Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The diagnosis changes everything

Schizophrenia at the Schoolgate is a blog written by a married mother of four about her recent "coming out."  Her Kindle eBook book, Surviving Schizophrenia: A Tale of Sound and Fury is available at the following location. It's also available at amazon.co.uk and amazon europe. She's got a great cover, a pastel portrait-like photograph of mother and child. Shades of my own deconstructed Paul Klee image, but pinker and prettier.

Here she writes about her second hospitalization, six years after her first, her entry into a day program, which is when, for the first time, she is told she has "schizophrenia."

I, on the other hand, have nothing to do. Nothing. I am not smoking now, I have stopped in the hospital again. So I can't even do that. After a couple of weeks of almost total inactivity I am visited by a community psychiatric nurse. She asks me what I want out of life now that I am out of hospital. I reply that I want something to do, and friends to spend time with. And so she refers me to a day hospital, Hanhemann House in Bournemouth town centre. Here I am to learn to build up my confidence and become a worthwhile member of society again.

At least the immediate worries of how to survive have receded. I am on Social Security benefits, and my rent is paid by the council. I am not smoking and can't drink with the medication I am taking, and anyway, I am too embarrassed to meet up with my old friends. So I live cleanly, and cheaply. At the day hospital, I am given a hot meal each day.

I have been attending Hanhemann House for almost a month and I have hopes that things may improve. There is no pressure here. We patients are given a little education by the nursing staff on the nature of mental illness, and some half hearted attempts are made to motivate us into activity, but most of the time we are left alone. I feel safe, and relaxed.

But then, in one day, my life changes. The doctors call me in for a meeting. There are at least six people in the room – nurses and doctors of various descriptions. And they break the bombshell to me. I am suffering from schizophrenia. I am schizophrenic. This has been on my records, apparently, for six years already – I was diagnosed when I was just nineteen, at the time of my first breakdown, but at the time it had not been thought appropriate to inform me.  It is a lot to take on board. For the last six years, since my first breakdown, I have thought myself to be normal – nervous, OK very nervous, but essentially normal. During this time I have completed my degree, held down jobs, functioned in society. It has been a struggle, but by and large my life so far has been a success. Yet now I learn that all this time I have apparently had a disabling illness. These people knew about it all along. I have confirmed it by breaking down again.

I am very scared. I am a freak, a social outcast. I am an unknown quantity. A maniac. A schizophrenic. The 'Team' then tell me that the prognosis is bad. I ask what is a prognosis. They say I basically have no future. I will get worse as I grow older. I can never expect to be normal. I must accept this, I am told. I must face the fact that I have no future.

I lose all hope at that point. My only comfort is in the medication they prescribe, that induces in me a sort of stupor. The drugs affect my state of mind to such a degree that every action becomes an effort. I decide that it is just not worth making that effort. I switch off now, recede into an almost trance-like state and refuse to take any real part in life. And at Hanhemann House nobody seems to expect anything of me anyway. I can drift along, lounge half asleep on the various saggy and stained sofas provided for the purpose. Occasionally I attend one of the rehabilitative talks that are supposed to be my primary reason for being there, but even here nothing much is expected and I sit in my chair, eyes half open, closing, closing... I start smoking again, because everyone else at the hospital does so and it seems a not unreasonable sort of way to pass the time.

The nurses do try to educate us about mental illness. I learn that schizophrenia affects one per cent of the population. That schizophrenics are not aggressive, and that they are in fact far more likely to hurt themselves than other people. I am told these things, but nothing distracts from the fear that is contained within the word Schizophrenia, and the prognosis that I have been given. My life is effectively over.

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