression, shuffling walk, drooling, uncontrolled shaking of the hands, twitching in the face, muscle spasm/weakness, trouble swallowing, uncontrollable movements of the mouth/face/hands, unusual mental/mood changes (e.g., depression, worsening of psychosis), unusual dreams, trouble urinating, severe constipation, severe stomach/abdominal pain, unexplained weight gain, swelling of the feet/ankles, nipple discharge, swollen/tender breasts, changes in menstrual flow, decreased sexual ability, fast/pounding heartbeat with headache, severe dizziness, butterfly-shaped facial rash, joint/muscle pain, confusion, darkening of skin color, vision changes, fainting.
“For males, in the very unlikely event you have a painful, prolonged erection (lasting more than 4 hours), stop using this drug and seek immediate medical attention or permanent problems could occur.
“Tell your doctor immediately if any of these rare but very serious side effects occur: fever with persistent sore throat/cough/chills, yellowing of the eyes/skin, dark urine, severe stomach/abdominal pain, unusual bleeding/bruising, chest pain, seizures, confusion, rigid/unresponsive state, severe tiredness, breathing problems, pale skin.
“This drug may infrequently cause a serious (sometimes fatal) nervous system problem (neuroleptic malignant syndrome). Seek immediate medical attention if you notice any of the following rare but very serious side effects: fever, rigid muscles, increased sweating, fast heartbeat, mental/mood changes, change in the amount of urine.
“A very serious allergic reaction to this drug is rare. However, seek immediate medical attention if you notice any symptoms of a serious allergic reaction, including: rash, itching, swelling, severe dizziness, trouble breathing.
“If you notice other effects not listed above, contact your doctor or pharmacist.”
Thus sayeth www.webmd.com.
I have taken Thorazine since I was 25 years old, on and off. It was the first drug invented that was effective in treating psychosis. The newer “atypical” antipsychotics are more commonly prescribed nowadays, but they are expensive and have their own side effects.
One shrink of mine told me to think of Thorazine as my friend. Does that sound ridiculous? I don’t think so. Thorazine works. It has been a more faithful friend to me than most humans have been.
You may ask why I have chosen, or, rather, ended up with a friend who comes with so much baggage.
If you consider the side effects of mental illness, you may find the answer. Imagine losing all your friends, the support of family, your self-respect and the respect of others. One of the worst side effects of mental illness is discrimination, in its many forms.
All these are side effects of mental illness. This list doesn’t include the symptoms of mental illnesses, severe problems that I would be living with if it weren’t for Thorazine and the other medications I take.
Imagine losing your home, your rights, your job and any future job prospects, your education, your freedom, your life.
No wonder I take those little orange pills.