To Give a Life Back

Spotlight On Mental Health

erin-book-photoFrom Guest Blogger, Erin Hawkes, neuroscientist and author of the new book, When Quietness Came: A Neuroscientist’s Personal Journey with Schizophrenia.

To Give a Life Back

 Erin L. Hawkes

            Medication after medication was failing me. Either I couldn’t tolerate the side effects, or I required massive doses that kept me in a somnolent state. Besides that, I had very poor insight: I did not believe that I had schizophrenia and therefore did not think I needed these medications. Time and time again, I ended up in hospital thanks to “decompensation due to medication noncompliance.” I was sick, and part of my sickness was that I didn’t even realize I was ill.

I had tastes of quiet recovery, but these, in my mind, were not due to medication. So I’d stop the pill-taking. Then, slowly or quickly, I would slip, sliding into psychosis yet again. For me, a prominent symptom of my schizophrenia was poor insight and judgment; I could not hold onto reality and evaluate my mental state and experiences.

By my 12th hospitalization, I finally began to understand that my mental illness could be treated without the constant relapsing. Moreover, I began to believe that recovery was possible. It had one prerequisite: I had to, had to, take my medication. I was also in therapy, but this could only proceed when I was stable: when I was medicated. (By itself, psychotherapy does little for those with schizophrenia.)

But was it me, or my medications, that now lived my life? Was I less “me” because I was taking pills that altered my very brain and its chemistry?  I am a neuroscientist by training, and I knew what was happening when those drugs washed into my brain… but I was also a patient, looking for relief.

I can now say, without a doubt, that I am more “me” on medication. How could a life of terror – fear that the hallucinatory Voices would convince me to kill myself, delusional fear that the man tracking my every move intended to murder me, and fear that rats were eating my brain – be more “me” than the medicated Erin who could function vocationally, socially, and emotionally?

I therefore take the emphatic stance that I – that anyone suffering from a severe yet treatable illness such as schizophrenia – can have hope that medication, more often than not, is potent enough to give a life back. I desperately want others to know this, and I hope that my memoir, When Quietness Came: A Neuroscientist’s Personal Journey With Schizophrenia, can help in that capacity. Recovery is possible, but its requirements are twofold: there is the sometimes difficult quest for the “right” medication (“right” can be different for each person, so it is a relief that there are many anti-psychotics available, with varying neurochemical profiles), and, secondly, you must be convinced that those pills are to be religiously taken. With this, there can be tremendous recovery. It can truly give a life back.