Herewith a re-post from Cathi Carol’s blog “I Recommend: On Psychiatry.” Her writing is kind, wise, thoughtful, insightful, balanced, and open-minded.
“Mental illness.” This is scary stuff.
At least it was for me, a sensitive person—an empath. Having heard that students sometimes think that they have the illnesses that they read about, when I studied psychology in college I avoided classes on the abnormal.
Years later a film I love, Ron Howard’s A Beautiful Mind on the life of Nobel Prize-winning mathematician and schizophrenic John Nash, introduced me (and many of us) to the tortures that schizophrenics have endured and continue to endure not only from their illness but from the medical profession. The insulin shock therapy that Nash was subjected to, for instance, horrible to experience, was later discarded because it didn’t work. After seeing the film I sought out and read the book on which it was based by Sylvia Nasar.
Recently I started reading the lyrically-written advice column in Salon by Cary Tennis, “Since You Asked,” and discovered through his column that he is schizophrenic, as well. Fascinating.
For a time I regularly saw at a local Starbucks a homeless man with schizophrenia. I became intrigued by articles written about schizophrenia and opinions on the causes of the disease. An analytical interest was triggered.
In October of this year The New York Times published “Memoir about Schizophrenia Spurs Others to Come Forward” about USC law professor Elyn R. Saks, who wrote a book about her life, The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey through Madness.
I cried my way through all three books. My God, the suffering.
Saks, Steele, and Schiller, all highly intelligent, found anti-psychotic medication that was able to suppress the taunting voices and the psychological terrors that were torturing them.
However, not all people with schizophrenia find drugs that can help them. Psychotropic drugs can be mentally and physically damaging, as well. Although anti-psychotic drugs help some, taking them always must be voluntary.
Psychoactive drugs do help many people, some very well, but most informed mental health advocates and consumers prefer and do better with peer therapy or talk therapy.
The “break” in the brain often is the result of trauma to the psyche (what causes schizophrenia is unknown, although at this time studies suggest that it is highly correlated with earlier trauma). Drugs plug awareness for as long as they are used; trauma therapy, peer empathy and understanding, and family love and acceptance heal.
Support groups for the so-called mentally ill can be the greatest help of all. The best book on schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other mental illnesses written by a non-patient that I’ve read is Agnes’s Jacket by psychologist Gail Hornstein. It describes well how peer-to-peer therapy works, as well as the differences in approaches to thinking about and treating mental illness in the U.K. and the U.S., how the differences developed, and how each approach is working.
Some schizophrenics have even had luck being “de-possessed”. De-possession may not cure the brain either, but nothing else does, not even drugs. If I were schizophrenic it might be the first thing I would try. If it worked at all (even if one had to do it repeatedly) it would be safer than drugs.
(A question for you spirit mediums out there. How are you, while mentally hearing the voices of non-psychotic discarnate minds, able to block out the “evil” ones, the angry, cruel, destructive minds that schizophrenics cannot block out? If your “guides,” or guardian spirits, keep them away, well, presumably schizophrenics have guardian spirits as well. Or do you also believe that schizophrenics are hallucinating—making up in their own minds—the voices they hear?)
The pain of schizophrenia is not only in the screaming, taunting, abusive verbal or visual hallucinations that many schizophrenics endure (not all do; many people who hear voices hear neutral, benign, or even helpful messages). It is also in the dismissive and hurtful way that patients can be treated by their families, the medical establishment, and law enforcement authority. Historically schizophrenics have been incarcerated in institutions, forced into solitary confinement, tied down and even netted into immobility, beaten, endured straight-jackets, force-fed dulling and dangerous medications, and worse.
People, even doctors, fear mental illness. Schizophrenics are tortured not only by their disease but often by the people around them. The so-called mentally ill have been treated by society far worse than criminals.
I haven’t read all of them by any means but I haven’t yet read a biography of a person with schizophrenia written by a family member that has demonstrated deep understanding of the disorder or deep compassion for the sufferer.
Good instead of bad parenting, of course, is an issue unto itself, even when a child does not have schizophrenia. Parents and siblings of schizophrenics can accept the sufferer the way they are and help them to cope, or they can contribute to the problems people with schizophrenia face in living with the disorder.
Carolyn Spiro, author of Divided Minds, strikes an unusual angry tone when writing about her schizophrenic twin sister.
My Mother’s Keeper by Tara Holley (the book is no longer in print), whose mother had schizophrenia, although it is a story full of love, hope, and insight, is also a story of eventual betrayal and failure. I read the book thinking that it would show how Tara learned to understand her mother to the point of being able to assist her to have a better life outside of a hospital, but that was not what happened. Tara loved her mother and wanted to help her, but despite her good intentions, her efforts ultimately were on behalf of her own needs, not her mother’s.
Tara was unable to help her mother due to the judgment and suspicion she ended up substituting for any compassion or understanding that she may have felt for her. She did not understand the meaning or motivation behind her mother’s behavior or judge her realistically. It was disappointing to read about.
Tara herself had had a hard life. It is not easy to have a mentally ill parent; it is not good for a child to be ripped away from his or her parent; it is not healthy to have to be the adult to your parent. But there are better ways of coping with this than feelings of mistrust, condescension, and hopelessness toward the patient; these feelings are not the most helpful in any situation. (To be continued)