Excerpts from A Life Worth Living – Schizophrenia Alternative Treatment: Chapter 3
I had known change my whole adult life—change in relationships, change in my children growing away from me, change in jobs, change from a slow-growing benign brain tumor that grew over the first seven years of Marco’s life, change in husbands, change in houses, and change in countries I lived in. Abrupt changes were the hallmark of my life. But even with this background, I was completely unprepared for the changes that took place once Marco showed signs of schizophrenia and was put on antipsychotic drugs. These changes were brutal for him and for us who witnessed the changes in him. Our sense of what was normal slipped away from us daily until there was no more normal left.
Marco’s journey began when he fell down the rabbit hole of schizophrenia. He had a long ride down, dropping into an underworld that finally left all of us in a room filled with many doors. He was confused, and besides that, he had changed his size and didn’t really know who he was anymore or which door to choose.
This described our state as we drove from the Amen Clinic to UCLA Harborside’s emergency room.
“There’s no parking available, Jose, not one space. I don’t like the way it feels here—it’s institutional. Let’s go home and call Brentwood Hospital and see what’s available,” I told Jose.
In the heat of the moment, an action is clearly required; we looked at all the doors facing us and froze—We went home. Marco lay down; I made calls. Brentwood only took patients on Medicare, not the Medi-Cal insurance that Marco had. Jose worked on his computer. We never took him to a hospital.
We continued the dosages of risperidone that day, one tablet in the morning and one in the evening. It didn’t seem to have much of an effect, so the next day we started with two in the morning and two in the evening. His disposition started to improve, so we kept him on this dose, and he stabilized after a few days. After a week, Marco seemed better, and we began having conversations with him. The illness had not gone away; it was only masked by the drugs.
“The precise mechanism by which the medicine works is unknown.” This is what is written in the drug information for Seroquel, the second antipsychotic my son was put on. They say, “This is a major area of research. One belief is that psychotic symptoms are related to over activity in the brain of the neurotransmitter dopamine. It is thought that antipsychotic medications reduce the activity of dopamine in the synaptic cleft. They do this by blocking the dopamine receptors—that is, preventing dopamine from attaching to the receptors.”
These medicines may also affect several other neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and glutamate. The overall purpose of antipsychotic treatment is to restore the disturbed chemical balance of the brain. In fact, the atypical antipsychotics block several other neurotransmitters that block transmission of neurons from other governing centers in the brain, such as the limbic region that provides the emotional color in life, the movement center of the brain which governs movement and the cerebellum, and the cognitive center of the brain which governs thinking.
There are many adverse effects (AE) that result from antipsychotics: flattened or dead emotions, movement disorders such as akinesia or movement indifference, akathisia or inner restlessness, and tachycardia or Parkinson’s-like tremors. This is why the side effect medicine benztropine is prescribed with risperidone to take when tachycardia side effects occur. Cognitive disorders result in disconnected thoughts and slow thinking. The hypothalamus-pituitary-thyroid axis in the brain stem is affected, which blocks the release of vital hormones, causing adverse effects, such as amenorrhea, stopping menstrual cycles in young women and sexual impotence in men (Mackliff, 2012).