The never-end challenge of living with schizophrenia

No matter what one does, a schizophrenic suffers from those distressing symptoms almost lifelong, writes Ravi Valluri

In a somnolent state, Rajan (name changed) was wheeled in to the clinic of a renowned psychiatrist. The patient was not only somnolent, but also in a highly inebriated condition. He stank of liquor and presented a rather woeful countenance much to the consternation of his wife.

Meanwhile, a strapping youth armed with a degree in psychology had begun apprenticing under the prominent medical practitioner to learn some finer nuances of human behaviour.

He appeared nonplussed and looked askance as the psychiatrist, in a clinical manner administered the required dosage of neuroleptic to induce a calmative impact on the mind of the patient. Very soon it had the desired effect and the patient was shortly in a soporific state.

Rajan’s wife in a lugubrious and sepulchral manner watched her husband slip into slumber, his febrile mind appearing reposeful and placid. She shed a few tears trying to take-in the rather unwelcome circumstances.

The tyro observing the events intently speculated whether such a quantum of sedative was required to soothe the frayed nerves of the patient. On going through the medical reports of the patient he realised that he was suffering from schizophrenia.

Racking his brains and brushing-up his notes, he remembered that  schizophrenia is defined as “a long-term mental disorder of a type involving a breakdown in the relation between thought, emotion, and behaviour, leading to faulty perception, inappropriate actions and feelings, withdrawal from reality and personal relationships into fantasy and delusion, and a sense of mental fragmentation.” (Wikipedia).

His wife knew of no other way out to extricate herself and her husband from the cesspool. Most of the previous night was spent trying to still the mind of the man and dissuade him from caterwauling.

All her efforts were in vain. The following morning she took him to the psychiatrist and narrated to the doctor what had transpired. She apprised the doctor of how for one moment her husband seemed fine, perfectly normal yet seconds later he whooped.

In what was a rather confusing situation, Rajan imagined forming an organisation to transfigure and transform the world and establish an egalitarian, utopian society. Minutes later the serene look on his face would disappear and he would assume a demonic and monstrous appearance with a domineering mission soon to create an association to annihilate the creation. One is reminded of Oscar Wilde’s A Picture of Dorian Gray, trying to dissect the rather unfortunate personality of Rajan.

Upon conducting a detailed investigation and probing into the medical history primarily mental health, family history of mental health and all the other problems the experienced by the patient, the doctor confirmed that it was a typical case of schizophrenia.

The doctor went on to provide a detailed explanation to his intern, who by the looks of it was petrified upon listening to the symptoms. “Schizophrenia. See how he spoke of changing the world? But when asked how he planned to do so, he had no concrete solutions and rambled on about something absolutely unrelated and unconnected!”

Schizophrenics have this peculiar habit of having grandiose, illusory thoughts. They inhabit a cocoon of make-believe, cut off from reality and act militantly and violently which could be brazenly dangerous and frightening for people around the patient.

“The subject also spoke of destroying the world? What about that?” asked the intern. “Well, it is blood–curdling that he spoke of it but in reality it is without any premise or foundation. These are merely figments of his imagination and thoughts peppered in his mind which he believes in, but have no basis.”

Rajan may have spoken of creation and destruction. He may have called himself a revolutionary on his way to change society. On some days, when his mind was in a particularly febrile state he would assume himself to be a Sukhdev, Bhagat Singh’s comrade, on a mission to liberate India and the very next moment he could don the hat of a despot, out to vanquish the world.

Ironically and tragically families form a gridlock to prevent exposure of this family member in society. This is the grim reality. Most patients languish as talk of mental disorders is considered taboo in the country.

Schizophrenia can be arrested with proper prognosis, diagnosis and medication.  Medication indeed helps in controlling the psychotic behaviour of the patients, their hallucinations, and their irrational and freakish thought process. SCARF, a Chennai based NGO is addressing the problem by tackling the stigma attached to the disease. The organisation is providing succour by fanning out to rural, semi-urban and urban areas to identify individuals suffering from this mental disorder and provide medical assistance.

No matter what one does, a schizophrenic suffers from those distressing symptoms almost lifelong. The only way out is to ameliorate the condition by improving the quality of his/her life. This is predominantly done through medicines. However there is a silver lining to it by venturing into newer territories. Apart from medication there are techniques which can add value to the medication.

Psychiatrists and the medical fraternity have zeroed on the practice of regular meditation to arrest the spread of this mental disorder. The British Journal of Psychiatry reveals the ancient Buddhist technique of mindful meditation to combat the pestilence. While it is difficult for a schizophrenic to sit and meditate, those who do not experience major symptoms can easily attempt it.

The ancient technique of Vipassana meditation can indeed be helpful for those who do not suffer grievously from the malady. The meditations of the Art of Living too can address the problem. However, it is advised that a patient refrains from learning and practising the breathing technique of Sudarshan Kriya as it can have an adverse affect on the brain.

Thus the family should not shy away from getting proper medical attention to arrest if not fully stave-off the symptoms. Under expert advice the victim can attempt to practice meditation to assuage the distraught mind.

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