Yes, I'm still here. And I mean that with slightly different implications to merely being a returning wordbot into the blogosphere.
I'm still here living a chronological life on this planet, as part of this family, learning something new every day and finding something to laugh at, usually in the process of ridiculing myself. I still work, I still function, I still make mistakes and pick myself up again - but there were moments in my teens, twenties and thirties when it appeared that was all going to stop.
I had post-surgical, sudden-onset schizophrenia aged 19. I woke up one day and it seemed like everyone around me was suddenly speaking a different language. I didn't understand it. If I said something, they didn't understand my meaning in return.
It was like waking up in the story of a horror movie, on the day that you knew the first victim was going to die, and that victim was going to be you. And everyone on the planet was either conspiring towards it, or in the audience, waiting for it to happen.
I'd had my thyroid removed three months earlier after 4 years of the autoimmune hyperthyroid condition Graves' Disease, and the surgeon had decided during the operation to leave a strip behind to see if it would continue to function. So I had no thyroid, and no replacement thyroid hormone supplement for three months. I'd just received a letter from the specialist in London that my last blood test showed no remaining thyroid function, and I would start tablet replacement for life at my next appointment in two weeks' time. I lasted about two more days, and then as my metabolism failed things started to shut down physically, and I woke up that one day and knew I was due to die.
It took me two days to get across to my family that I wasn't messing around and something was wrong, by which time I was screaming repeatedly "Put me in a mental hospital!" - considering this was 1991, and it wasn't cool, I think if my mother had access to the loft she would have put me up there instead and pretended I'd moved away, given the opportunity :)
So I stayed in the ward back in London, and started my thyroxine prescription, along with a load of other antipsychotic stuff like Melleril, Largactyl, Diazepam, Temazepam etc etc - but as my brain and body started to function again after a couple of weeks, my family got bored of being told I was "textbook schizophrenic" and sprung me out before the section ended. All the anti-psychotics got left behind and I kept taking the thyroxine. Unfortunately I also left behind something called Liothyronine, which they were giving me to encourage the thyroxine absorption. My mental recovery would have been a bit quicker if I'd continued taking it, and I wouldn't have suffered the same breakdown a year later under similar external stresses, resulting from my initial dose being too low for long-term replacement. I found myself sectioned again a year later exactly, and this time what was playing out in my head was more like a mystery thriller, not a horror film. One of those made-for-TV crime cover-up stories - Nancy Drew meets The Godfather :)
So, after escaping from hospital, going back, hearing from my mum that the doctors had written to her saying I was obviously some sort of delusional homeless drifter (a great surprise to both of us, considering I'd only been away at college) and she replied confirming that no I wasn't homeless or delusional, and yes I was an author training as a motorcycle mechanic, exactly as I told them - they did eventually let me leave. Only like the last time, on the promise that it was only for a weekend. Again, my family reneged on that, as they knew my purpose was to get better, not be studied.
Fast forward about ten years. No relapses, I'd learned to suppress them, and to use any crazy thoughts creatively. Holiday romance baby. Coping as a single parent. Then, for no reason, I stopped opening the mail. Or answering the phone. I started getting cramps and losing my appetite. My sleeping patterns got weird. Everything else was normal - as far as I could tell. So I walked to the GP's office with my toddler in tow and a list of symptoms written down, to see if my thyroxine prescription needed adjusting. The doctor was out at lunch, so I left it with the secretary who noted my concern about my dosage and said she'd tell the GP.
My doctor rang me about half an hour after I got home, and asked me to go back and see her that evening at six pm at end of surgery. She sat me down and said I'd listed all the symptoms of clinical depression, and she wanted to give me Citalopram.
"I thought it was my thyroxine."
"Depression is a physical illness. You need something to correct your serotonin levels - and if you're not sleeping as you should, it can quickly become a vicious circle."
I trusted her as she'd been my GP for nearly nine years, and took the Citalopram. Within a few weeks I was sleeping better, opening the post, paying the bills, studying again, digesting food again... and after three to four months I stopped taking the Citalopram and was applying for Uni. Things were back to normal.
It was another two years and another major operation that triggered the next episode. I had my eye disfigurement still from Graves' Disease as a teenager, and although earlier operations had alleviated it, I still wasn't normal. I went to the eye hospital again and volunteered for the new operation they did now, which would almost completely deconstruct my eye sockets to make room for my eyes to fit into again.
It was a massive operation, and the physical shock was nothing compared to the mental shock of seeing a complete stranger in the mirror, for the first time in 20 years. The last time I looked normal, I was still a child, so this was completely unexpected. I'd got used to tiny changes, but I didn't think I could be 'fixed' overnight like that. The result was another post-surgical schizophrenic episode.
This one was the weirdest. I didn't believe I'd woken up from the operation.
The mental health care had changed too. The medication - no more zombie-inducing 1990s drugs, now stuff like Olanzepine, Zyprexa - things that put you to sleep, then you woke up not knowing what you kept in your own wardrobes or kitchen cupboards until you opened the doors. It completely switched off your ability to hold an image in your head when it wasn't in front of you. And the aftercare - they wanted to see you and chat every few weeks for about two years following. God, that was boring. The first thing I did was get them to change the prescription from the downers to Citalopram.
"I'm already depressed," I told them. "I don't want to be any more down or switched off. I've had to label all my cupboards, I can't find anything. It takes me two hours to make a cup of tea."
They heard me, and I got the right medicine, which I only needed for about six months. Although it took a while getting used to the new appearance, and I still had nearly a dozen more operations to go through since as my eyes settled down, everything else went much better. But I was still vigilant for the psychotic thought patterns. My thyroxine wasn't a factor in this one - my brain had found an old short circuit it had used before under stress, and that pathway was still wide open.
I'd started studying Diet & Nutrition ITEC by 2006, and our tutor was a well-known and thoroughly professional nutritionist with decades of experience. While covering mental conditions suitable for consulting on. I was reading the online handout about ADHD and ADD in children and adults.
I realised that my daughter was a 'textbook' example of one, and I was the other.
After class the next session, I spoke to the tutor, and she recommended Fish Oils - starting with 3000mg a day for me, and 1000 for my daughter, who was then eight years old. I could then reduce mine to 1000 after four to five months. She knew we already took a general multivitamin and mineral supplement suitable for each of us.
My daughter's improvements came first. She stopped being distracted in class, her reports got better and better, and what she didn't gain in friends, she found happiness in being academic and being able to talk to adults and being recognised for learning well instead of reprimanded. She later started to show interest in trying different foods, and although her basic dietary demands are unchanged, she still 'tries' something new every couple of weeks - a recipe she's found online, or something she sees on Food Network and asks me to make. Her hearing is still hyper-sensitive, but academically she's cool as a cucumber compared to before, when she didn't have an attention span long enough to remember what happened after 'Good morning, class' as a child. I home-schooled her for a long time too when the bullying phase happened, now she's in college and the same kids have come up to her and apologised for stuff that happened years ago, it's awesome.
The first thing I noticed myself on the Fish Oils (I take Evening Primrose oil as well, for the additional omegas in the range), was that I started to get bored at work when there wasn't a problem to sort out. I'd always had a little narrative in my head before, filling in the gaps and finding things to be distracted with, so finding any moments of boredom for my brain was astonishing. Now I could be bored for three hours straight if nothing was going on. Wow :)
The next thing was, I put a movie on, and actually sat and watched it all. I didn't get up to do laundry, or wash up, or start writing, or mend socks, or type emails, or tidy up Lego, or do knitting, or pick up a psychology book... I sat and watched a whole movie, on my own. I only got up once to get a cup of tea while the opening titles were on. Usually I'd put a film on and barely see any of it, I'd be so busy with other distractions.
The rest was pretty gradual. I noticed I no longer had such devastating unrequited crushes on guys. I sort of miss those, but they were basically delusions too, in a way, so I haven't missed out on anything in the real world - just the imaginary emotions that would carry me along for a while :)
Over the next few years, the old psychotic pathways in my head started to fade - like routes that just grow over with trees because they're no longer used, until eventually you'd never know there was a path there at all. I wrote down what it was like moving on from that, used it as a character in a story, maybe so I wouldn't completely forget.
Sometimes it echoes a bit, when I have maybe PMS combined with some insomnia and haven't been eating properly, but it's not the same - I just get to observe it and reminisce a bit :) Nothing has the power to make me enact anything, or react 'in character' whatever that perceived character is. I get to choose my own brain pathways.
I suppose you could describe the difference, mentally, as having an all-zones all-transport travel pass and unlimited free time to enjoy it in and complete control over where your journeys start and stop, instead of a fixed-route reservation-only timetable-restricted ticket that means you must do THIS thing NOW at THIS prompt, with no control over the speed or destination you travel to.
I still take the high-dose fish oils - once I stopped for about two months when it ran out and I didn't buy more for a while. I noticed a tendency to overthink things sneaked back in, but nothing drastic. So it suits me to keep taking it.
Unlike the 'early risk' control groups I've read about in recent reports, I was already well down the mental illness and personality disorder road when I started taking it. Since 1991 I'd seen things written down about me ranging from schizophrenic and myxoedemic psychosis to the utterly baffled phrase 'multiple disorders' so there is no reason that anyone should think "It's too late for me" if they want to try it out and see if it helps. Maybe writing all this down might help someone, I don't know. I'm still amazed it helped someone like me - I just happened to have the right teacher at the right time.
If you're allergic to fish or are vegan/vegetarian, there are other sources of the same Omega 3-6-9 range - look up vegan Omega oil supplements, various seed and flower oil supplements are available. I haven't tried them because fish works well for me - you can read up the important parts of the oils that scientists are now discussing on one of the many reports here - http://www.iflscience.com/health-and-medicine/fish-oil-supplements-could-prevent-onset-psychotic-disorders