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A Tough Hill to Climb

Ammu Joseph

By Reshma Valliappan
Women Unlimited, Delhi, 2014, pp. 274, Rs. 325.00

VOLUME XXXIX NUMBER 12 December 2015

More than two million people in the United States have a diagnosis of schizophrenia, and the treatment for most of them mainly involves strong doses of antipsychotic drugs that blunt hallucinations and delusions but can come with unbearable side effects, like severe weight gain or debilitating tremors. Now, results of a landmark government-funded study call that approach into question. The findings, from by far the most rigorous trial to date conducted in the United States, concluded that schizophrenia patients who received smaller doses of antipsychotic medication and a bigger emphasis on one-on-one talk therapy and family support made greater strides in recovery over the first two years of treatment than patients who got the usual drugfocused care. ---— ‘Talk Therapy Found to Ease Schizophrenia’, Benedict Carey, The New York Times, 20 October 2015   My thoughts were with Reshma Valliappan, author of fallen, standing—my life as a schizophrenist, as I read the New York Times piece. Diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia at 22, Valliappan was on psychiatric drugs for several years until she opted to stop taking those medicines and decided, instead, to focus on understanding her condition and dealing with her symptoms. As she notes in the book, ‘I chose this even while I experienced many “psychotic” episodes, knowing I had the option to suppress it all by going back on meds. But I made a promise to myself a long time back… I told myself, “No matter what, I will not take another one of those pills even if it costs me my life—I simply have to find a way out.”’ That courageous, if controversial, decision—challenging in multiple ways—appears characteristic of the person who emerges through the book as Valliappan tells the compelling and complicated story of her life thus far. The journey of the evidently bright, talented, popular, nonconformist, free spirit of a school girl growing up through trying, even traumatic, times in the home country (Malaysia) as well as the forcibly adopted one (India)—including the lost post-diagnosis years—towards becoming the confident, articulate ‘Artist/Writer/NutCracker/Painter’, ‘Mental Health Self-Advocate & Researcher’ and ‘Artist Activist’ she is today has clearly been far from easy. So it is not surprising that fallen, standing is not an easy read. The book’s content is often painful, though Valliappan writes with a lightness, liveliness and sense of humour that make the ordeals she describes somewhat more bearable for the reader. ...

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