Life changing

Last semester in Cairo was a bit of a disaster. Along with schizoaffective disorder I have a particularly awful case of OCD. I was constantly afraid that I would get rabies from one of the stray dogs or cats. To the point where I barely left the house. It was terrible and I was really lonely and miserable. Towards the end my psychotic symptoms returned and I had to go back to the US early and be hospitalized.

Somehow, however, I’m feeling much better now. I can even walk past feral dogs without having a panic attack. I have more friends and have found some great tutors to help me along in Arabic. I’m a different person entirely. No psychosis and no mood symptoms to report. My life is finally changing for the better.

My goal is to keep this blog better updated this year. If anyone has suggestions for topics to blog about, please let me know!

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It’s been ages since I’ve updated, sorry! I think last time I posted I was starting to get unwell. I ended up in hospital, twice, with acute psychosis. Then less than a month later I boarded a plane headed for Cairo.

I’m in Cairo this year studying Arabic. The program is hard. But with the help of disability accomodations, I’m getting things done. I just need to maintain my lifestyle: sleep, food, meds.

I had a bit of a lithium scare over the past month. The amount I was taking was too high for the grueling Cairene sun and it became toxic. I had trouble walking up and down stairs. My vision was blurry. I became disorientated at times. Fortunately my Egypt psychiatrist figured this out and dropped my lithium dose by half. Now I’m doing much better, thankfully!

There is more to say but I’m going to save it for another time. Hope all is well with you all!

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I’m not doing very well. I’m having early signs of psychosis, particularly thinking that my universe is a parallel reality. I’m seeing “signs” meant only for me. I keep thinking people are out to get me or are agents of some kind.

I’m going to try to survive another day, but if this continues I need to reach out to my doctors before this gets really out of control. Wish me luck.

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I need help after all

I have officially started my yearlong odyssey into Arabic. I’ve been participating in an intensive summer program, where we pledge to speak only in Arabic the whole time. It’s exhausting!

I thought I could manage without accomodations, but I was wrong. The sleeplessness started, along with the exhaustion and symptoms. With much urging by the counselor here on campus, I finally spoke to the head of the program and my teachers. They agreed to give me more flexibility in turning in assignments. I’m waiting on an official disability letter too.

It’s only been two weeks, but already I’m really struggling. I’ve had some mood and psychotic symptoms. I hope my meds will squash them as I start getting better sleep. Wish me luck, all!

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A little triumph

I recently went through a minor schizoaffective episode, characterized by mild psychosis and irritability. Essentially I was having lots of auditory hallucinations, and I was interpreting the voices in my head as people hacking into my mind. I heard voices in Russian and Spanish, in addition to English. The barrage of voices left me very irritable, and I did stupid things like driving recklessly, almost to the point of getting into an accident.

The triumph is that I managed to get through this without needing hospital. I relied instead on therapy and a small medication change. The voices are greatly reduced now and the paranoia is totally gone. I feel so much better!

This gives me more confidence that I’ll be able to handle episodes when I’m abroad in Cairo next year. If I can monitor my own symptoms and reach out to my doctor, I should be okay.

It has been about 2.5 months since my last hospitalization, and counting. I’m finally getting my life back.

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Living with stigma

Things are never simple with bipolar/schizoaffective disorder. My current struggle is filling out the paperwork necessary for me to study in Cairo. I need to have my psychiatrist and a general practitioner fill out health clearance forms. These forms don’t hold much back. I have to explain my mental health history, not in huge detail, but enough that they know what’s going on.

I’m so nervous that they’ll decide I can’t go. Everyone around me keeps saying it will be fine. They legally can’t discriminate against me because of my mental health condition. But isn’t it sad that I’m so afraid to reveal it to anyone? Mental illnesses should be like any other conditions. Diabetes, asthma, food allergies. Yet I fear the stigma. I wish I were brave and stood up more for mental health. Maybe I will one day, once I have tenure. Until then, I have to live with the fear.

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Some exciting updates!

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind. I found out that I got a fellowship to study Arabic in Cairo next year for nine months. It’s a well known and prestigious program and I’m completely blown away that I was chosen. I’ve accepted the offer and am now trying to figure out how to deal with mental illness while living in Cairo. There is so much to worry about, but the biggest one is medication. How to get meds and what to do if I need tweaking. From talking to people who’ve spent time in Cairo, it seems relying on local pharmacies for medications isn’t the best plan.

On top of that fellowship, I received another fellowship to study Arabic this summer, but this time in California. I’m thinking of it as a little stepping stone for the year-long program.

As I figure out how to make my life work in Cairo, I’ll definitely update and let you all know! But for now, I’m just going to be excited!

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Narrative of a day in hospital

I wanted to reflect on what a day in hospital is like. In this blog post I draw on experiences I had during my most recent hospitalization for acute psychosis.

I wake up reluctantly. Most of the patients are preparing to go down to the cafeteria for breakfast, but I am on suicide precautions and won’t be allowed to go. I eat all of my meals on the adult general unit, not even allowed the opportunity to choose what I want. One of the cafeteria ladies chooses for me.

I lie in bed waiting for the sound of the breakfast cart, trying to catch another five minutes of sleep. Eventually it arrives and I get out of bed. Three thick slices of cold ham. I protest and ask the nurses to send up something different, but with my lactose intolerance ham is the only possible food. I am annoyed that the cafeteria has chosen today to remember my sensitivity to lactose; indeed, they forget most meals. I managed to get some eggs from one of the young girls on the unit. There are several of them and they all eat like birds.

I take my morning meds. The rest of the day is spent in a daze, only half-awake for “group” meetings. During free time I try in vain to sleep. I want to be asleep as much as possible because my thoughts are disturbing. There are fruit flies in my room and I know they contain tiny cameras. They are spying on me for the entity. If I turn the lights on, unbearable brightness floods the room. The entity monitors me through the lights. I keep the lights off. The entity implants suicidal thought after thought into my mind. Sometimes I can tell the difference between its thoughts and mine. Other times, most times, it tricks me.

Indeed, the suicidal thoughts include plans that are actionable even within the relative safety of the hospital. I have told no one about this yet, but I will today. I’m on day 2 of Zyprexa and as a result have some insight into how bad my suicidal thoughts are. I tell my doctor. As a precaution, and so that the “decision” of whether or not to act on my thoughts is taken away from me, she puts me on “one-to-one.” A staff member will henceforth monitor me at all times. My first watcher sits in the room with me, telling me how beautiful and amazing I am and how shocked he is that I’m having these thoughts. I feel uncomfortable.

Soon I am moved upstairs to the intensive ward. My new watcher is a woman who I’ve encountered on previous hospital stays. I don’t like her at all, but still she watches me sleep, eat, go to the bathroom, everything. I attend a group. I watch some television. Anything to pass the time. My watchers change throughout the day. With one of them I have a long conversation about family and school and life in general. The conversation is nice and easy.

Eventually it’s time for nighttime meds, then bed. I struggle to fall asleep. I have struggled with sleeping since starting Zyprexa. I can feel the meds seeping heavily into my system, and my heart beats quickly. My watcher continues to watch me in a chair next to my bed. When I awaken in the middle of the night, however, she is gone.

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Schizoaffective disorder

Over the past few weeks I went through an awful psychotic episode that landed me in hospital for a week. Without going into much detail, I felt like I was being monitored and controlled by an outside force, such that I began to believe I had to try to hurt/kill myself. I was hospitalized for my own safety.

While in hospital, my doctor switched out one med for another: zyprexa. So far it’s working out great! My delusions and hallucinations have mostly subsided and I’ve been able to return to school.

Another change was my diagnosis. Because I have episodes of psychosis without mood symptoms attached, my doctor diagnosed me with schizoaffective disorder. Schizoaffective means that I have a mood disorder (bipolar) and psychotic symptoms that occur even when I’m not manic or depressed. People tend to describe schizoaffective as a mixture of schizophrenia and bipolar, but at least in my case that’s misleading. It’s more like having bipolar but with more pronounced psychosis that happens before and/or after mood episodes end.

Anyway… hopefully soon I’ll write out a longer description of my schizoaffective symptoms. Is a hugely misunderstood diagnosis because so few people have it and there is little research.

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The past month has been rather rocky. My mood accelerated about three weeks ago into a brief manic episode. Fortunately my doctors and I caught it in time before I needed hospital.

Since then things haven’t quite gone back to normal. I don’t feel super comfortable talking about what’s been going on, but according to my doctors at least I’m having a psychotic episode. I don’t see it that way, of course.

All I’m trying to do is hang around until the end of the semester. I feel close to needing hospital, but I really don’t want to go. I want to see if I can ride this out. But I also want to be safe. We’ll see. I’ll try to update more frequently in case anyone is following.

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