I have a picture on my desk of my husband and me in Paris. My husband’s hair was long and is standing on end because of the wind. He is wearing a black winter jacket, and I am wearing a pink one. We have our arms around each other, and we are smiling. I love this photograph taken almost thirteen years ago. It was taken at a time when we still thought I had bipolar disorder.
Our lives would change so much with the diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia, and I’m not sure of all the reasons why. I never had issues with anxiety back then, and I certainly didn’t have to take medication to relieve it on a daily basis. In fact, I took a very small dose of an antipsychotic and that kept me relatively symptom-free for seven years.
Now, I take an antipsychotic and an anti-anxiety medication. My doses are higher, as well. I know that the symptoms of schizophrenia can change over time, and I am sure that is part of my issue, but I think the biggest part of my problem (except the added anxiety) is the way we lived with and dealt with my mental illness when we thought I had bipolar disorder.
This whole thing just occurred to me today, and I think I am right about some of it. The symptoms I know that have gotten worse as I’ve aged are anxiety, a lack of motivation, and the desire to isolate socially. I can’t deny or change that these things have become increasingly prevalent in my life and have impacted my quality of life. But those things alone are not enough to account for all the changes in my lifestyle since the picture in Paris was taken.
I think the actual diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia has changed the way my husband and I live and responds and take care of my illness. The last time I was psychotic was so traumatic for both my husband and I that I think both of us would do anything not to go through a similar episode (it lasted six months and almost led to our divorce). I was on the verge of losing everything I care about during my last episode. It was not only frightening to be psychotic and eventually suicidal, the real world consequences (outside of my brain) were significant. I know my husband feels the same way. My last episode was heart-wrenching and terrifying for him as well, and like I said it lasted six months. Six months is a long time to deal with something painful and scary.
I haven’t talked to my doctor about it, but I will the next time I see him, but I am wondering if my husband and I have a form of PTSD caused by my last episode of psychosis. It may sound like an over-reach to call it PTSD, but I am serious. During my last psychotic episode, I left home. My husband was able to track me from my credit card but could never quite catch up to me. I eventually came home, and when I did, I thought I wanted to get a divorce. My husband believed that we were in the process of separating from one another. Then for the next six months, we lived together with me actively trying to untie our finances from one another and talking to God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit (I wasn’t praying, I heard voices).
It was after that last psychotic episode that I was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. My husband and I didn’t know any more than most people about what paranoid schizophrenia is, what it meant for me or us as a couple, the symptoms, etc. All we knew was that the doctor who diagnosed me considered it “bad news,” Because that is how she told me, “I have some bad news for you…” And my husband and I have considered it “bad news” ever since. Not the worst news, not horrible news, but bad news.
So, considering the emotional trauma of those six months and the way the doctor presented my new diagnosis to me, is it any wonder that my husband and I go to great lengths to keep me from having another break? No. It is no surprise. The thought of another break is terrifying to both of us and threatens the life we have built together. So, I think we have gone overboard on keeping me from feeling stress both emotional and physical.
In other words, I think I am stronger than either of us know. And this realization is going to change the way I live my life from this day forward.