By David Meyers
Most of my life – before I gained the recognition of having the serious mental illness of bipolar – was bright, activity-filled, and fulfilling. It was really only a period of less than a year that I can recall where I had symptoms that demanded I see a doctor.
Unfortunately, the next nine years taking medications and intensely pursuing schoolwork did not bring about much of a recovery that was long-lasting. Although I attended groups at day treatment and was compliant with my medications, my life fell in shambles in the spring of 2007.
I had been searching for four years starting in 2003 for a treatment that could help my whole sense of being. I had felt that day programs and cognitive behavioral therapy were not going far enough to help me return to the self that I recalled from the 80s and 90s.
I can say now in 2020 that I clearly recall myself then. In fact, there’s a wealth of emotions, good and bad, that have returned to me more clearly in the past 13 years I have been receiving treatment for my condition – for my brain injury, not for bipolar.
There are two main doctors I can attribute to major recovery in my sense of self for many years. They are neurologists, not psychiatrists. Neither of these doctors prescribed medications for my bipolar, but helped me understand my illness and head injury in the context of my life story.
No psychiatrist has taken my life story into account and addressed me accordingly. However, my neurologists have. The past is very important in the context of the brain.
With this taken into account, I have been prescribed speech therapy. This helps me restructure my thoughts into patterns that are more clear and easier to describe. My life has become much easier from the addition of this therapeutic since 2016.
This is something that could have helped me before I had the head injury. So much of what I was searching for in 2004 has actually been manifested since proper treatment from a neurologist and neuropsychologist.
So why isn’t speech therapy widely recognized as effective for people with serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar? I know in my case that this was only available because of my diagnosis of a traumatic frontal lobe head injury. I have regained some short-term memory, problem-solving skills, and reading comprehension. Those were things that I had wanted for over 10 years, but I was basically told that this person was forever gone.
People with schizophrenia-related illnesses often need attention in these areas.
I gained the help of a neurologist in 2015 through self-guided advocacy resulting from constant dizziness in my group home apartment. No one had ever thought of this, despite my visible lack of balance. This took an all night long emergency room visit and a referral to an institute that specializes in treating brain injuries.
The referral from a neurologist to a physical therapist for my balance and speech therapists for disorganized thoughts has completely changed my life. I have suffered disorganized thoughts for decades. I guess that disorganization truly is a symptom of my illness, not just my brain injury.
The sense of self I have recovered is mostly possible with neurological treatment. Compliance with psychiatric protocols, but with advocating for my best interests, is also necessary.
I think my story, although tragic at parts, illustrates the need for serious mental illnesses such as mine (bipolar 1 with psychotic features) be seen as a whole brain phenomenon, not simply something that only behaviors can mitigate in therapy.
But no one generally goes through things like what I did. I am fortunate to have survived this brush with death. Other people with severe brain illnesses like mine have similar experiences that, like mine, could have been prevented with more cognitive restructuring therapeutics.
I believe that my case illustrates the need for reform. I am sure there are others like it.
David Meyers is a lifelong learner, and enjoys nature, making art and playing guitar. He studies Biology and English at SUNY, and is a former group facilitator, phone counselor, and peer mentor. He lives independently in Lackawanna, New York.
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