Once more a nerd

It was painful for me to see Chris reverse the gains he had made He was starting to look more and more peculiar, reverting to the nervous nerd look that had marked the first episode of his psychosis four years earlier. He buttoned his shirts up to the collar, and cinched his pants around his waist, leaving him looking like he was wearing high-water pants. His new red framed eyeglasses added a lab technician look to his already “odd-ball” appearance. Other people wondered what was happening to him, too. Instead of asking Chris what was going on, they spoke to me. “Oh, he’s just going through a rough patch, ” I tied to reassure them, not very convincingly. What looks like relapse may often be recovery I told myself every day or I might have completely given up hope. As the autumn progressed, Chris lost interest in going to choir practice and in continuing with his voice lessons. Ian and I insisted that he drop his two university courses before he failed them. Through all of this, we continued to work with Chris’s holistic psychiatrist to fine tune his supplements.

Then came an e-mail from Dr. Stern. While we all had agreed at our last family appointment that this was probably a necessary crisis for Chris and that with time and support he would emerge stronger, she was now suggesting strongly that he go back on both an antipsychotic and an antidepressant. She was worried that he was suicidal because he had told her in an indirect way that I thought he was suicidal. This was a miscommunication on his part about what we were discussing.

I pulled Chris aside. “Chris,” I hissed, “there are at least two things that you can tell a psychiatrist that are guaranteed to have them pulling out the prescription pad. One is to admit to hearing voices, the other is to mention suicide in any context.” Dr Stern was doing what any psychiatrist would do under the circumstances. She was protecting herself. I was very disappointed and somewhat angry with her. She knew we were against the medications because they had never worked for Chris. We engaged her specifically to help get him off them and now she wanted to throw all that away because she thought he might be suicidal.

Many people will side with Dr Stern here, because, after all, they will reason that you can’t be too careful when it comes to suicide, but I disagree. If you mention the word “suicide” to a psychiatrist, I suspect it doesn’t matter in what context you mention it, the fact is the “s” word has been said and psychiatrists have to consider their license and the very real possibility, in some countries at least, that they will be sued by the family if a tragedy does occur. I was not willing to have Chris’s recovery postponed and perhaps delayed forever by going back on medications. Dr. Stern saw Chris once a week. I saw him every day and I felt that my judgment as his mother trumped her judgment as his psychiatrist, even though I felt she was a very good psychiatrist in many other ways.

I sat Chris down. “What you decide to do about the medication is up to you,” I said. I deliberately avoided trotting out the reasons why I was against the medications. Chris knew them only too well. Chris confessed that, among other things, he was afraid that if he went back on medications, he would never be able to function at university. It was true he wasn’t functioning now at university, but the medications could make it worse, in my opinion. However, I said nothing. Chris sent an e-mail to Dr. Stern, copied to his holistic psychiatrist, Ian and me, saying that suicide was the last thing he had in mind and he was sorry if he misled her. He said he wasn’t against the medications, he just didn’t believe in them for himself.

“My feeling, he wrote,” “is that I am the cause of my own depression, but I hope that it will lift just as the clouds melt away after a summer thunderstorm.”

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