Shining the Spotlight on Mental Illness

AUGUST 19, 2014
Jay Sochoka, RPh, BSPharm, CIP
The reception my last column received has been nothing short of overwhelming. People have congratulated me for writing it, and I have been called brave for shining light on such a difficult topic. While I sincerely thank all of you, I don’t see it that way.
My psychological breakdown was as much a part of my life as the birth of my son, and, as such, I discuss it openly. For years, I contemplated penning a book about the only hospitalization I had aside from birth and what in my life led up to it. I believe that now is the time to get cracking.
I was happier than 12 circus clowns when my wife saw that I was in serious trouble and put an end to what was surely a path of destruction. At a minimum, my career was in jeopardy, but the worst-case scenario would prove fatal. I was scaring everybody to the point that they would call my wife and say so.
In my psychosis, I didn’t see it that way. Everything looked great from my point of view. I was writing my own rules for life. If I felt like doing it, I made it happen—other people’s feelings and finances be damned.
Even post-hospitalization, I still wasn’t right. I was only out of work for 2 weeks, but I didn’t want to rock the boat. Three months later, I was out another 6 weeks, because I hadn’t allowed myself time to fully heal. At that point, however, I was ready to return.
I was finally on the proper medication regimen and therapy schedule, and I had loving, prayerful support from family and friends. I was confident that I could do my job without putting my patients at risk, and I learned to use parts of my disorder to my advantage. Laser-like focus on a task, with a touch of obsession for accuracy, is a handy skill to have in high-volume community pharmacy.
People have a misconception about the manic side of bipolar disorder. They believe people are so happy that they could never harm themselves, and that is exactly the problem. If a manic patient has a suicidal thought, he or she will ruminate on it constantly and get the energy to carry it out.
I believe that could have been the case for Robin Williams. I didn’t treat him, but he might have been acting a shade above his normal self, and nobody saw the end coming. It makes me wonder why I was spared such an end. I’m guessing it is because I have things left to do on this planet before I shed my mortal coil, and addressing mental illness is one of them.
We should not be ashamed to talk openly about something that is nothing more than a neurotransmitter imbalance. We should be talking about it—and working proactively on effective treatments—as if it is diabetes. Trust me, it’s worth the effort.

Jay Sochoka, RPh, has the sun for a spotlight.

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