As a stock market analyst, I spend my days researching companies across many different industries. It’s fascinating work, particularly when I’m learning about new technologies and groundbreaking scientific developments and their potential to move modern medicine forward. Though I had read countless articles about new gene therapies to combat cancer and other diseases, I had no idea until recently that genetic testing could help me with treatment for my mental illness.
My clinician now has insights about making personalized treatment decisions tailored to my genetics. This is because results from the Genecept Assay® helped inform her decisions about medications for me that are more likely to be effective and have lower risk for side effects or adverse events. The test also aided in dosing decisions for me.
I have schizoaffective disorder, which means I have a blend of symptoms commonly associated with schizophrenia and mood disorders such as bipolarity that have manifested themselves as constant anxiety, hallucinatory symptoms (schizophrenia) and manic tendencies (bipolar).
Since my freshman year of college 14 years ago, I have struggled to regulate my moods, impulses and often my grasp on reality. I’ve received varying combinations of diagnoses based on my symptoms and struggles, including anxiety, depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. More often than not, a doctor has diagnosed me with some combination of the four.
This has meant a lot of combinations of medications too. Some of them would help me stabilize until they stopped working. And no matter what the mix was, my anxiety remained. Once the medications stopped working, I would experience a horrendous downward spiral, with my anxiety intensifying to the point that it would erupt into a crisis situation and the precarious semblance of a regular routine I had would come crashing to a halt.
October was traditionally a bad time of year, particularly in college. At my worst, I was afraid to leave home, and the mere thought of doing so would cause me to hyperventilate and have panic attacks. This crippling fear of social interaction coincided with paranoia that everyone hated me, along with hallucinations of ghosts and hearing voices that weren’t there. I often had to drop classes’ mid-semester. It took me six years of going full-time to five different colleges to earn an associate’s degree.
The struggles didn’t stop once I graduated. Having a career was a challenge, as I bounced from job to job, always leaving suddenly when, once again, my anxiety became paralyzing. After three months working in telephone customer support, I developed an irrational fear of calling people and interacting on the phone. Working as an overnight security guard in office buildings was fine until I started to have panic attacks and hallucinations as I patrolled in the silence of empty buildings.
Over the years I’ve gotten better about sensing when an eruption was coming. It would start with me feeling incredibly good; I would have grandiose ideas and spend money impulsively, filled with the assurance that the universe was rigged for my benefit. Then I would feel terribly depressed and paranoid, convinced that everyone was conspiring against me.
At this point, I would usually see a doctor and additional medications would be prescribed, which would cause horrible side effects, including involuntary muscle movements. One mood stabilizer I took landed me in the hospital with renal failure.
Although things would stabilize after these episodes, my anxiety always lingered. I wasn’t much for socializing, so even things like going to the gym to work out or meeting up with friends for after-work cocktails required too much emotional effort. Being out in public made me feel uncomfortable, so I generally avoided it as much as possible. The notion of being around new people was too stressful to stomach.
However, this is the first October I’ve felt good. And it’s because of that simple cheek swab test I took four months ago: the Genecept Assay. During my first visit after receiving the test results, my nurse practitioner recommended a new medication that no doctor had thought to prescribe to me.
In the months since I started taking it, I’ve often stopped to marvel at my new normal. I’ve reconnected with old friends and started playing the trumpet again in my church musical group. I’ve even plunged into the world of online dating and was lucky enough to meet my girlfriend. I’m pretty sure if she had met me before finding treatment, she would have run the other way.
Most importantly, my parents notice a difference. For the first time since high school, they don’t feel like they have to walk on eggshells around me. My father recently remarked, “You really do seem better,” and I felt like he meant it sincerely. There was no hesitation in his voice.
I know from experience that there will be ups and downs, and I can’t guarantee that there won’t be days in the future where I won’t feel bad or sad. To be sure, that’s part of life. But now I do have the reassurance that I have a compass of sorts, in the form of my genetic test results, to navigate the medication options that are likely to help or hinder me, should I need to change them in the future.
Tim Shelford lives in his hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Also published on Medium.