Tag Archives: schizophrenia

The Hearing-Voices/Car-Driving Metaphor

A while ago I met a lady who had a fantastic way of describing and understanding her experience of auditory hallucinations/psychosis. It goes a bit like this:

My body’s a car. I’m the driver.

In the back seat are the voices. They’re like naughty kids, always chatting away amongst themselves. Often they’re taunting me. 

Usually I can just ignore them and get on with driving the car.

However, every now and then the voices get real loud.

It’s distracting. Driving becomes difficult and that’s when I’m most likely to drive badly or, if I’m unable to concentrate properly, I could even crash the car. 

It’s pretty scary, but I usually don’t have to come into hospital at that point. I just need more support to get control back, and maybe a change to my medication. 

The worst time for me is when the voices get so distracting that I can’t focus on driving at all. I turn to the voices in the back seat and try to get them to shut up. But they’re like naughty kids yelling and jumping around the car, and I can’t get them to stop. 

I take my seatbelt off and turn to face them, then somehow – I don’t even notice it happening – one of the voices will slip into the driver’s seat and take over control of driving the car.

Thats when it gets REALLY dangerous.

I’m not out of control – it’s worse than that – I have lost control entirely. I haven’t even got my hands on the steering wheel anymore, and I can’t reach the brakes. 

That’s when I need to come into hospital.

At the time I met this lady she was make a tentative recovery from one of these acute episodes of psychosis. On admission she had been experiencing command auditory hallucinations, paranoid delusions, racing thoughts and suicidal ideation.

When we met the intensity of these symptoms was settling. The lady’s articulate insight helped us both communicate effectively when she had a relapse in symptoms. To keep her safe we needed to stop her from leaving the hospital, and provide an increased level of supervision/support. To get a shared understanding of this I was able to return to the lady’s metaphor:

I’m worried that you’re at risk of losing control of the car again. What I’m planning to do is take the keys away for now, and hand them back to you when you’re safe to drive again. 

That’s a good way to think about using the Mental Health Act – it’s a mechanism to decrease risk/stop people from a foreseeable crash if they’ve lost the capacity to drive. 

However, the real story here is about the intelligence, insight and articulate communication of a young woman who experiences symptoms of psychosis.

An impressive person, and a fantastic metaphor. 

Hopefully other people will be able to make use of this lady’s metaphor as a way to understand psychosis/hearing voices. 

car
End

Thanks for visiting. As always your comments/feedback is welcome below.

Paul McNamara, 20th February 2017.

Short URL: https://meta4RN.com/car

The Broken Leg/Psychosis Metaphor

Preamble

Below is a metaphor I heard in 1994 via an impressive man called Greg Holland. Greg is retired now, but when I met him he was a CNC with a public community mental health service. Even after all the years that have followed, Greg remains one of the most skilled communicators and mental health nurses I’ve ever worked with.

Greg was talking with a couple of young fellas who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Greg was explaining the importance of trying to avoid relapses of psychosis. The key messages for these young blokes was to keep taking the prescribed medications, and stay away from things that make psychosis more likely: things like cannabis, amphetamines or heaps of alcohol. That’s when Greg used this metaphor (his verbal version was shorter than my written version, but the general story is the same):

The Broken Leg/Psychosis Metaphor

If you accidentally broke your leg skateboarding or playing football, you’d have to have your leg in plaster for about 6 weeks. You would have to be really careful with it during that time, and it would probably get really uncomfortable and itchy most days. Then, if there were no complications, after 6 weeks you’d be able to get the plaster cast off, and start building up your strength in that broken leg. A physio might recommend some exercises, but you probably wouldn’t get back to playing football or skateboarding for a few months. Rehabilitation takes a bit of time and effort, but as a young fit man you’ll make a full recovery. No worries.

If you broke the same leg again, it might be more of a big deal. You might need surgery, and they might need to strengthen the bone with steel plates or rods and screws. Sometimes people need to have external fixation: metal devices that are screwed into the bones, but sit outside the body, above the skin to stabilise the fractures. It will be messier, more painful, take longer to get out of hospital, and your leg muscles will get pretty weak. You’ll probably make a full recovery still, but it will just take more time and effort.

If you break your leg a third time, the orthopaedic nurses and doctors are going to think you’re either really unlucky or stupidly reckless. They’ll suggest that you stop skateboarding and playing football altogether. Your leg will get operated on, and the fractures will get stabilised, but the recovery will be really slow. You could end-up with a bit of a limp.

If you keep on breaking the same leg over and over again, say five, six, seven times, you will definitely end up with a limp. Might need a walking stick or something.

If you break the same leg often enough and bad enough you’ll probably end up lame: permanently disabled and unable to walk. You’ll wish you’d listened to the orthopaedic nurses and doctors, and had never gone back to skateboarding or playing football.

It’s kind of the same with psychosis.

If you lose touch with reality once or twice you’ll probably make a full recovery.

But if you keep on having psychotic episodes your brain might develop a bit of a “limp” – it will still work, but not as good as it used to work.

If you have lots of psychotic episodes you might end up disabled and unable enjoy life to the fullest. You’ll wish you’d never gone back to smoking gunja or getting pissed.

That’s why I’m working with you to prevent or cut down on psychotic relapses. Does that make sense to you?

End

I really like the broken leg/psychosis metaphor. I use a shortened version of the above script a fair bit at work, and people usually respond well to it. I’m very grateful to Greg Holland for introducing the analogy to me. It’s a good metaphor that I hope that others will find useful to use/adapt in their clinical practice too.

As always, your feedback is welcome in the comments section below.

Paul McNamara, 17th November 2016

Short URL: meta4RN.com/leg

The Art of Mental Health

art

Sigmund Freud is purported to have said, “Everywhere I go I find that a poet has been there before me.” Not every nursing speciality has this advantage of being informed and sustained by artists. Can those of us interested in supporting mental health consumers and carers look to art to improve our understanding and empathy of the experiences of others? 

I have created a Prezi as a seed for others to use art as an adjunct to our other sources of learning (courses, colleagues, peer-reviewed journals, text books etc). Please see the Prezi by following the link here.

The examples I have collated in the Prezi are listed below, and credit is given to the sources that were used in the Prezi.

Veronica by Elvis Costello is a beautiful song and film clip, that improves our understanding and empathy of nursing the person with dementia. The YouTube video is here: youtu.be/zifeVbK8b-g The lyrics were sourced from this website: www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/elviscostello/veronica.html I’ve written about this previously: meta4RN.com/dementia and have self-plagarised. Again. 

Dog by Andy Bull (with vocal support from Lisa Mitchell) is a fantastic song that captures some of the difficulties of the experience of depression. In the Prezi I used this YouTube link youtu.be/bBOe660BYjI and the lyrics were sourced via www.songlyrics.com/andy-bull/dog-lyrics

Dog is a poignant, wonderful song. Listen to it here:

I had a black dog, his name was depression is written, illustrated and narrated by Matthew Johnstone. It is a very accessible way think about depression and would resonate with a broad age group, I think. Here is the YouTube video used in the Prezi:

To improve understanding and empathy for the family/carers of those who experience schizophrenia I use a song called Neighbourhoods #2 (Laika). This takes a bit of explanation. First though, lets get the credits out of the way. The lyrics were sourced here: www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/arcadefire/neighborhood2laika.html The YouTube video linked in the Prezi is from here: youtu.be/8Wq917ucGaE

Laika - First dog in Space by Belgian artist Paul Gosselin. Source: http://cultured.com/image/4063/Laika_First_dog_in_Space/#fav

“Laika – First Dog in Space” by Belgian artist Paul Gosselin. Source: http://cultured.com/image/4063/Laika_First_dog_in_Space/#fav

Laika by Arcade Fire may not have been written about mental illness at all. However, as with all art, interpretation is an individual experience. I have had a few years experience as a community mental health nurse. In that role I provided direct care and support to the person experiencing mental health problems (nearly all of my clients at the time had schizophrenia) and, when family were still around, support for them too.

Much of the word imagery of Laika fits with that experience. Carers often described their frustration at the lack of insight and empathy that their family member seemed to have. Carers would oscillate between deep concern and desperate frustration about their family member. More than a few times carers expressed a nihilistic outlook – an almost complete lack of hope. The line “Our mother should’ve just named you Laika” expresses that poignantly: Laika was the name of a stray dog in Moscow who became the first living creature to orbit earth. She was never expected to return to earth safely, and died a few hours after launch. Families I have worked with have, at times, expressed that level of despair about their family member.

I also like how Laika’s story has been taken-up by the art community. I love the Arcade Fire song, and my favourite visual representation of Laika – First Dog in Space is the painting above by Belgian artist Paul Gosselin.

The last piece of art I used in the Prezi was The Scream by Edvard Munch. The source of the picture is here: www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/munch/munch.scream.jpg I’ve read that this picture has been associated with other health problems including  trigeminal neuralgia, psychosis and depersonalisation. To my eye, The Scream looks like acute anxiety and/or a panic attack. It serves as a graphic visual reminder that the first step is to assist the person to contain their distress, to be and feel safe. It shows distress that must feel overwhelming and rallies us to help: let’s think “safety first” kids.

So, that’s it for this little weekend project: if you haven’t visited the Prezi yet please do so now: The Art of Mental Health

What songs, poems, books, music and visual art will inform and sustain your clinical practice?

Paul McNamara, 7th December 2014

art

Movies, Myths, Mistakes

The Cairns Post, 14th August 2003:

my say 1 140803As if schizophrenia isn’t enough of a burden to those who have it, they also have to put up with the myths and misunderstandings that accompany it, and the discrimination that follows.

So, let’s try to get some of the facts about schizophrenia right.

Probably the most common myth is that schizophrenia means split personality. Comparisons to Jekyll and Hyde are commonplace, but utterly wrong.

In Latin schizophrenia means split mind. This refers to the split between perceiving the world in the way most of us do and perceiving it in other ways.

To illustrate, someone with schizophrenia may interpret everyday events as having significance beyond their intent.

In health, our jargon terms for these sorts of symptoms are delusional beliefs and/or ideas of reference.

my say 2 140803In the film Angel Baby the main character sought special meaning from a game show. I have met plenty of people with schizophrenia and haven’t heard anything quite like that, but then I don’t have to make a living by entertaining people either.

I think what the movie-makers were doing was jazzing-up and stylising the experience of perceiving the everyday in another way.

Speaking of jazzing-up and stylising, A Beautiful Mind certainly did a good job with making paranoia look exciting (it’s not).

Perhaps because movies are visual, this film gave the impression the main character was experiencing his paranoia as a visual experience.

Some people with schizophrenia do have paranoid beliefs and delusions when they are unwell. Nobody I’ve met has described this visually, although quite a few have spoken about hearing things, usually voices,.

It seems these auditory hallucinations are an intrusive and exaggerated version of what all of us experience when we have those little conversations with ourselves throughout the day.

From what I’ve heard, most people’s idea of what a mental health ward looks and functions like comes straight out of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.

Anyone who has been inside our local mental health unit at CBH will be able to tell you that it is a modern, light-filled place where there’s direct access to fresh air from just about every room.

In my opinion, the layout and design is the best of all the wards in the hospital.

Finally there’s the violence myth. Hollywood has created a perception that schizophrenia means danger.

I don’t associate violence with schizophrenia at all. I know that on occasions tragic things have happened, but this is rare.

I’ve met dozens of people with schizophrenia who would not  hurt a fly.

I guess if you’re making movies you’re not interested in a story about an ordinary-looking person doing everyday stuff in a pretty average way, other than taking medications to control uninvited symptoms.

Final Notes

Back in 2003 a journalist from The Cairns Post invited me to submit this article for the My Say column (a daily feature presenting the views of a cross-section of the community). The article’s reference to man’s inhumanity to man is in the context of current events at the time – it was published during the second week of the war in Iraq.

As I was identified as an employee of a local hospital, at the time of publication the content of the article had to be approved by the hospital’s media department. The media department approved the article without changes to content.

In 2003 I used some phrases that I find a bit jarring now. I was tempted to correct it in this 2014 version, but decided it was more authentic to leave the original unaltered.

Anyway, I stumbled across the very-low-resolution JPG version of the article today and thought it might be worth reprising. Stigmatising representations of schizophrenia still pop-up in Hollywood, – this is a tiny, inadequate bit of counter-balance.

As always, your feedback is welcome in the comments section below.

Paul McNamara, 26th October 2014

Short URL:  meta4RN.com/movies

Originally:
McNamara, Paul (2003). Movies, myths, mistakes. The Cairns Post, 14 Aug 2003, pg 13.

Does the End Justify the Meanness?

Proposed changes to health funding in Australia’s 2014 Commonwealth Budget include direct costs (“co-payments”) to patients every time they see their GP or have pathology done, and an increase in the cost of prescribed medications. This extra revenue will be put towards medical research. Does the end justify the means meanness?

For some people with schizophrenia the only medication that keeps them well enough to stay out of hospital is clozapine. Clozapine was initially introduced in the early 1970s but was withdrawn within a few years because some people died while taking it. Although clozapine is the only effective antipsychotic for some people with schizophrenia, about 1% of those who take clozapine will develop agranulocytosis (a dangerous drop in white blood cells, especially neutrophils – the most abundant type of white blood cells). Left unrecognised and unmanaged agranulocytosis leaves people very susceptible to serious infections and, as happened back in the 1970s, can even lead to death.

Schizophrenia is a bugger of an illness. Onset of symptoms is nearly always in teenage years or early twenties. Schizophrenia is often misrepresented as split personality – that’s wrong – it infers that a person can choose or control their symptoms. The word schizophrenia has it’s roots in the Greek language, translated it means split mind – people do not choose to have a split mind. Symptoms vary between individuals, but very often people with schizophrenia will experience thought disorder (non-sequential, disorganised, confused thinking), delusions (beliefs, often unsettling and difficult to understand, that are not shared by others) and auditory hallucinations (sounds or voices that nobody else can hear, but which sound and feel very real to the individual experiencing them). If these symptoms are intense or frequent they can really make a mess of the individual’s ability to function successfully in school, university or the workplace. Consequently people with schizophrenia are over-represented amongst the unemployed and homeless.

before

Because schizophrenia is such a bugger of an illness and clozapine can be so effective at dampening-down the symptoms, in the early 1990s clozapine was made available again with some very strict protocols in place to keep the people taking it safer from serious side effects. When starting on clozapine blood tests are taken every week to check that the neutrophils/white blood cell counts don’t drop. It is built-in to the infrastucture of clozapine management – you can’t get a prescription until you’ve had a blood test and the doctor checks it against previous blood tests. If there are any problems with the blood tests the doctor will stop prescribing clozapine – no ifs, ands or buts. For about 1% of people the risk of agranulocytosis will outweigh the benefits of staying on clozapine.

For the person with schizophrenia taking clozapine this regular regime of blood tests, visiting the GP and getting a short-term prescription (there are no repeat prescriptions for clozapine) might be the difference between being in hospital and being at home, or (sometimes) being homeless and being at home. Once initial treatment is established, safe management of clozapine requires frequent blood tests, a new prescription every 4 weeks and regular visits to the GP.

The proposed budget changes include a $7 payment to see the GP, $7 fee for out-of-hospital pathology, and an additional $5 for each prescription medication. What are the benefits of making schizophrenia treatment more expensive? Are there any foreseeable problems?

after

We are being told by our government that Australia’s universal health coverage is not under threat. $7 to visit a GP costs the same as two beers says our treasurer. What a sneering, mean thing to say.

People with schizophrenia, like people with diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other enduring illnesses, are already at a social and financial disadvantage. For the individual with schizophrenia whenever there is an increased intensity or frequency of delusions, auditory hallucinations and disordered thoughts they suffer terrible distress. The people who love and care for them share in this distress. Often an expensive hospital admission for a few weeks is required to bring the symptoms back under control and sort-out the social problems that a period of being out of touch with reality can cause: unpaid bills and rent may lead to loss of accommodation; neighbours, friends and family may be feeling uncomfortable having you home again; your self care and physical health may have deteriorated; your tobacco, alcohol and drug use may have increased; you may have come to the attention of the police.

Do the benefits of co-payments really outweigh the risks?

IMG_0511

Final Notes

On Monday 19th May 2014 Joe Hockey, Australia’s Treasurer, will be appearing on Q&A. I have submitted this two-part question:

For some people with schizophrenia the only medication that keeps them well enough to stay out of hospital is clozapine. 
Safe management of clozapine requires frequent blood tests, a new prescription every 4 weeks and regular visits to the GP. 
What are the benefits of making schizophrenia treatment more expensive? 
Are there any foreseeable problems?


You may have a question of your own for Mr Hockey, if so go to 
www.abc.net.au/tv/qanda

CoPayLogo2CoPayStories provides an avenue for patients and health professionals to share their perspective on the proposed GP co-payment – visit the website www.copaystories.com.au and/or follow @CoPayStories on Twitter.

For the purpose of this argument I’ve cited only one side-effect of one medication for one illness. I am aware that clozapine has more than one side-effect, and there are illnesses other than schizophrenia that require regular pathology, GP visits and prescriptions.

Thanks for visiting meta4RN: as always, you are welcome to leave feedback in the comments section below.

Paul McNamara, 17th May 2014

Short URL: http://meta4RN.com/meanness