This picture is Tim’s sister in law, Dawn, whom I drew at Christmas, in 2012. It took me about an hour. The elephant below is remarkable only in that it is my first painting, in oils, that I have ever done. And for that matter, almost literally the first time I have painted anything, except for a few portraits. I usually draw, in pencil or oil pastel. I have painted some acrylic portraits, in the past, but none recently, as I told myself I’d better learn to draw a few years back “before I go any further with painting.” I never ever did anything with oils at all. So if I achieved any success with the elephant it was completely by chance. I find oils very difficult. I do not know how to work with them, nor how to manipulate a brush or the colors, or how to do anything at all with paint. So this is an interesting journey, and transition, if transition it be. I do not know what will happen. Whether I will switch to oils completely, or simply use them desultorily…We will see. I am now working on another elephant painting, just for practice. Both of them started with the use of oil pigment sticks, which enable a sort-of drawing technique, very bluntly, and ended forcing me to paint, using either my fingers or real brushes. So it seems I am being led willy nilly to the brush and paint pot!
This last picture started as a doodle that I did of another patient at the Institute this winter, but I liked it so much (and the patient hated it!) that I finished it by changing her to make her unrecognizable. I would have given it to her otherwise, but she didn’t want it, so I said nothing more. But I gave it to my friend Bill, who loved it. In the mean time, I figured I would finish it as I wanted to and did. I love it myself, and would gladly have kept it, had no one else expressed interest in it. But once I knew Bill loved it, well, I knew I wanted him to have it. And it meant I took extra care finishing it when I did. I never really knew much about this patient’s story, nor about anyone else there. Nor did they learn much about me. I do not believe they ever knew what the staff was doing to me that last ten days, when they kept putting me into four point restraints. That was the point: I was in seclusion so no one had any idea I even existed by that time. No wonder I ended by screaming non stop and blood curdlingly that last night when they restrained me the second time for no reason. Everyone who had known of me had left by then. All the patients were new, and no one even knew I was there. I was aware of it, and I knew that if I didn’t scream, they would simply four point me for another 8-10 hours and get away with it…Well, enough of that. This patient did not mind my drawing her, for the few hours that I was allowed to be in the general population. In fact, I think she was flattered that I wanted to. Unfortunately, she was not pleased by the results of my efforts when she saw the drawing…and made her feelings clear when she saw the drawing.
One of my loyal blog readers, Donna, wrote a long comment the other day, and I asked if I could post it on the blog proper, as I felt it was important for her story to be heard. She said Yes, and so I am reprinting it here.
“I have many personal arguments against taking antipsychotics. First of all, I endured schizophrenia since I was about 10 yrs old without anyone knowing anything about it. Without being diagnosed, that is. Yes, I had been thought of as weird and even retarded by my peers, mostly because of social anxiety and being an extreme introvert that were a result of or in addition to the schizophrenia. But my sanity hung on the fact that I was creative and could physically exercise to the point of exhaustion. I think that exercise (running) was the most potent antipsychotic I have ever experienced, probably due to the release of endorphins and the subjugation of ongoing anxiety for a few hours. The hallucinations never really bothered me because I couldn’t remember being without them. Nevertheless, once doctors knew of the hallucinations, that became their excuse for medicating the hell out of me. And subsequently robbing me of my creativity and the ability to exercise. You can see where this is going.
For one thing there was exercise equipment in the hospitals I began to frequent (after starting on antipsychotics, of course.) but I could not use it without a doctor’s prescription, which was never forthcoming. I guess they didn’t put much stock in exercise. It can’t be patented and marketed and sold as a pharmaceutical. Once I began taking Zyprexa, the option was moot anyway, because I gained so much weight there was no possible way to run anymore.
Although I had schizophrenia, as I said, for many years before diagnosis and treatment, I was always able to read voraciously, retain what I had read, and use that as grist for the mill of creativity. Once I started taking mood stabilizers (which, btw, never stabilized my mood) like Lithium, Depakote, and Tegretol, I began to REALLY suffer mentally. Yes, I could tolerate hallucinations, but what I found intolerable was the side effect of being unable to be intellectually stimulated. I was laid low. I could no longer read and understand the combination of words. I couldn’t sit through a movie because I could no longer process the sensory input — what I saw and heard became separate entities rather than combining seamlessly into a meaningful whole. It was a frightening, assaultive experience. Even music ceased to be soothing. All I wanted to do, and practically all I DID do was to lie in bed just trying to think one clear thought. It couldn’t be done.
After the antidepressant and mood stabilizer failure, ECT was tried. Again, that only made things worse. Then came antipsychotics. The first one I took, Trilafon, was a nightmare. Kind of like what you said, Pam — I then had an inability to tell dreams from reality. The scary kind of hallucinations started, like seeing a gargoyle when I looked in the mirror. And the parade of multiple antipsychotics drifted ineffectually past the window of my consciousness. Finally, when I was given Zyprexa, I “awakened.” Would I have needed awakening if I had never started taking these medications in the first place? I had my doubts. But on Zyprexa, I could read again. I could tolerate movies. I could write creatively. But the weight gain that started with Lithium began to really pile on with Zyrpexa. My weight doubled within a few months. I had always been extremely weight and diet-conscious. With Zyprexa came mind-numbing sedation and a tremendous 24×7 appetite. So I was eating and sleeping, but I was also reading and writing.
Talk about the horns of a dilemma — I could take the medication and regain my ability to think and create but be a slave to the fork, spoon and pillow, or I could stop taking medication and keep my appetite and weight within normal limits and be insane. What I’m wondering now is whether any of this would have been a problem if I had never taken the medications to begin with. I became much more insane after being medicated and stopping the medication. To my way of thinking, medication had stopped the positive symptoms but had made me especially prone to relapse every time I tried to ease back on it. And the hallucinations had never been much of a problem — not nearly the problem of weight gain and intellectual poverty. Zyprexa did at least give me back a portion of my mind. Medication giveth and medication taketh away; blessed be thy name pharmaceuticals.
SInce then, I have tried just about ever atypical on the market, with the exception of Invega, hoping to find the “right” medicaiton. They were all promising at first, but each with an array of intolerable side effects. Anxiety. Hypoglygcemia. Hypothyroidism. Akathisia. Pruritis. Mania. Severe insomnia. And for a long time, I could return (somewhat relieved) to Zyprexa and what had become my standard of recovery — stabilization and the ability to think and sleep again.
Now, however, I refuse to take the previous 40mg of Zyprexa. My psychiatrist seems to believe the higher the dose, the more effective the medication. I have weaned myself down to 2.5mg which is enough to keep me out of the hospital but apparently not enough to keep my appetite so revved up. It does not allow me to lose all this weight, no, but at least I am no longer gaining. I am writing again. And reading. The problem is, this dose of Zyprexa does not solve the problems of anxiety and insomnia, which are pure torture. So I take the minimum dose for several days, then double that for a couple of nights in order to sleep, then back again. I used to just stop taking the Zyprexa completely because the weight gain frustrated me so much. The stigma of mental illness is bad enough without the stigma of obesity. Schizophrenia is bad enough without metabolic syndrome or diabetes.
The real kicker, to me, is that yes I was having problems before I ever started on the psychiatric medication rollercoaster. I had some psychosis, depression, hypomania. I heard voices once in a while. I had a roster of impossible people renting space in my head. But I lived a close-to-normal existence from all outward appearances. I could hold down a stressful job. I managed to keep a marriage together. I was winning regional poetry contests in my spare time. I had my own home. But it was not until I began taking all of these medications that it all went to hell. And now, from what I’ve read and what I have experienced, my body can no longer tolerate being without the medications. Life is worse off of them now than on them. I have to take Zyprexa or go back to the hospital. I have to take it or I may end up living on the streets. I have to take it or risk killing myself. My doctor says oh, but the medication has SAVED you from these horrors. But am I where I am today — on SSDI, unable to work, a slave to my fat-bound body — because of antipsychotics and antidepressants? Or am I able to be independent, sane, and creative again because of them. Or both? Somehow, something doesn’t seem right.