Currently there is no cure for schizophrenia. Currently, there are not even actually anti-schizophrenic drugs. Most schizophrenics are treated with anti-psychotic drugs. Those drugs are used, often in combination with anti-depressants, anti-anxiety drugs, and drugs for bi-polar conditions. These ‘cocktails’ of medications can lessen symptoms, but they carry a host of side effects, and they are far from a cure for schizophrenia.
Since the 1970’s, doctors and scientists have searched for a genetic link for schizophrenia, and even earlier, they were seeking hereditary factors for the disease. Science today seeks out root causes of illness in order to treat and cure that illness at its roots. ‘The New Yorker’ published this article which shows that dedicated scientists are growing ever closer to establishing a genetic link for schizophrenia.
But I am not jumping for joy.
The question that burns in my mind is ‘how much of my Self am I willing to trade to be cured of schizophrenia?’ The answer, it turns out is that I am completely unwilling to trade any of myself, the good, the bad, or the ugly in order to seek a cure.
Schizophrenia is not only a condition I ‘suffer’ with, it is a huge part of who I am. There are dangerous lows which I must traverse with great care. And there are crackling highs where my priestess-self emerges incandescent from the flames of madness. In the lows dwell my voices, my hallucinations, my angels. From those lows come my poetry my word-weaving…from those lows, I can tear my heart open and hand you the verbal viscera of my soul. And science offers me…a cure?
I know that our society does not value the lives of the mentally ill very highly. It is a struggle to jump through all the hoops to simply remain in treatment. Sometimes I am not in any mental shape to vault through those hoops alone. I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again: if it were not for the love and dedication of my housemate, I don’t know where I’d be right now, but it certainly would not be an improvement on where I am…but anyway society does not value the lives of the mentally ill. We must struggle to get the care we need, often if we are able to get care the hospitals and outpatient services are so understaffed we get only the most brusque and cursory care. And that is hard, so hard to deal with when we are suicidal, delusional, vulnerable and frightened. A percentage of us will not make it. And that is hard to live with.
But when you offer us a cure that is based on genetics, a cure that is based on preventing the onset of the disease that might be perpetrated on children who have shown no symptoms of schizophrenia you start scaring me, Society. I know you hold my life and the life of others like me to be of little value, but you might be surprised that I do value my life greatly. I value my life enough to go to endless appointments, to check myself in when I know I’m not safe, to call this number if I can do nothing else to save myself. It may surprise you, Society, to learn that suicidal people value their lives enough to use these resources, but we do, we do.
So would I trade my personality for a cure for schizophrenia? No way. My living Gods created me to be as I am. And I believe that to the very fiber of my being. I believe that my schizophrenia, in some small way, serves my God’s higher purpose. I work with my treatment team to manage my symptoms, but even there, the treatment is not designed to turn me into a mindless Thorazine Zombie, I remain somewhat symptomatic, but much more functional. And my personality, the rhythms of my illness remain intact, albeit somewhat blunted. And, yes, I live in the world of side effects. My mouth is perpetually dry, I have tooth loss and gum disease related to years of dry mouth, my intestines have a will of their own, I am dizzy, drowsy, and faint by turns…and the list goes on and on. But I have my Self for good company on this journey through life. I have knowledge of my Gods. I have still my voices and my angels, and much less of the dangerous voices and much less of the dangerous hallucinations.
In J. R. R. Tolkien’s excellent book “The Fellowship of the Ring” Frodo offers the One Ring to Galadriel. Here is what happened:
“And now at last it comes. You will give me the Ring freely! In place of the Dark Lord you will set up a Queen. And I shall not be dark, but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night! Fair as the Sea and the Sun and the Snow upon the Mountain! Dreadful as the Storm and the Lightning! Stronger than the foundations of the earth. All shall love me and despair!”
She lifted up her hand and from the ring that she wore there issued a great light that illuminated her alone and left all else dark. She stood before Frodo seeming now tall beyond measurement, and beautiful beyond enduring, terrible and worshipful. Then she let her hand fall, and the light faded, and suddenly she laughed again, and lo! she was shrunken: a slender elf-woman, clad in simple white, whose gentle voice was soft and sad.
“I pass the test”, she said. “I will diminish, and go into the West and remain Galadriel.”
And that is how I feel about a cure for my schizophrenia. It has the appeal, the power of the One Ring. I think of all I could do even yet…I think of how I would be, the dragons I might slay. But then I consider the cost, the loss of my Gods, my angels…all of my spiritual self might be traded for that elusive cure. I pass the test. I will diminish and go into the West. I will remain Pam.