Exchange Schizoaffective Disorder Mom

Psychotherapist Kari Bell, from left, mom Dawn Paulson and her son Erik Paulson, 2, chat at Beloit Psychotherapy on July 22, 2020, in Beloit, Wis. Thanks to the right medication, therapy and other supports Dawn Paulson is successfully adjusting to motherhood as she deals with schizoaffective disorder. She hopes to help end the stigma of persistent and severe mental illness and show that there is hope for a happy life for those with the disorder. (Hillary Gavan/The Beloit Daily News via AP)

BELOIT, Wis.  — “I want to help someone to not be scared of someone like me.”

That’s what 37-year-old Dawn Paulson said about having schizoaffective disorder. After years of hospitalizations, Paulson has finally found the right medication and therapy to help her gain the stability necessary to raise a 2-year-old son.

Paulson and her psychotherapist Kari Bell of Beloit Psychotherapy discussed with the Beloit Daily News Paulson’s journey with schizoaffective disorder in hopes of ending the stigma of severe and persistent mental illness. While depression and anxiety are getting talked about more comfortably in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bell said people still shy away from those with more severe mental illness. Paulson is living proof, she said, with the right treatment and supportive relationships, people can thrive.

Paulson was close to her mother and loved babysitting and being around children, and as an adult, she worked in a toy store.

When her mother died in 2002, she took it particularly hard, and in the years following she began to hear her mother’s voice. Soon she began to see what she described as the shadow people.

“There was the good mom and the bad mom. The good mom was like my normal mom, but the bad mom was telling me to kill myself to be with her,” Paulson said.

Paulson was becoming more volatile, lashing out in anger when she was triggered by any situations reminding her of her childhood abuse.

She moved to Beloit from California in 2005. Her mental health deteriorated as she struggled to keep a job and manage moods.

Bell described her as “angry, disorganized and spiraling downward” when the two first met in 2014. Outbursts and threats at previous therapists had gotten Paulson kicked out of therapy and resulted in many hospitalizations.

Paulson never forgot her first meeting with Bell, who she believes was the first person not to be afraid of her. In her typical fashion, Paulson tried to intimidate Bell who seemed unfazed.

“Her exact words were ‘bring it on,’” Paulson said. “I thought ’you are my therapist, right here, right now and we’ve been together ever since.”

Bell had concerns about Paulson possibly being a danger to herself or others. Because Bell didn’t have in-house psychiatry services at the time, she contacted Alay Health to bring telehealth psychiatry services to her patients. Within a couple of weeks of being on the medication Aristrada, Paulson could feel a difference.

“I still heard the voices, but they were just a whisper so I couldn’t tell what they were saying,” Paulson said.

Bell partnered with Homecare Pharmacy to get Paulson’s medication in the form of monthly injection, ensuring it didn’t get forgotten.

Paulson was prescribed Haldol, an antipsychotic for emergency situations and Zoloft for depression. Bell started helping Paulson learn how to manage her panic and anger as well as socialization. Because Paulson had a trust fund, some of her friends were taking advantage of her financially which eventually led to the loss of her home.

Bell was available for Facetime chats if Paulson felt she was in crisis. Bell said she considered it proactive and preventative therapy, something she said is needed more in mental healthcare.

Although Paulson had made a lot of progress, Bell wasn’t prepared for the news that Paulson was pregnant. Paulson’s medication had to be reduced and Bell had to take more phone calls and use guided imagery and breathing exercises to help her client. Bell visited Paulson in her home to watch her interact with her dog to show signs of healthy attachment as well as ensure she had secure housing.

After her son’s birth, Paulson received help from a new support team including Rock County home visiting nurse and staff with Head Start, the Birth to 3 Program and the Children’s Long Term Support Program.

Erick, who has global developmental delays, also is seen at his home by a physical and occupational therapist, and Community Action Inc has assisted with housing.

Today, Paulson and her son like to go to the park and go outside and play. Paulson is starting to babysit again, and has also started speaking at psychology classes Bell teaches at Blackhawk Technical College.

“We need to broaden our perspective of what mental healthcare is. It’s not just mental illness. It’s preventative mental wellness which is relational and supportive,” Bell said.

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