Okay, I admit it, I have had my conflicts surrounding the issue of medication -- whether to take it, when to take it and what, if anything, I will take. In fact, I admit that this remains an issue, though less of one so long as there is a medication that I find inoffensive. But more on that later. First let me address the problem of that conflict itself.
In the "old days," which is to say, during the 1980's and early 90's, I was treated with the so-called "typical" neuroleptics like low-potency Thorazine and Mellaril (in doses as high as 1500mg) and high potency, lower dose drugs like Haldol, Trilafon, and Prolixin, either orally or by long-lasting depot injection. Although I was compliant with these meds for a while, I eventually found them so troublesome that while hospital doctors insisted they "helped" me, more often than not I would take them in order to be released from the hospital, only to stop them again. This became a pattern that led, familiarly, to what was called the revolving door in and out of psychiatric units. While I understood this only vaguely, I found the dulling side effects, not to mention the physical discomfort of these medications so terrible that even if not taking them meant yet another hospital stay, nevertheless I often refused -- in fact I could not bear to take them despite the psychosis that resulted. Had anyone bothered to ask me why, I would have told them that the drugs' side effects were simply worse than the illness; they were hell and there were no two ways about it.
All the hospital staff and outpatient doctors and nurses believed that no one could possibly wish to choose "madness" over mere drug side effects, but I was someone who frankly preferred the former to the agony of the latter.
Now, while I speak as if I knew I was psychotic, that is not altogether true. All I knew was that I was being hospitalized a great many times, that I had been told that if I took the pills I was given, I would be able to stay out. I did not at the time believe that I had any illness at all, and did not for a very long time believe it. However, what I did want was to avoid the often brutal treatment of various hospitals, esp in the 90's , and that was what sometimes persuaded me to take them, not the understanding or agreement that I was ill.
But surely I was not alone in feeling that the side effects were worse than the consequences of not taking the prescribed pills. There would not be so many people with schizophrenia who like me refused them, if so. Whether I believed I was ill and needed to take medication or not, it hardly matters when the pills I was given caused unbearable pain, or so deadened me, I felt, that my life was scarcely worth living...
I know those meds in particular-- the older drugs both lower potency and higher potency, at almost any dose, caused me physical side effects and physical suffering. That alone was enough to make me ambivalent about taking them. What I never knew, and still do not really know for certain, was whether the drugs themselves emotionally deadened me, or whether what I came eventually to appreciate might in fact have been illness after all was the cause of my feeling deadened. Did I lack enthusiasm and passion because of the illness or because of the medication side effects?
Through the early 90s, I was on Prolixin as the least distasteful anti-psychotic, and having been more or less forced to take the long-lasting depot medication, I could not "stop" taking it, not once my weekly injection had been given. Then finally, Connecticut's Medicaid program started paying for Clozaril, and I was among the first people in the state to try it. All went well at first, and I seemed to be off to a good start. But unfortunately, once discharged to home, "all hell broke loose" with devastating side effects that were if anything worse than anything I had experienced on Prolixin or any other older neuroleptic. This may have been unusual, I do not know, but I had horrendous and immediate side effects: sensations of impending doom that made me afraid of falling asleep; then an inability to swallow even my own saliva; a kind of uncontrollable jerking, seizure-like while I was conscious; and when I was awakened -- nearly forcibly -- in the morning, I experienced an unbearable sedation that took hours to wear off...
I gave the drug several trials, but I was not disappointed when I developed a very low white cell count and was no longer permitted to take it. After that, it was back to Prolixin, and back to what had never really lifted, not even with the so-called awakening miracle drug of Clozaril: the deadened feeling. I felt hopeless, as if nothing would ever really work better for me, but then again, why should it when I didn't really suffer from an illness like schizophrenia to begin with?
My therapist, the one who had tried me on Clozaril so many times, left her practice, and I was shunted to a nurse-therapist at the Clinic, one who took an immediate disliking to me. I felt a similar antipathy for her and so with no love lost between us, it was a huge surprise to me when, after she gruffly suggested I try this new drug, called Zyprexa, that I woke up only 3 days later feeling, well, not only awake and better, but awakened. Awakened, alive, even reborn. I could read, I could remember what I read, I could study and I felt enthusiastic about it all in a way that before then I could only dream of.
Oh, I knew that I wanted to feel that way, but it had literally only been a dream or a wish before then. I had been vaguely hungry for this, but until I took Zyprexa, it seemed that I had been completely unable to grasp or fulfill my wish to do any of it. On the drug, I could pay attention and concentrate for longer than I had in decades, and learn things and retain what I learned. I felt that I had a whole lifetime to make up for, and started to make up for lost time. What is more, I was so confident in my ability to read and study now that I had found a drug that helped me, it seemed entirely possible to do so.
Why do I tell you this? Because while Zyprexa was the real miracle drug, a medication that did not so much give me back my life as give me a life I truly never had, it was, as I may have said before, also the side effect drug from hell. As I would soon discover, my weight started to increase almost from the first week, and it kept going up and up, despite my longstanding history of strict weight control and a vegetarian diet. Also, it is a very sedating drug, so that I had to fight off sleepiness that added exponentially to my narcoleptic tendency to drowse off whenever I sat down.
Luckily my psychiatrist soon thereafter was also a sleep specialist; she had no problem treating this with the appropriate meds, and so it was not the problem it might have been, but the weight issue was, and is in fact, one of the reasons I have on-going conflicts over taking that particular medication.
Side effects of any sort remain 1) the major reason I will not take a given medication, and 2) the major reason I do take the medications that I take. If this surprises you, let me explain. First the latter: Of my present medication regimen, the salient ones for this discussion are Abilify, Geodon, and Lamictal, and I take all three not for the reasons my psychiatrist may have prescribed them, but for their "side effects," at least as I perceive them. For instance, it was only once I started taking Abilify combined with Geodon -- I could never tolerate Abilify by itself -- that I found myself able to do art, and to write so fluently and so abundantly as to be unable to stop once I start. In fact, I call these two my output combo, medications that make my creative productivity enormous, whereas Zyprexa is just as literally my input drug, my intake drug, insofar as I can read and absorb information, and also eat, eat, eat. (Abilify, if anything, tends to cut my appetite.)
For the same reason, though, I will not take Zyprexa because of its intensely dispiriting side effect of causing obesity and with it diabetes and and the concomitant conditions that go along with that. I wish I could take it: I miss reading terribly, miss the heady feeling of intellectual confidence and the ability to learn and remember and such.
Unfortunately, despite my early paean of praise for Latuda, I have to admit I have reconsidered it, as I found that while I was cleaning my apartment regularly, I had slowed down on my drawing and writing, and at the same time had not found myself interested in reading, nor even in watching my usual documentaries...It felt like a kind of straitjacket. I had weathered the psychotic crisis, but after that its usefulness seemed to be limited, and limiting. I agreed to take it, if necessary, in a crisis, but aside from then, I did not find that it helped beyond attenuating the worst symptoms. I wish I could say otherwise, but...
In truth, given my druthers, in a crisis and forced to choose between one hell versus another, I might prefer Zyprexa over Latuda, since the benefit of the first outweighs the complete lack of any positive benefit from the latter. Which is to say, both treat the psychosis, but only the Zyprexa has any positive side effect in addition to that, whereas the Latuda only has the negative side effect of strait jacketing me in the process.
One other "benefit" from taking Zyprexa, discovered within just the first week or so, was the realization that a medication made a difference, a huge difference. The conclusion I began to draw from this was not so sudden, and it was reluctant, but eventually I had to decide that perhaps, if a medication made such a radical difference, and a medication, Zyprexa, supposedly "treated an illness called schizophrenia" perhaps, whether it was schizophrenia or not, I did have some illness. Surely, if this medication, which did not help most people, made such an enormous difference for me, it must mean something...
I was reluctant for a long time to answer that further, and still cannot say a lot more without cringing. But if indeed there is a real entity, a real singular illness of schizophrenia, as opposed to a syndrome, and if Zyprexa really is a treatment for it, an effective and appropriate one, then god bless it, I will accept the diagnosis. I might still refuse to take the drug, but I would accept that I have the illness and continue to say that Zyprexa was the best miracle drug from hell I ever took!
I fear that I may have ended this discussion before I have really finished the thought, so to speak. I have to go to sleep now, and will be leaving for DC tomorrow, without my computer. But I will be back in five days and hope to catch up with this then. TTFN