Sunday, 8 January 2012

Diabetes and Schizophrenia

Hi everyone

Diabetes and Schizophrenia.  Two conditions I do not have, but which I know something about. 

First up, diabetes.  My father was an insulin-dependent diabetic.  He was diagnosed with this illness in middle age.  I was born when he was about fifty.  I remember that when I was young he used to fly into terrifying rages, and afterwards when he was feeling contrite he would say that he had been in a diabetic state.  My siblings and I knew he meant this as an apology, although he never said so expressly.

My mother used to administer my Dad's insulin, when he was first diagnosed.  She was a State Registered Nurse, and in those days a professional was needed for the job - those were proper jabs.  Dad hated the jabs, and after a while he refused them and was given enormous orange (or black? or both?) pills instead.  He took them sporadically, especially as he grew older, and did not seem to pay a lot of attention to his diet.  He grew thinner and thinner - towards the end of his life he was a walking bag of bones.

I developed gestational diabetes during my third pregnancy.  It was the summer holidays, and my daughters used to beg me not to fall asleep on the sofa every day after lunch.  I tried hard to stay awake, but to no avail.  Eventually a routine blood test showed what was wrong, and from that point I was issued with all the kit to test my blood sugar and inject myself daily with insulin. 

The moment my son was born, the diabetes vanished.  That is how gestational diabetes works.  Once the baby comes, the diabetes goes, and there is no longer a need for insulin.  No diabetes was detected during my fourth and final pregnancy although Toddler was a ten pound baby, more than two pounds heavier than any of the others, so I have my suspicions...Anyway, Toddler is fine, I am fine, no diabetes then or since.  The medical professionals obviously know this, and have no issue with it.  I don't take insulin, my blood sugar levels are normal, therefore I am not diabetic.

Anybody see where I am going with this? 

Next up, schizophrenia.  At the age of nineteen as a student I had a nervous breakdown, was sectioned and spent three months in a mental hospital.  After a suitable period of convalescence, thinking I had recovered, I returned to University and finished my Law degree.  I graduated with Upper Second Class Honours. 

I had a second breakdown at the age of twenty-five.  I was sectioned, spent three months in the same mental hospital.  Afterwards, I voluntarily attended a day hospital because I was bored and lonely.  At this point I was diagnosed with schizophrenia.  I was devastated.  My mother (a nurse) tried to comfort me, saying that in her opinion I was not a schizophrenic, but unfortunately I chose to believe the mental health professionals.  I gave my life up to their care - i.e. believed their prophecy that I would never get better, would need to be on medication for the rest of my life, and would get worse as I got older.  I adjusted my expectations accordingly. 

I spoke to a mental health nurse in that hospital about the fact that my mother did not think the diagnosis was right.  She informed me that parents are often 'in denial' about schizophrenia.  I had an illness just like diabetes, she said, and my mother should believe that as she would believe it if I had a physical illness.  I have found out since that psychiatric staff often compare diabetes with schizophrenia; both are diseases, patients are told, and both require lifelong medication.

As regular readers of this blog are aware, I found a way out of my mental health predicament, and now live happily and healthily with my husband and children.  I take no drugs at all.  I have no symptoms of severe mental illness - no voices, no delusions, no hallucinations.  I am not psychotic, or catatonic.  I don't think my mental functioning is impaired - I can still read and write and hold a lucid conversation.  Recently I have been combating my anxiety with a combination of CBT and a gluten-free diet, and I feel calmer than ever before.  I could go on, but I am sure my message is clear.

I can't help wondering, why do I apparently still have schizophrenia?

I don't mind admitting that I was completely and utterly mad on three separate occasions.  I couldn't deny it if I wanted to - I was sectioned three times. I was loony.  I am sure though that I am not loony now.

But that label - SCHIZOPHRENIC.  It is wrong, unfair.  It might as well shout LUNATIC.  To me, and countless others, it does.

I have been on Gianna Kali's Beyond Meds site tonight and watched Robert Whitaker talk about his book, 'Anatomy of an Epidemic'.  It strikes me that perhaps, as he says at the outset of his talk, psychiatry is changing.  I hope so, because I would hate to think of any young person now being tarred with the schizophrenia brush.  To be honest, I don't mind it so much for me now because I have finally thought my way through it.  I know it is a wrong and inappropriate diagnosis, and so I simply refuse to apply it to myself.  Please, Schizophrenia Commission, do the honest and right thing and stop the label from blighting any more young lives.

The thing that shocked me most about Whitaker's talk was when he said a psychiatrist confided to him that they used to treat the rich patients; i.e. talk to them, and medicate the poor ones.  How sick is that?  In my case, I was fairly treated, when I was out of hospital.  When I expressed my wish to stop the drugs, I was allowed to do so.  Not in the mental hospital when I was an in-patient, because then I was seen as a dangerous person, someone who had to be contained.  Not in the day hospital that I attended for several years, that sucker-up of lives.  But when I spoke to normal, reasonable psychiatrists as an outpatient they saw me as a person and let me stop the drugs, and thank goodness as I look back over my life I have not wasted too many years on psychiatric medication.  Five, at a guess.

I live healthily now.  I don't drink or smoke.  I take my dog for long walks daily.  I eat the best food I can and I stay a healthy weight.  I make sure I sleep well and for the right length of time. 

I am guarding my mental and physical health.  I trust myself to be the guardian of my self now, and I think I am doing a fairly good job of keeping well. 

I certainly don't have diabetes.

Anyway, must go.  Hope you are all well and happy.

Louise x

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