Dave's Progress. Chapter 47: Progress Report.

OK, so it's time to remember exactly what this blog is supposed to be all about. Initially, I was asked by the Media Action Group for Mental Health (MAGMH) to keep a record of my so-called "progress". If I recall correctly, it was as part of the "mindbloggling" project, which was still in operation at the time, but now is sadly no more, that I was asked to do this. So came about the "Dave's Progress" chapters which are supposed, in some way, to reflect my journey through coming to terms with a diagnosis of schizophrenia.
For a start, I notice that there are various themes which seem to emerge from my blog. Perhaps three stand out most of all. They are: medication, its effects and my resultant feelings of a "flattening of affect" or dampening of emotion. For this see chapters like, "A Weighty Issue", "Don't Take away my Demons, Because you'll Take away my Angels too", "Me and My Anhedonia", and "Do I Dream of Schizophrenic Sheep". Secondly, work, what I do voluntarily with MAGMH and also my inability to find paid work in the open market and my resultant feelings of boredom. For this see chapters like, "I'm Bored, I'm the Chairman of the Board", "Back to Work for the Mentally Ill", "What would the Tories do" and also various chapters where I seem to mention this in passing. Thirdly, an interest in psychiatry itself and the power relations it implies. For this see chapters like "Some Passing (Paranoid?) Thoughts on Psychiatry", "Power, Control and the DeFacto Detention", and "Biology and Chemistry or Society and Environment". Perhaps I could also add one final theme, that of mentioning my other interests, such as films, literature and politics, in an attempt to say that my diagnosis is only one small part of myself and that I do have other areas of interest. For this see chapters like "Confessions of a Bibliophile", "Confessions of a Cinephile", "Jade Goody: Saint or Sinner", "A New Hope" and "It's the End of the World as We Know it...And I Feel Fine".
So, just what progress have I made in terms of the above themes.
Well, to begin at the beginning, with my feelings towards medication and the, what I have called, "non-feelings" that it may or may not induce. Indeed, such feelings of anhedonia can just be part of my illness; so-called "negative" symptoms. However, after a change of medication earlier this year, I feel as if these "non-feelings" have somewhat dissipated. I no longer feel, to such a great extent, that crushing inability to feel. OK, so I do not seem to have periods of great joy or great sadness. It appears that my medication (or is it just my illness?) keeps me on something of an even keel, where I more or less consistently feel kind of OK and more or less, happy. To some, to miss out on life's seemingly natural vicissitudes would appear unnatural, but I seem to have come to terms with how I feel and I am, at least emotionally, stable.
What seems to be more worrying to me of late is the physical side effects of the medication I have taken in the past. I have not mentioned this since the first chapter of "Dave's Progress", "A Weighty Issue". But, I have put on an enormous amount of weight since taking anti-psychotic medication and I find this infuriating as I feel as if I have had no control over this aspect of my life. Despite eating a healthy diet and trying to cut down my drinking, my weight has remained a new and constant bugbear in my life. Carrying so much weight around also makes you feel sluggish and generally unhealthy and plays havoc with your own "body image". And, as I mentioned in that previous chapter, I now seem to be a prime candidate, so I am told, for chronic physical diseases, such as diabetes or heart problems. Hopefully I can combat this problem with exercise, but so far I have found this extremely difficult and I seem to lack the motivation to make any serious effort at exercising more vigorously. So, unfortunately, progress in this area has been sadly lacking. As some of you will know, I also smoke, which doesn't help matters. So far, I have been unsuccessful in giving up and when I recently bought some "nicotine gum" to ween me off the cigarettes, at one point I found myself chewing the gum and smoking at the same time. No success there then!
But, what about my second theme, work. Well, perhaps there is not much that I can mention here that I have not already said in previous posts. Because of the stigma surrounding schizophrenia and also because of lack of support, finding paid work can be a virtual impossibility, and I believe something like 75% of people with psychotic disorders remain unemployed. So, I find this a great waste of talent and life experience. It is obvious to me that it will probably take a seismic shift in how schizophrenia is viewed, among service users, professionals and employers, before this problem can be tackled properly. What is clear is that many of us want an economically independent life, but would just seem to lack the resources it would take to make this a reality. In the meantime, I still have my voluntary work at MAGMH, which I cannot say how much I appreciate. To me, the work I do there is not only good for my mental health, creating a structure, meaning and purpose to my days, but veritably good for my soul. I would thank heartily, then, all who work at MAGMH for allowing me to contribute in the way I do. I never feel under excessive pressure there and I feel what I do is always valued. So, for the moment, paid work, economic independence, would appear to be a distant dream, but having said that, I do manage to contribute through my voluntary work in a wholly satisfying way.
So, onto my third theme, psychiatry itself and perhaps in particular, the power relation between psychiatrist and service user. As you can read in my posts, "This Time it's Personal" and "Power, Control and the DeFacto Detention", I have often, in my own experience, been on the wrong end of this peculiar set of power relations, or, as Marilyn Monroe once put it, I always seemed to get "the fuzzy end of the lollipop". However, now I am in recovery, I find that relations with the people responsible for my care are infinitely better. Despite some, what I still consider to be, patronising attitudes, my estimation of those who care for the mentally ill has gone up considerably. Indeed, by adopting the "recovery" model and making services more user led, I feel there have been considerable improvements since the inception of my treatment way back in 1996. There are now also early intervention teams who attempt to treat psychosis before it becomes a more fully blown and entrenched illness. Some of the appalling treatment I received, which I describe in my blogs, then seems to have become a rarer occurrence, treatment becoming more a process of negotiation than earlier, more authoritarian attitudes allowed. So, I believe progress has certainly been made here.
And finally, to my final theme, my other interests. Well, I continue to read widely and watch films almost constantly. I also take an active interest in politics. So, I would like you to think, and suffice to say, my diagnosis is not all that concerns me. For some, the machinations of self-stigma can begin to operate, and they give their diagnosis what is called "master status". That is they begin to identify themselves more or less primarily with their illness, it becoming the defining aspect of their identity. Fortunately for me, through the work I do and the people I know who support me, I have come to value myself just for me. So, progress? I would say it is. Indeed, it is a long way away from the days when I used to say things like "Hello, I'm David and I'm schizophrenic".
All in all, then, I think a lot of ground has been made. I am well past the days when my illness used to control me and everything I did. I feel now as if I am firmly in control of it and even my feelings of "non-feeling" are abating. And, for the first time in years, I can say that I am relatively happy and contented. Progress indeed. In fact, if this were a progress report, I'd probably give myself an "A".
That's all for now from your normal, average, paranoid and delusional man.


klahanie said…
Dear David,
Thank you for giving such a detailed account of what you have tried to convey within your postings.
Of course, as an avid reader of your articulate blog, I am most familiar with what you have outlined here.
I know that you have had, and still have challenges, to contend with. That is where I believe that the verbalising and the transparency that you display; is most assuredly cathartic and therapeutic for you.
It would be nice if the 'mindbloggling' concept and library could somehow be revitalised. I recall that this was indeed your starting point.
Your progress report is most encouraging. So based on that, I will not be enforcing a detention upon you. Well done and keep going.
With kindest wishes, Gary.
David said…
Dear Gary,
Thanks for your comment. Perhaps I forgot to mention that it is also support from people such as your good self (and dcrelief, of course) which helps me continue with this blog and continue to face the issues which arise from my diagnosis.
So thanks for your continued support, Gary. It is much appreciated. And thanks for not enforcing a detention on me!
With Very Best Wishes,
dcrelief said…
Dear David,
When I started reading your blog, it wasn't because you wrote about mental well-being or stigma. Instead I enjoyed and still do enjoy, the compostion of your writing. I like the way you choose your subject and build around it.

Some of today's writers often lack supportive features, stories, or quotes, to make it interesting. You go out of your way to research the finer points to share as examples of the subject.

When my own mind is clear, I like returning to an older post or two of yours. I feel that I will glean a healing from off the page. Your progress has given me progress, and I appreciate it.
With sincerity and respect,
P.S. Marilyn Monroe!
David said…
Dear Dixie,
Thanks for your supportive and rather flattering comment. I'm so glad you can enjoy my postings just as writing. I always wanted to be a a writer, and now, in my own small way, I suppose I am.
Also extremely glad that they would appear to help you in your own "progress". Wow, you'll be giving me a big head, dc!
Anyway, I thank you sincerely for your continued support and wish you good health and peace.
Yours with All the Best,

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