Breakthrough

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You can follow your treatment regimen and take your medication as directed and somewhere along the way, there will be a breakthrough. A breakthrough of your symptoms flaring loud and overwhelming your day, days, or week. Last night, my breakthrough began. Today, my breakthrough continues.

With schizoaffective disorder, you live with hallucinations and delusions… it is the “schizo” part of the blended name. Last night during my shower, I began to think that a dear person to me was dead- that she had died as a result of my negligence. My heartbeat rose and self talk though the irrationality could break the hold. Then as I exited the shower, my right ear felt suddenly full- as if something was implanted. This is when the noise began and it hasn’t left. I have dealt with a constant static noise since then that will ring back like feedback from a microphone at loud noises. In fact, I told my husband that I am thinking there is a microphone in my ear. Though, I don’t know why I have it or how it got there. I have tried lying on my right side, utilizing q-tips, and nothing relieves this feeling, the thoughts, or the overwhelming noise and sounds.

My mind is battling right now. It is asking if my thoughts about the microphone are true or if, like my husband assures, I need to take additional Seroquel. I am tired. And it is loud.

So today, things are simpler. Intentionally simpler. My son and I had a frozen meal for lunch. We are playing quieter, and moving quieter and a bit slower.This is what happens during a breakthrough, the dial is dialed down.

I think we use the word breakthrough because living with a chronic psychiatric illness is like walking on a frozen lake.  Every once in a while, there is a crack. And every once in a while, that crack breaks though and you touch the icy water. You have to move smartly and with metered control to climb back up on the ice. Nonetheless, the risk is always there.

So, here I go moving smartly by relying on my husband to help me reality check and continue with my treatments and, also, moving with metered control as I climb up from this breakthrough.

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My Brain is Failing Me

I receive the questions periodically…

“When will you finish your doctorate?”

“Are you going back to teaching in the future?”

“When are you going to work again?”

The fact is, I have made peace with not finishing my dissertation and, therefore, never have the initials Ph.D. after my name. I have also made peace with the reality that my future does not include teaching again or any other career. I consider myself to have entered early retirement from my career as a college professor and I have done the mental work to accept my shift in status as I embrace my life as a stay at home mother.

Why?

A major portion of the answer to this question is that my brain is failing me. Or, I have entered into what is technically termed as cognitive decline or impairment and the diagnosis of Cognitive Disorder has been added to my records. This is very standard for someone living with a schizophrenic disorder. One’s immediate working memory in conversations or tasks becomes impaired and unreliable. Remembering conversations from the previous day (or earlier that same day) is highly difficult. Following conversations can be overwhelming. The ability to follow through on tasks without a detailed list becomes impossible. And so much more as it progresses. Basically, the simpler… the better. And the less stress… is even better.

In order to contain the progression, my medication cocktail has been augmented to include a medication that is commonly utilized for Alzheimer’s patients. Being 38, it feels rather surreal. But, I look at my toddler son and the importance of trying this medication therapy becomes very real. He is not quite two years old, I have many years left to enjoy his laughter, smile, shining eyes, sweet hugs, and I must try anything at my disposal.

In addition, if becoming more realistic about my needs stress-wise and also simplifying my life are needed in order to preserve my health as best as possible for my child, husband, and myself, then that is what I must do.

So, becoming a stay at home mother… shifting my status… becoming more realistic… While it has been a true adjustment, it is a must for my health and a must for my future as a wife and mother.

Detour of Isolation

It tricks you. It works against you. You battle it.

When living with a schizophrenic disorder, your  brain can become your foe. Your brain, the control center, can fool you and send you on a detour.

As anyone with any form of schizophrenia can attest to, social interactions are a challenge. But at the same time, the isolation is painful. And enter in that pesky brain, you can go down a path of paranoia, self doubt, isolation, fear, and arrive at a place where social interactions are far from your abilities.

I found myself there recently; on that detour of isolation that was partially self made and partially cemented by delusions. I let the voice mails pile up on phone… a total of twelve voice mails that I was too afraid to listen to and could not begin to even respond. I also began to think how my friends had decided to cut me out of their lives- based on nothing but faulty brain messages. I was also convinced these friends were talking about me in a negative way with each other. I missed a get together with a friend and didn’t even respond to the friend about the get together. I found myself paralyzed by a brain that couldn’t fathom the complication of making a simple phone call.

As I traveled on this detour of isolation, my brain continued to trap me with delusions and  paranoia. And slowly, without warning, the fog began to lift just a little and I was able to reach out just a little to a friend. There was no rhyme or reason to the cycling of the delusions or paranoia. No warning.

Isolation in schizophrenic disorders is complicated. For one, your brain does you no favors as it transforms reality. Also, relating to others, in and of itself, is a challenge. The isolation seems to be a common state that just reaches high points at times.

I think this is one of the reasons I write. I send out these experiences to vast virtual world. It is a way to connect and lessen the isolation that can trap me. So, if you are reading this, thank you for helping me break the isolation.

The Legacy

When I was first diagnosed as mentally ill, I remember a psychiatrist stating I was “genetically loaded.” Trust me, that is an accurate statement. Now, it is not to say that genetics work as a 1+1=2 process; but, when one has mental illness in their genetic background, their odds of that loading surfacing in their life is fairly high.

Part of this genetic loading comes from my parents. My father lives with what one would know as classic bipolar disorder. I grew up walking on eggshells while trying to navigate his infinite mood swings. He would swing into mania with grand ideas of new business ventures and that mania could tip farther into agitated paranoia where he was waiting for the “revolution” and hoarding weapons; he would then swing into deep depressions where he would confess to me his thoughts of suicide. As a child, I constantly knew I needed to save him.

What about my mother? She lives with schizophrenia. She has lived so long with this disease untreated that I am sure she does not truly understand what reality actually consists of anymore and her cognitive decline is truly staggering. In addition, her paranoia created an aspect of manipulation that was brutal for those around her. Ultimately, the lines of delusion, paranoia, truth, lies, reality, and perceived persecution were gone- not blurred, gone. Childhood with her was torture.

I must state that I cut ties with my parents fifteen years ago for multiple reasons. No contact. Whether they have finally received treatment for these issues, I do not know. I truly do wish them peace. But, I could no longer contribute to the dysfunctional system.

This leaves me now as a parent who is also living with mental illness. I am a mother and I am also a person who everyday has to make choices to best handle my chronic brain disorder of schizoaffective disorder. I also made a very conscious decision that the legacy of how I was parented was going to end. I realized that in order to end this legacy, I had to both address my genetics and brain disorder and also realize I am more than my genetic loading.

So, how do you that? One thing I have to do to receive treatment. Neither of my parents received treatment. Mental illness is progressive and without treatment, it only worsens. I also know that stress exacerbates mental illness. I recently left a career that was not allowing me to take care of myself and was adding stress to my life. I have to care for myself to be able to parent my child and create a new legacy for him. Another aspect of my parenting is empathy. My child is new to this world. He also only gets one childhood. I empathize with that fact and I continue to reflect on how my parents’ mental illnesses impacted my childhood. I look at my child with empathy when making parenting decisions. Am I always successful? No. Am I far from the legacy given to me? Yes.

I was given a legacy. I let that legacy convince myself that I should not be a parent. It was not until the age of thirty-six that I realized that some legacies can end and new ones can be created.