Friday, 14 October 2011

The Nature of Schizophrenia

Hi Everyone

I have to confess, I am a bit confused today.  I have had a bit of an upheaval this week - family troubles, not in my immediate family, but close enough.  I was already starting to suspect I may have been overdoing things, what with the Mental Health Week stuff up at the Uni and all.  Incidentally, I did head up there again yesterday, but there was no sign at the campus I went to of the groups that should have been there, and frankly I was a little relieved.  I went to see my Mum instead, and met Paul for his lunch hour.

I am not sure how much more of this I can take - the whole schizophrenia thing seems such a muddle suddenly and I am not sure any more that I am capable or knowledgeable enough to try to help.

Not sure I can even get my ideas across with sufficient clarity in writing - yesterday's blog post should I suppose have been framed in more equivocal terms.  Rossa commented that people may be violent when psychotic yet normally have no violent tendencies, just like some alcoholics turn 'mean' when under the influence.

Is this the case?  Probably.  I only know what is true of me - that I would never be violent, and never was, even on the three occasions when I suffered from psychosis. 

But if people have been violent - have murdered, as in the case I wrote about yesterday - it is too much of a risk to release them into the community and hope they won't have a relapse. 

I was talking about this to a friend this afternoon, and she thought I was totally wrong.  She said that in that case nobody should be released into the community.  I am rubbish at expressly myself verbally - I get too emotional, become incoherent.  But actually this really hurt me; not on a personal level, because I know she didn't mean it like that, but because even she thinks that people who have been mentally ill, or diagnosed with schizophrenia, are a risk.  All of us.

'How do you know that anybody released into the community won't do something violent?' she asked.  'You don't' I said, 'But you don't know that anybody is not going to do something violent one day'.  But I was astonished that my friend (who knows more than the average person about mental illness) actually thinks that because you have been mentally ill - pyschotic, diagnosed as schizophrenic, whatever - you are then automatically more of a risk to the public.  If you have never been violent before.

The upsetting thing is that I had already tried to explain to her how unfair I feel it is that schizophrenia is associated in the public consciousness with violence and that the only way to stop this was to stop giving people this diagnosis.  A person who is violent when they are ill is completely different to someone who is not.  If nobody can differentiate between those two types of people (not clinicians, not personal friends and family of sufferers) then charities like Time to Change are fighting a losing battle trying to stop stigma and discrimination against mental illness.

To be honest, all this is doing my head in!  If I believed that I am a risk, a danger to the public, if I might go off the rails any day and hurt someone, then I would take medication, or go to hospital voluntarily and stay there forever.  I would lose all belief in myself as a person, if I believed that I had an illness which made me a potential murderer.  I lost years of my life already for that very reason.  I swallowed pills, attended a day hospital for years where I smoked fags and got fat along with everybody else there.  Eventually I managed to work out for myself that I am fine, safe, etc etc.  And this has been borne out by my daily life for many years now. 

But if even my friends think I am potentially dangerous, am I the only one who does not?  Why am I allowed to be in charge of children, in that case?

In trying to destigmatise mental illness, in coming out and saying, 'I was diagnosed with schizophrenia, it is not the end of the world, you can recover as I have done', am I just laying my head on the block?  Should I be trying to direct my efforts instead at getting my diagnosis removed?

Maybe there is just not enough known about 'schizophrenia'.  It is such a pity that there is no objective test, no properly effective medication.  What a muddle.  But still, if in Finland they can almost always stop people getting ill again after their first epsiode of psychosis, there has got to be hope here.  I wonder what they do with their violent cases...  I should look into that.

I don't even know whether all this has been clear.  I just know that I need a day or two off now.

Louise x x   


  1. Hi Louise

    Just a really quick comment, cos we're on our way out. But it seems to me that we can't generalise here - not everyone with schizophrenia has the same symptoms, the same prognosis, etc. Everyone is an individual - every case is different. I think you're right - we don't know enough about schizophrenia. But YOU know enough about YOU. YOU know that YOU are not violent and never will be (I know that too - but that's beside the point). I don't think you need to or can generalise about ALL other people with a diagnosis of schizophrenia - it's way too complex for that. Some people have an inherent tendency towards violence - some people have a tendency towards violence when they are psychotic. But YOU DON'T. You don't ever need to doubt that or to justify yourself every time someone with schizophrenia does something violent and makes the news. I think your strength in getting your message across in order to change people's perceptions is in your personal story and your personal story is that you have been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and you are not and never will be violent. It may not be everyone's story, but it is yours. Oh dear, not sure I'm communicating what I want to very well now - but I hope it makes some kind of sense! Love Clare x

  2. Thanks for that Clare. What you said does make sense. But I do think the system needs a rehaul - nobody seems to be sure what schizophrenia is or does, not even mental health professionals. It is all just guesswork. By admitting to having a diagnosis of it I am falling in with all their nonsense.

    And at the moment I feel a bit weary - think I may have done myself (and perhaps the children) a disservice by taking all this on. What I want right now is for someone to say 'OK, you had schizophrenia, but you don't any more, so now you can get with your life'. Or even - 'Ok, you had two episodes of drug-induced psychosis and a post-pueral psychosis. You were obviously completely bananas on three separate occasions, but maybe we were wrong about the schizophrenia, so seeing as you have been off medication for about eleven years and had no relapses during that time, we will just remove the diagnosis now and let you get on with your life'.

    What are my chances?

    I am just tired right now, and I am sure I will be alright in a day or two. Dan Diamant's Dad used to work for the UN in some sort of health capacity, and I remember him telling me about how one day a guy came into the office desperate for someone to write a letter saying he wasn't mad. Nobody would do it, but Dan's Dad did. When he told me the story I thought, 'Well, if someone wants confirmation that they're not mad then they must be' and, 'Surely nobody should need outside confirmation of their own sanity'. But I ccompletely relate to the guy now. Where's the nearest UN office to here?

    We'll speak soon Clare, hope you are all well.

    Louise x

  3. I think you’re exactly right – the diagnosis is not useful at all. My understanding of it is that ‘Schizophrenia’ is an umbrella term – used to label people who have certain symptoms – but the list of symptoms are wide-ranging and each individual’s experience can be very different as is their prognosis. That’s why I don’t think it’s possible to generalise about ALL ‘schizophrenics’.

    Also, I don’t mean to state the flippin obvious, but YOU ARE NOT MAD!!! You are perfectly normal. You have had 3 episodes with symptoms that come from within the list of schizophrenic symptoms, you are not permanently ‘schizophrenic’. You may tend towards certain symptoms when you are vulnerable because of certain stressors, but you know what the signs are and you know how to keep yourself mentally healthy. The same way they do in Finland? You aren’t mad now and you aren’t suddenly going to go mad. If you ever did have another episode, you would recover and move on. You are not a label or an illness. And you’re certainly not mad!