Sunny Mera is the author of the new novel All in Her Head, which she wrote following her own experiences with mental illness.
Q: Why did you decide to write this story in the form of a novel rather than a memoir, and why did you choose to use a pseudonym?
A: I decided to write the story as fiction because everyone who loves me said my stories were delusional. Maybe someday I could write a non-fiction memoir version with the help of others to sort out the real from the unreal, but I chose to write as fiction because it gave me the freedom to write from a delusional perspective without unnecessary scrutiny.
The definition of a delusion is “a false belief or opinion.” The definition of fiction is “something feigned, invented, or imagined." (dictionary.com)
I chose to use a pseudonym because of the pervasive discrimination and stigma of mental illness. In addition, I want to protect my daughter’s identity, protect others from the embarrassment or shame associated with my experiences, and to keep my professional identity separate.
Q: How did you come up with the book’s title, and what does it signify for you?
A: When I was first getting symptoms, seeing things, having strange experiences I couldn’t explain, the people around me couldn’t understand why I couldn’t see it was all in my head.
To me the book title represents the mainstream culture’s reaction to brain disease. Many sane people, including some characters in the story, have a hard time understanding what the experience of psychosis is like for those of us who experience it.
I wanted to show that there is life in treatment for mental illness after the disease is caught and treated early by effective care. Granted, effective care doesn’t exist for every disease on the spectrum of psychotic mental illness and brain disease.
Q: You write, “My schizophrenia diagnosis took almost a decade to confirm. During that time, I grew as a person and learned that I am not a diagnosis.” How do you feel about the system under which people are diagnosed with mental illness?
A: I wanted to make a point about person-first language, a concept that is essential to destigmatizing disease. I am not a schizophrenic, I am a person with schizophrenia.
By labeling people society has accepted the medical authority’s flawed classification system without searching for the cause and finding a cure.
By funding basic science research to investigate the causes and many diseases that make up the spectrum of psychotic mental illness, as a society we could take an active role to benefit the patient, and reduce the burden of disease on society.
I’ve heard experts say there are thought to be some 60 or more different diseases that are currently being called the same disease “schizophrenia.” While there are some treatments that are safe and effective, the diagnosis of brain disease and treatment lacks a solid pharmacogenetic foundation from which to prescribe.
I am lucky that I found effective medication early in the disease. From my experience the longer the brain is functioning wrong, the harder it is to come back and know real from unreal.
The key is to focus on early intervention and effective therapies. To do that, people need to be able to recognize brain disease in the people around them.
Increased awareness, and building trust in relationships is essential to getting individuals with mental illness the help they need. Without support, and access to care, the prison system has become a default entry point for treatment for mental illness.
Q: What treatment has been the most effective for you, and how are you doing now?
A: I have been stable for years on a single daily medication of an atypical antipsychotic medication that recently went generic. The cost of the drug went from about $1,200 per month to around 50 cents a day recently.
I am very happy to report the medication is still effective for me, and I have less strange occurrences in my life than most people today.
But I know from experience that not every medication is effective for everyone. I’ve taken or tried about half the atypical antipsychotics on the market and some of the side effects are nearly unbearable. I have some complaints about side effects, but overall my current medication is a good fit. I feel better taking it than not.
The most important part of my daily routine is texting when I take it with someone who cares about me. I’m motivated by relationships.
I found that setting an alarm on my phone was not sufficiently motivating to stay on of my medication routine. I would put it off if I was in the middle of a project, and forget to take it.
Through my relationships with the people around me, effective medication, and a relatively healthy lifestyle, I do great. I work, I volunteer, I mother my daughter, I maintain a household, take care of the dog, and maintain many friendships and relationships that are meaningful to me.
Q: Are you working on another book?
A: I’m mostly working on non-fiction articles right now, but have half of a romance novel started, that I’m playing with. I’ve also written a short story that is a follow-up to All in Her Head; it could turn into more.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I recently was notified I’m winning an award from my undergraduate alumni association. I’m looking forward to that. It has nothing to do with my illness. It is a professional achievement award. I’m excited to be recognized for things beyond my illness.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb