Amrik's Bout with Schizophrenia

Margaret Little

Reprinted from "Treatments" issue of Visions Journal, 2006, 3(1), pp. 14-15

stock photoIn 2003, at the age of 22, Amrik* had just graduated from a US university with a Computer Engineering degree. He was a normal, well-adjusted young graduate with no prior mental health problems. But after only three months at his first job, as a university Java program developer, he was unable to concentrate on his work or remember much of his programming skills.

"I had memory blackouts where I couldn't recall who I was and what I was doing," says Amrik. "This period in my life is a blur to me now. I knew something was wrong, but I didn't know what."

When Amrik came home from work one day, he was unusually tired. Suddenly, he had what he would later learn was an epileptic seizure. He had a memory blackout so he didn't know what happened at this time. During this seizure, he bit his tongue. He was taken to the hospital by his parents, who, luckily, were present during this episode. At the hospital he was treated for the seizure by a general practitioner, but the GP referred him to a psychiatrist, whom Amrik saw the same day. The psychiatrist diagnosed him as schizophrenic because of his chaotic thought patterns. Amrik remembers telling the psychiatrist about a professor he'd had, who he thought was "out to get him."

"I truly beleived this professor was plotting against me," he says. "The professor was out to get me because I was evil and would harm others." Now Amrik knows that he was living in another reality.

"I had suicidal thoughts during this period of time, but I didn't actively try to commit suicide," remembers Amrik. "When I was diagnosed as schizophrenic, I don't remembered being scared or surprised--just a blank." There is a hole in his memory around the onset of illness.

The psychiatrist prescribed Amrik the anti-psychotic drug Risperdal. With the medication his thoughts became more coherent and reasonable and he began to feel normal. the main side effects from risperdal was drowsiness; luckily, the drowsiness only occured in the morning before 9:00 a.m. During the daytime he was alert, with no side effects. He did not suffer from depression. Amrik continued with the medication for three or four months, but was not able to continue his programming work at the university. It took several months for his mental condition to stabilize and his thoughts to completetely return to normal.

Living in the United States with a mental illness has a downside, however. Amrik found his medications very costly, because he was not a US citizen. but since he had no US medical coverage, it cost him $800-$1,000 a month for his medication.

Fortunately, Amrik's mother and father were emotionally supportive. His parents understood, through talking to the psychiatrist, that Amrik's mental disorder was biochemical and was manageable with proper treatment. "But my diagnosis was kept very quiet in the family. Only my mother and father knew about it," Amrik says.

The family, after much discussion, decided to move to Canada where Amrik's medication would be cheaper. Amrik had dual citizenship from Canada and India and had lived in Canada for nine years before the family moved to the US so he could attend college there. As a Canadian citizen, Amrik's prescription drugs would be cover under the Canadian health care system.

Here in Canada, Amrik was accepted to work on a master's degree in Computer Engineering.

Since schizophrenia is a life-long disease and there is no immediate cure for it, Amrik has to take his medication daily. Sometimes he has a mild relapses. To help cope with relapses, Amrik has been a patient at a psychiatric day centre. He is taking cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and has found it to be useful. Although most often used in connection with mood and anxiety disorders, CBT can also help those with schizophrenia.

"The thought restructuring has really helped my thinking pattterns, and I've become functional in my daily life using the pills and the cognitive therapy," says Amrik. He has CBT sessions once a week for one to two hours. CBT also helps him manage his school work and helps him sets goals.

His CBT work is also supported by progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, relaxation, meditation and yoga. Exercise is recomended for day centre participants. Amrik goes to the gym and works on cardio and weight equipment to keep his fitness level up. He also likes sports, especially tennis.

Amrik’s life is reasonably fulfilling, but still not yet well rounded. He didn’t have many hobbies during his student days, as he concentrated solely on his studies. He is now attempting to round out his life socially. He has a number of casual friends, but no close ones. He says he has good interaction with members in the day program and occasionally goes out with some of the male members to movies or similar activities.

Amrik is coping very well at present. He has one year left to complete for his master’s degree. When asked what advice he would give to others who have a similar problem, he said they should try CBT and take medication. This helped him and should help others. He added that there is no cure for schizophrenia, but the disease can be managed with proper care.

And says Amrik, “Even if your schooling is interrupted by mental illness, with proper treatment, young adults can still fulfill their dreams and potential.”

About the author

Margaret is a UBC graduate in Art History. She has also studied computer information systems and website design, and has worked for the BC government for 12 years. She enjoys aquafit, weight training, writing and walking her dog