My wife stopped taking Risperdal about a month ago, and I thought it was a good idea to give an assessment of the medicine, since she took it for over 7 months.
First off, fuck me. You heard me: fuck me. I’ve been spelling “Risperdal” wrong for the last few months. I was spelling it “Risperdol,” and all along I was thinking I was going to become like the leading Risperdol blogger out there, people would google their way to this site to get insight on the medicine. But it’s actually Risperdal with an “a,” and so all my previous Risperdol tags are for naught. I confused them because the brand name is Risperdal and the medicine itself is Risperdone, or the other way around, so I just blended the two into Risperdol. I am the leading blogger of a misspelled antipsychotic medication. Goddamnit.
I’m inspired to write this blog because I’ve been wandering around the web lately and have seen some web sites that rather aggressively advocate for a medicine-free recovery from mental illness. Now in normal life I’m pretty anti-medicine myself. I don’t like to medicate. I don’t drink or do drugs, and there’s a reason for that. I’m not into chemical changes.
But when my wife was hospitalized, I had what could be called a change of heart. My wife’s psychosis was really, really intense. When we took her to the hospital, the “5250′ed” her, which basically means that they committed her for the law mandated minimum of 72 hours. However, if she refused to take medicine, they would not be able to force it upon her until a judge decreed it to be so. I remember showing up for the hearing, thinking that I could lobby on behalf of the family to support giving her medicine, whether she wanted or not. Classic rookie move. They don’t need family members, most of the people at psych wards don’t have family members that show up anyway, so they proceeded with the hearing about an hour early, before I could even get there. But it didn’t matter: the judge agreed that she was off her rocker and needed to get shots administered in her butt cheek until she agreed to take her pills orally.
We started with Geodon (whose name I liked for being vaguely intellectual), but it was slow to stem the delusions. And her delusions were really fucked up. I mean really. The 2nd day in the hospital was probably the worst one. When I got there, the nurses greeted me by saying that she had spent all day in her room, on her bed, laying there and not saying anything. I showed up, and hospital policy decreed that I wasn’t allowed in the room. But the nurses could see in my face that I wasn’t the type that was going to just sit back and agree with hospital policy, so they agreed that they could be flexible with the rules and I could go into her room.
I walked into her doorway. She slowly rolled over, saw me, and then shot up into a sitting position.
“Get out!” she shrieked. “You need to protect yourself. I am toxic and I will hurt you. The devil wants you too! You need to get out!”
“Hi honey, how are you doing? It’s so good to see you.” I had really steadied my nerves on the way to the hospital, through the lobby, up the stairs, and in the waiting room for this moment. To shower her with normalcy and love in the face of all that is irrational.
“Get out! You are going to die in this hell with me if you don’t leave. It’s enough for one of us to die.”
“OK, I’ll walk out, don’t worry, but honey, you aren’t going to hurt me. I love you, you love me, everything is fine. You’re not going to hurt me.”
“OK, I’ll get out.”
I stood in the doorway for a minute, thinking. She calmed down a bit, but would ask “are you burning yet? Am I burning you up?”
“No honey, I’m doing just fine.”
I came up with an idea.
“Hey honey, I’ve got an idea. Why don’t we test it. You think you’ll hurt me. Well, what if I come into the room and sit by your bed for just a minute. And we’ll see if I get hurt or not.”
“I don’t know. You don’t want to mess around with the devil.”
“Let’s give it a shot.”
She didn’t agree, but didn’t tell me to get out. So I walked in, pulled up a chair, and then sat down.
She looked over me in complete and total terror, like she was about to see me die right in front of her, like a bus was bearing down and she just had to sit there and watch me get squashed by an out of control bus but couldn’t do anything.
“Look, I’m doing just fine.”
I reached over and touched her hand. I had to.
She shot up again, “What are you doing? This isn’t going to end well. It’s not a good idea. You need to leave. I am the devil. I hurt everyone. I need to die. It’s over for me.” She was raging.
I stood up, backed away to see if she would calm down at all. She did, a little bit, so I sat back down, and really went for it. I reached in and kissed her on the forehead.
“Why would you do that?”
“Because I love you.”
“You don’t love me. I’m going to die. I want to die.”
At this point she curled up into a ball on her back and pulled her knees into her chest, like she was trying to stretch out her lower back. She switched into her native tongue, Italian, and started saying over and over again Voglio morire, which means “I want to die.” She was rabidly repeating it. It started at a normal tone and then increasingly got louder and louder and then would quiet down into a whisper and she would be hissing it through her clenched teeth.
A nurse was in the doorway. Clearly this visit was going well. I left the room, I stepped back out into the threshold to give her space. She eventually slowed down and relaxed. She looked up, and saw that I was still there.
“You’re not dead.”
“I’m not dead.”
“Because we love each other.”
“We do, don’t we.”
“Yes. And that is stronger than this.”
She eventually calmed down and realized, at least for the night, that touching me wasn’t going to kill me, and I was able to sit with her, hand in hand, for about 10 minutes before I left.
So that was my wife when she was psychotic. That’s a snapshot of an hour of psychosis. She was psychotic for over 30 days. 23 in the hospital, about 3 days before the hospital, and about 2 more weeks after the hospital, although under much more control. When she was released, she’d fluctuate between being psychotic and not being psychotic. You could literally see a lightswitch in her head flip and the fog fill up her eyes again, and she’d start pacing and asking if she needed to go to hell to be punished for how she behaved in the hospital. The first day out of the hospital it was like that for about 3 hours. Then 2 hours the next day, twice. Then 1 hour. And it slowly faded until she wasn’t psychotic anymore.
Some of these medicine-free websites preach that psychosis is when a human being has reached the spiritual apex of his or her life, has become a living deity and is transcendent and sees the reality of the world for what it is. I’m paraphrasing and I don’t want to call any of these sites out by name, but I remember nurses being called “nirvana-haters” and doctors “destroyers of enlightenment.”
Give me a fucking break. You’ve got to be kidding me. My wife, curled in a ball on her back, shouting at the ceiling over and over again that she wanted to die, she wanted to die, voglio morire, voglio morire, that is enlightenment? To repeat: give me a fucking break. That was suffering of the worst possible kind. She had lost a basic human ability, our ability to perceive and process, and she was suffering. She was paranoid, afraid, alone, and her psychosis made it practically impossible to penetrate that force field of delusions.
Until she started taking medicine. She went from Geodon to Seroquel back to Geodon to Zyprexa to Risperdal (not Risperdol) and eventually the doctors settled with that one. My analogy for Risperdal is simple. It’s like turning the volume down on your experience of life. For my wife, her volume was turned down. Her feelings were dulled, which is a good thing when the feelings are either paranoia or hopeless depression. Her emotions became muted. Her thinking was slurred. She became the Great Validator, agreeing “Yes” to almost all questions I asked with a fraction of a second pause in between the question and the answer in order to process the question. “Isn’t this fun walking the dog?” Hardly noticeable pause. “Yes.” “Did you enjoy the dinner that we cooked?” Minimal pause. “Yes.”
This muted reality sucked. Horribly. She moved slower, she literally lost control of some of her muscular abilities and had stiff arms and a clawed left hand, she sagged her left shoulder, she would purse her lips and saliva would gather in her mouth and if she wasn’t careful she’d be drooling. But I don’t hesitate for a second to say that it was a drastic improvement over her psychosis. If you don’t believe me, go back and re-read the shit you just read. Would you ever want to see your spouse in that condition? For the third time: give me a fucking break.
My wife shuffled through 7 months of a muted existence. I know it wasn’t exactly fun, it was a fucking nightmare, but at least with her thoughts on a lower volume, they could sort themselves out more rationally. And as her neurons started firing in concert again (or whatever the fuck was going awry in her brain was resolving itself) she was finding the right balance of mood stabilizing medicine so that the muted feelings she felt were at least good feelings, and not suicidal feelings. And so eventually, we took her off Risperdol. The result has been like setting a caged bird free to get her off this medicine. She is back to full movement, back to full expression of emotions, back. She laughs, jokes, expresses, and lives. And her mood is high, the thoughts are good. But without antipsychotics, her persistent psychosis could have led to her actually killing herself or else hurting someone else, I am pretty confident in that. So I’ll take the 7 painful months of waiting to get rid of the medicine well over a lifetime of mourning as a widower of a successful suicide.
I’m sorry to the holier-than-though medicine free out there, but there is a time and a place for everything. There is a time to numb someone and to wait for rationality to return. My wife was so deep in her psychosis that there was nowhere else to go, no other options, and we turned to medicine and it worked. Before hospitalization we had meditated, met with spiritual leaders, done yoga, prayed, tried therapy, all of it. But she needed medicine. It saved her life.
To run the con’s of Risperdal
-it’s Big Pharma which is like public enemy #1 and yeah I get it but still.
-she gained about 50 pounds on her antipsychotics which I know she hates but it’s again a part of that trade off
-imagine taking all of your feelings and thoughts and turning them down to a barely audible mumble. That would be weird and very disorienting
The pro’s of Risperdal
-It got her out of her psychosis.