Schizophrenia and Medication: Learning the Hard Way
Schizophrenia and Medication: Learning the Hard Way
During the whole of 2018, I realized there was something wrong with me; mood swings, anxiety, panic attacks. It all seemed to me like it was stress or burnout or something. 2018 was also the year I wrote my WASSCE exams. To me, everything would fall back into place when this whole WASSCE “wahala” was done. Then during my vacation, I started having weird ideas like; the guy on the TV is trying to send me a message or my computer is misbehaving because it got hacked by spammers trying to access my data and modify my exam results. Deep down inside me I knew that these patterns of thoughts weren’t normal, and I started thinking I was paranoid.
Fast forward to September 2018 at the beginning of my first semester in college, at the university of my dreams (I won’t mention it because I wish to stay anonymous, lol), things got worse. These delusional thoughts made it hard for me to socialise and even interact healthily with my peers. I began living in a bubble where I felt it was me against the world. Started to isolate myself even more and avoid social interactions. I increasingly began to think that the universe was sending me a message and that I had to decipher it. In November of that year, my school counsellor, worried about how poor my grades and social functioning were, suggested I see a psychiatrist. To me, it seemed odd and offensive because in my head there was nothing “crazy” about me. I went to see the psychiatrist. At first, I wasn’t honest with him about how I was feeling but as the sessions went by and I got to interact with him, my symptoms become more and more evident to him and in January 2019 the diagnosis was final. I had schizophrenia and I was put on an antipsychotic called risperidone 2mg.
To be frank, I doubted the diagnosis. Imagine growing up being that smart little kid that everyone foresaw to achieve great things and then all of a sudden in the dawn of your twenties you receive such a painful diagnosis. I was so in denial that I only took the medication went I was having a hard time sleeping. This went on for about a month or two. In March 2019, I abruptly decided to stop taking the medication totally because I was deep into the delusion that whatever was wrong with me was a supernatural thing. Then in April 2019, when my father received his lung cancer diagnosis, my delusions, paranoia and somewhat depression got worse. I started believing that my father’s illness was due to something I did. I was finding it harder and harder to sleep, I could go days with barely any food. I wasn’t attending lectures. This got my support system very worried. It was getting close to the end of the semester, and honestly, I was in no state of mind whatsoever to pull through and finish it so I deferred the semester.
Whilst at home in May 2019, my father decided to stop chemotherapy and enter palliative care and transition towards living his last days as peacefully as he could. The idea that I will lose my father anytime soon further deepened my depression. All this while I was still on medication and decided to seek a second expert opinion. I went to see another psychiatrist, who leaned towards the diagnosis of a mood disorder. That diagnosis seemed less frightening because in my mindset it would be better to have an affective disorder than to have a psychotic one. The psychiatrist me on an SSRI (sertraline) , a mood stabiliser (lamotrigine) and low dose antipsychotic (olanzapine). I started to feel and think more clearly after 4 weeks or 6 weeks but one side effect of the combination of these meds was the blunting of my affect. My father passed away on the 4th of June 2019. During the first few days before his death and the days that followed before the funeral proceedings, I just couldn’t show any emotions. Deep down, I was sad but I couldn’t express my sorrow.
After Summer, I was doing so well that I decided to resume school. Then something hit me. I was finding it harder to study, concentrate, and focus and overall I felt like my creative thinking had dampened. This worried me deeply as I was having a hard time meeting deadlines on assignments, and contributing effectively in class. Spoke to the psychiatrist about it. He didn’t reassure me or discourage me but he argued that it would get better as time goes by. Yet again, my stubbornness and desire to find a quick fix to a situation that requires patience led me to decide to stop my medication. That was October 2019. By January 2020, I had my first full-blown psychotic breakdown which required two months of hospitalization. And my diagnosis reverted to schizoaffective disorder. This put me further behind in academics. Over the last four years, I have had four more hospitalizations and had to change schools a couple of times.
I look back at all this time lost and resources squandered with lots of regrets. I decided to share my journey because medication non-compliance is the major reason for relapses in newly diagnosed patients. But beyond adhering to a treatment plan, I would like to stress the importance of psychotherapy and counseling as a means of helping newly diagnosed patients. I started therapy at the beginning of this year 2023. And I have to admit it has been a game changer. The main benefit that I’ve had during therapy is that it has allowed me to look beyond my diagnosis when thinking about myself and where I am now. It also allows me to remain grounded and keep track of my progress. I wish therapy was an integral part of my treatment when I got diagnosed first.
Author: (wishes to remain anonymous)