Five Tips for the Newly Diagnosed

I’m no doctor, but I can tell you what I did that I think helped me through my recovery. Granted, I have a couple of contributing factors that – as I am told – made my prognosis more positive than the outlook may be for others. This includes:

  • Late onset, at the age of 37
  • Being female
  • Rapid onset

With the plasticity of the mind, I think my age helped, since my brain knew more about being in a common experience. Also, females tend to have a better prognosis, overall. Finally, I am told that those with rapid onset also tend to recover better (not necessarily more quickly). My psychotic break was “Severe” by the four-point scale my doctor used (Mild, Moderate, Severe, and Very Severe). It took me well over a year, however, to suppress the worst symptoms through the use of medications.

I think getting sick as an adult also has advantages, because I approached my illness and recovery with a bit of experience that simply comes with life. When I hear about others struggling to get their symptoms under control, my heart go out to them. It is such a harrowing experience.

I hope these five tips help someone find peace sooner, rather than later.

Address the worst symptoms with your doctor

Only you know what is debilitating to you. Talk to your doctor about all of your symptoms, yes, but try to be clear on what is the worst. Is it the voices? The delusions? The ability to concentrate? They may not be the most prominent symptoms, but what feels the worst or makes you feel most debilitated is what you’ll want to get under control as soon as you can.

Be patient and consistent with medications

Now this is purely anecdotal, but from my experience, the medicine I was most patient with was the medication that provided the slightest relief to my worst symptoms, as described above. At first I measured my progress day by day as I began to feel a tiny bit better. I stuck with the medicine that provided me relief from the worst of it. As always, however, follow your doctor’s advice.

Concentrate

While the meds were still working their magic, I found relief in deep concentration. What exactly does that mean, however? I focused on putting all of my attention on one thing for as long as could. What I chose to do was taxes as a volunteer for the IRS through the VITA program. I spent eight hours a day, three days a week doing nothing but number crunching. (Don’t tell anyone I don’t think I did a very good job, and I couldn’t manage more than the 1040EZ.) I think the trick, however, was really engaging my mind. While I realize not everyone is interested in this type of work, I can think of a few other things that are similar, like detailed drawing, mechanical work such as rebuilding a carburetor, learning to play the guitar, etc. Find something that interests you and really engages your attention.

Learn how to use your PRNs

With your doctor, discuss what medications you have and how best to use them should you be experiencing a surge of symptoms. A PRN is a medication you can take “as needed” like anti-anxiety pills and even an extra dose of your anti-psychotic. Had I known I could have taken my anti-anxiety pill when I was most anxious, for example, instead of in the regularly scheduled a.m. and p.m., I think I would have been more comfortable in the early days. A good conversation about how to use your meds to your advantage will go a long way in managing symptoms.

Exercise

I know we know it… exercise is good for the body. It’s also good for the soul and the mind. In addition to helping you avoid the most common side-effect of medications (weight gain), exercise will help you sleep, which is the next best thing to meds that do their job.

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