Shining the Spotlight on Mental Illness

We should not be ashamed to talk openly about something that is nothing more than a neurotransmitter imbalance.

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.