So keeping with the mental health theme of my last few posts, I am focussing on my experiences with my ‘other’ diagnostic label – schizophrenia or one of its sisters. People who know me well will notice that at around 9:30 every night I take my antipsychotic medication. And hour or two later I go to bed. I wake up pretty much the same me that I was the day before (if I’m lucky and all is as it should be). I have been taking psychiatric medication since 1995. I remember when I first started taking meds I was staying at some place for down and out youth and the leader took us all out for something or another and I forgot the meds. In true Jeanette Aspie stressy fashion I got really worried about missing the dose. The leader said with some exasperation ‘you won’t turn into a pumpkin!’ (It’s true, I didn’t turn not a pumpkin. I turned into a more anxious and slightly annoyed human). That was one of a very small number of times I have not taken my meds. I did have a bit of a time in 2012 when my illness thought I didn’t deserve the medication. I knew not taking it would make me unwell but I thought I deserved punishment. And Yep, I got punished with some time in hospital and a treatment order fi I remember correctly (which I may not). The other time I missed my meds was last night. It was completely accidental. I had been feeling quite unwell in a sort of depression manner and thought an early night was called for. I washed the dishes and brushed my teeth and went to bed just after nine. Mr Kitty slept next to me. Then I woke ip at 11. A friend was messaging me. I felt scared for some reason. Then I went back to sleep. I was waiting for an email from my publisher in the UK. This played on my mind. I dreamed I was calling the publisher. Then the dream turned a bit awful. I was the very violent and criminal central character from that 70s film ‘A Clockwork Orange.’ I was going around the world with a protege – a young innocent girl who actually looked like a younger me. We were destroying nature. Birds would fly past and we would kill them. It was awful. I woke up and didn’t know where I was. There was a sort of orchestral sound coming out of my lounge room. It was discordant and I thought there might be a ghost orchestra in my house. It seemed unreal but real. Something was wrong. I raced around and turned on all the lights. I called the crisis team because something was definitely not happening the right way at Whimsy Manor. The lady said it was just a bad dream and made some joke that she wasn’t someone called Vera who I had apparently spoken to the day before. I didn’t remember calling the crisis team yesterday. Now I was really confused. She suggested a milk drink with honey (they always do) but I didn’t have any honey. Should I tell her that? She suggested watching music videos on Rage on the ABC. Evidently she didn’t know me well. I hate anything remotely scary on television even when my brain is behaving itself. Rage videos at 3 am would surely be full of confusing and frightening images? But she was kind and said I should call beck if I needed to. I went back t sleep with all the lights on. Mr Kitty was still on my pillow. He purred when I patted him.
I woke up a 5 am. I was wide awake. Something was seriously wrong. Then I came to the realisation as to why I had such a difficult night. I checked my webster pack for yesterday’s meds and there they were, looking up at me almost accusingly. At least there was some explanation for some of the difficulties.
I set about doing what one should do at 5 am when one hasn’t taken one’s life-saving, sanity-inducing psychotropic drugs.That is that I worked and created and worked some more. I discovered that my writing came easily to me, more so than usual. I made memes on my iPad – each one more striking and impressive than the next. I shot a video I had been asked to do for an Autism and employment website. It was masterful. I was buzzing with creative power and intellect.
Slowly something crept into my mind. This unusual and gifted me was the me of the 1980s. The school student who never studied for a single exam and came top of each year. The seven year old poet. The fifteen year old who read Karl Marx’s Das Kapital (volumes one and two) on the school bus to find out about communism. She was there in me and the main thing I noticed was that she was not happy.
My parents used to tell a story about little me. Apparently some educator or doctor or someone decided to IQ test little primary school Jeanette. Little Jeanette apparently sat down with this interesting new piece of work and returned a Mensa level score. Little Jeanette went to gifted kid class for a while after that. I can never reconcile gifted Jeanette with who I am now. Certainly I have a few brain cells knocking about and am far from unintelligent but I am certainly no genius. I have more insight and wisdom than raw intellect these days. But today I saw that piercing, blinding intellect return. Being the author of a soon-to-be-released book on managing mental health I am a little ashamed to admit this but the idea of keeping the genius and ditching the pills did cross my slightly addled brain. Just think what I could do with the genius me? How much could I change the world in good helpful ways?
And then I realised why there is no argument with this decision. There is only one option to take. For psychiatrists do not hand out heavy duty medications for fun. I have taken antipsychotic medication or over 20 years, and I think I have needed to. For child Jeanette and teenage Jeanette was different from 21 year old Jeanette. By the time I ended up with my mental illness diagnosis and all it came with, I was not a poetry writing, IQ test blitzing genius. I was a drug addled, psychotic recent ex-prisoner who was unable to function in the world. I had a choice to use my brilliance well and for whatever reason or excuse I thought to take, I gave up that choice. I have endless remorse for my poor behaviour in the 1990s but I suppose my penance is that I lost that brilliant child. I threw her away to please a criminal boyfriend and then to dull my guilty mind with narcotics.
I find my glimpse into my former intellect today almost cruel for it is not a choice I have. If I chose not to take the pills, I imagine it would work like this. I would become increasingly sleep deprived, move frightening dreams and waking experiences would come, my hold on reality – which is always somewhat tenuous – would be lost. If I were lucky I would end up in hospital for a few weeks and if I weren’t I would be dead. Thinking about it, there is even a chance that just missing one dose when I was already a little frazzled could result in further issues so I will be keeping as close eye on myself.
So I get to keep my rather dulled-down intellect and with it the knowledge that these medications have enabled me to do some pretty amazing things. I’m not Einstein but I am Jeanette and that is a good thing too. And I’ve stuck a note on the medication cupboard for tonight saying ‘take your bloody meds Jeanette!!’ so I don’t forget