by Joseph Merlin Bowers
When a doctor prescribes medicine for heart disease or diabetes or any disease of almost any bodily organ no one argues or even considers not taking it. When a doctor prescribes an antipsychotic for a brain disease, however, many people do argue and many ill individuals refuse to take it. Why is medicine for a mental illness any different than medicine to treat any other kind of disease?
The first answer that comes to mind is the well known bad side effects of many antipsychotics. Listen to the commercials for Cialis some time. Talk about a scary list of potential side effects. All medications have side effects. We, nevertheless take our medicine for any other type of disease.
There are a number of other reasons we hesitate to take antipsychotics that may not be apparent to anyone who has never had a mental illness and been put on an antipsychotic.
When a psychotic individual is initially put on a large dose of an antipsychotic it is debilitating. We have difficulty walking and talking and want to sleep all the time. This zombie-like state is disconcerting to ourselves and others. But the state is only temporary. Once the psychosis is under control, a lower less debilitating dose may be sufficient. Also, our bodies adjust over time.
Because we grow up believing there is something shameful about mental illnesses, we are much more reluctant to accept that we have one than any other disease even a fatal ones. Accepting that we need medicine is acknowledgement that we have a shameful disease.
Today we know that mental illnesses are not indicative of weak or defective character or caused by bad parenting. There is actually nothing more shameful about a brain disease than any other kind.
Some of us when psychotic find ourselves in an awesome fantasy world where we are far more important and significant than we really are. The false reality is far more desirable than actual reality. Accepting the need for meds requires accepting the falseness of the fantasy world. Taking the meds makes the fantasy world disappear assuming they are effective.
However attractive the fantasy world may be, we must live in the real world to meet our needs and function with any sort of success. Accepting the falseness of my fantasy world when being treated was always a hard step for me to take but a necessary one.
My daughter who was on Ritalin once asked me if her success in school was her doing or the Ritalin’s. Does a medication that changes the way our brains function fundamentally change who we are? We all want to be our real selves. Do I become someone else when I take a med that alters brain function?
In my opinion, it is the disease that fundamentally changes who we are. The medication restores our real selves.
There is always some desire to get of an antipsychotic even when doing well and realizing that one is doing well probably largely because of the medication. That is because this type of medication effects brain function. It is very hard and maybe not even legitimate to separate self from brain. It is much easier to look at any other organ as just something psychical not constituting self. Few of us struggle to feel positive self worth because a kidney doesn’t work right-not so with our brains. I have been dealing with my disease more than fifty years. I know both that I am more than my brain and that my brain really is just another organ. I’ve gone off my medication a couple times since we found the one that is really effective. Going off didn’t go well. But I still can’t shake the reality that I would feel better about myself if I thought I could go off the med and maintain. For all intents and purposes, I have beat my cursed disease. I am pretty much as high functioning as before I got sick. But I’ll probably never feel I have achieved total victory as long as I am on the med.
Taking an antipsychotic shouldn’t be thought of any differently as taking insulin for diabetes or aspirin for heart disease, but rational or not it is. In this blog I have tried to explain why..