"We are all of us living in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." ~Oscar Wilde
"Adventure is worthwhile in itself." ~Amelia Earhart

January 5, 2008

I went loony and didn't even get a goddamn t-shirt.

Warning! This is going to be the longest post I will ever write, In an earlier entry, I said that I might write more about what my psychotic breaks were like. I just never expected it to be 3000+ words long. Blogger needs the "read more" option that LiveJournal has.

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Honestly, I was a bit nervous when I decided to write about my experiences with psychosis. Some of it is rather embarrassing and a part of me wondered if remembering the experiences won't drive me into a fourth psychotic break. The only reason I decided to write it up is that it may help people who have suffered from a similar experience recently. At one point, in between the attacks, I developed an interest in what other people's delusions were like. Schizophrenia.com's forums are an okay resource for that but the posts tend to be brief. It is a message board after all.

During this phase, I did find other resources both on the web and from print media. I came across an ebook called "Hooks and Operators" written sometime in the 1950's by an author whose name I've forgotten. Unfortunately, I can't find the link to it anymore but it was an excellent account of one woman's experiences. Though I can't be certain, I think it was a non-fiction work. Somehow, I also learned about Philip K. Dick, a science-fiction author who wrote an amazing number of books during his life. One of those books, Valis, was semi-autobiographical and centers around an experience he had in 1974 where he thought that a pink beam of light had been shot at his brain and gave him cosmic knowledge. And, of course, most people have heard of the film "A Beautiful Mind" based on the life of John Nash.

There are also a number of blogs linked from schizophrenia.com's front page. The site offers free blogspace to schizophrenics, their families, and mental health professionals. Personally, I decided not to use it. My experiences with the illness don't occur on a daily or even a weekly basis and it would be difficult to keep up a blog devoted solely to schizo-affective disorder/schizophrenia. So, I'm just keeping my accounts on this blog and in my personal journal at home. Also, schizophreniadiaries.com has (at this date) 28 different accounts. On the other hand, toward the end of my last psychotic break, I seemed to pick up PKD's delusion about pink lights being beamed into my head. So, maybe it won't be helpful at all if you've had similar experiences and my story will just screw you up even more. I'm just saying...

Break Number One

Now, before I begin, I have to explain one thing. I had been writing in an internet journal and I wrote freely in it not thinking that it actually might be discovered by people in the real world. Anyway, in the journal, I cursed and complained liberally. Mostly because it was kind of fun to annoy the people who ran across it and thought that life should be all sugar and rainbows. On the other hand, it wasn't really an accurate portrayal of who I am. In public, I try to be cheerful and positive. My first psychotic break was almost certainly brought on by an unusual amount of stress when that blog was discovered.

In 2000, I decided to complete my bachelor's degree and had enrolled in a large university in the western US. With some personal savings and various grants, I drove cross-country and settled into my new surroundings. Life went as it does for any new college student. I attended orientation, figured out where my classes were, began to attend classes, and looked for a part-time job to supplement my finances. In one of my classes, we were introducing ourselves and doing one of those god-awful 'icebreaker' exercises. When my turn came up to speak, I did and heard the professor quietly exclaim "Oh, God. It's her!" I was confused as hell but shrugged it off as nothing. The next time the class met, I realised the reason for the exclamation. He wove the title of my blog into his lecture, looked pointedly at me, and chuckled when I looked mortified. Really, I never wanted that blog to be discovered.* Shortly after, the symptoms of my first psychotic break began.

*Keep in mind. I'm not blaming that professor or anybody else for triggering the first incident. If it was anybody's fault, it was mine. I should have been more careful about anonymity or just not kept the journal public at all. It was carelessness on my part. This blog is a little different because I now know there's the possibility that it could be linked to me.

One of the things about psychosis is that you lose all sense of logic and reason. The strangest notions seem perfectly reasonable. I began to become suspicious of everybody around me. I came to the conclusion that people were being sent out to monitor me because of what I had written in the blog. I was sure that some coalition of authority figures were worried about me. They, I thought, feared that I might have violent tendencies because of things written in the blog. There was a security guard in the apartment complex that I was living in. She would drive around the parking lot every now and again. I was sure that she was one of these people. Once, I arrived home and became convinced that the papers scattered on the floor were placed differently than when I had left. I was sure that somebody had come in and searched my apartment. One night was spent inspecting the lights and bathroom mirror for the cameras that I was sure were there. It's a good thing I didn't have access to good tools. That mirror would've ended up disassembled and scattered across the bathroom floor.

For the most part, I don't think I attracted too much attention during this time. That all changed one night. I had gone to the grocery store and, when I entered my car, I discovered that it wouldn't start. Since I didn't really know anybody in town, I panicked. I probably looked calm on the outside but, inside, I was freaking out. I mean, what do you do in that situation when you know nothing about cars, can't possibly afford to get it fixed, and don't know anybody who might have a better clue than your already panicked self? I ran through all the options in my head, gave up, and crawled into the back and went to sleep. I figured I could decide better in the morning. (It was late at night.) When I awoke, I thought the average "Oh, hell. What am I gonna do now?". Right then, to my surprise, the car started up and drove itself across the lane and parked itself in the parking slot straight across from where it had been parked. Honestly, I still don't know what to make of this event. It's possible that it was a hallucination but, if so, it was tactile, auditory, and visual. And I don't think I'm that imaginative. It's also possible that it was an actual paranormal event. Protective or guardian spirits watching over and helping me. I can accept either one as an explanation. I gathered myself together, left the back seat, took my place in the driver's seat, and drove home.

After that experience, I began to realize that it was silly to think that real people would be following or watching me. I mean, I'm rather average. There's nothing spectacular or horrible about me. I began to theorize and wondered if it was time travelers from the future or occult forces manipulating events. Halloween night was spent drinking and listening to the small stereo in my apartment. Well, it's probably true that drugs and alcohol don't mix well with psychosis because, just as I was drifting off to sleep, a deep, male voice on the radio yelled out, "Kayla!* Whatever you're going to do, don't do it!" Buzzed and half-asleep, I woke up and thought, 'What the hell? I'm the most passive person in the world. You people still think I'm violent?' (I really am. Many accuse me of being too passive. Then again, I usually find those people too confrontational and angry. Tomatoe, tomato.) Anyway, I then began to experience another bout of stress and spent the rest of the night thinking up fantastic new delusions about the nature of who these occult forces/time travelers were. Remember, all logic and reason was gone by this time so don't be surprised by my next actions. I filled a bag with clothes and toiletries and jumped in my car. Sometime in the night, I came to the conclusion that I had to get to New Orleans because the Pet Shop Boys were there and would 'save me'. (Hehe, that one still makes me giggle. If you don't know who they are, they're a British synthpop duo who had a number of hits in the 80's and 90's.) Fortunately, I didn't get very far. I stopped at convenience store for food for the trip and, once again, the car would not start. I took this as a 'sign' and grabbed my bag and started walking. Suddenly, I realized how absurd my emotional state was. Laughing at myself, I thought, 'Oh, you poor, tragic girl. Everything's so desperate, isn't it?'. Problem was, I couldn't stop laughing. I sat down and, soon, the police arrived. (Hehe, everybody who saw me probably thought I was on drugs.) I ended up trapped in a psych ward for the next couple of weeks. Once I was released, I stopped taking the medications because they're ridiculously expensive. Even without the medications, I quickly woke from the dream that is psychosis and returned to my normal self. Since I was embarrassed about some of my behavior during that time, I quit school and returned to Minneapolis. I visited a therapist and psychiatrist occasionally who told me that the diagnosis that the hospital had given me was psychosis (no-specification). I never took the medications and soon quit going to the psychiatrist. It was a futile effort and I was wasting my time, the staff's time, and the state's money. (It was a county or state program where fees were charged based on a sliding scale.)

*Not my real name obviously. I just use that as a pen name on the internet.

Break Number Two

I don't remember the exact dates of my second break. Sometime in 2003 or 2004, I think. To be honest, this one was over before it began. One day, everything was fine. The next, I was sure there were hackers in the computer reading everything I wrote. I'd type things into the url space of my web browser to let them know I knew they were there. The delusions, for the most part, weren't clear. As soon as one thought would appear, three more would quickly replace it. When I had a conversation with my parents, it was apparent that something was wrong since I think I was speaking in two or three word phrases. They took me to a hospital. I was in this psych ward for about three weeks. Once I was released, I was court-ordered to attend a group therapy session near where I lived. Even though I went and all of the people I met there were lovely, I still felt it was a waste of time and quit going once my 'time was up'. I did begin taking the medication though. Mostly because I can be a bit of an insomniac and Seroquel will knock you out. Whether you want to sleep or not. And I'd continue to visit the psychiatrist about twice a year.

Break Number Three

My most recent psychotic break happened early in 2007 and was probably the most spectacular one. One night, as I was falling asleep, my bed shook, the covers were pulled back, and I heard a delicate young feminine voice yell in my ear, "Kayla! Wake up!". Creeped out but still kind of fascinated by this phenomenon, I spent the rest of the night awake and secretly hoping what I called 'the fairy' would reappear. Late the next day, I went out for a walk and became confused again. I began to believe that the world behind me was erasing and that I had to keep moving. (I've really got to stop reading science fiction and fantasy.) I walked all night through the city streets. At times, I would get lost and thought that the streets were being changed around. This often happens in my dreams and I wondered if I had died and was now a ghost. Eventually, I stopped to rest on a bus stop bench.

Unfortunately, I'm not sure what happened in the next few hours because I blacked out and found myself downtown a few miles away and the sun was now just coming up.* I looked around, shrugged my shoulders, and decided I should go to California. I bought a ticket at the Greyhound station and boarded the bus about a half-hour later. Other than the fact that I was now sitting on a bus bound for California with $12 in my pocket, things went fine until I reached my second change-over. The bus I was supposed to board was headed to Denver and had been canceled because of a snowstorm so I had to wait a few hours in the bus station. Just before boarding the bus and all throughout the trip, I had been hearing a strange sort of 'inner voice'. It definitely didn't sound like my thoughts and I recognized it as the same male voice I had heard long ago during my first break. But it wasn't actually audible. Basically, it was telling me that it thought that I should go but to go back home and re-equip. And the fairy voice had reappeared and was giggling at me and taunting me in a playful way. (I got lucky in one respect. My voices have to be the nicest voices in the world. I can't imagine having to deal with ones that curse at you and call you names.) While waiting for my next bus to arrive, the male voice became audible. While I was buying a sandwich, a click came over the intercom and it said, "Okay, Kayla. Now use my power..." (On the other hand, sometimes the voices are confusing as hell.) Eventually, my next bus came and I boarded it.

*Note: These blackouts have happened before. I was a light user of marijuana in my teens and stopped because the last two times I smoked it, I blacked out for brief periods of time. I'm not saying "Marijuana will make you crazy!" but it probably agitated a pre-existing condition.

After the bus left the station, what sounded like a loudspeaker in the bus clicked again and, in a panicked, desperate voice, the male voice asked, "Kayla, what did they do to you?" multiple times. I didn't respond and it seemed to give up for awhile. At first I thought it was the bus driver speaking over the intercom but none of the other passengers were reacting to the sound. Later, the male voice piped up again and said that I should get off at the next stop. If you’ve ever ridden Greyhound, you know that they give you a separate ticket for each section of the trip. One for Chicago to Des Moines. Another for Des Moines to St. Louis, etc. etc. I had about four or five more stubs and I was keeping them on the seat next to me. Every time I would check them, one or more of the stubs would disappear shortening my trip. Eventually, the last one had disappeared and I figured it was the voice taking them and not giving me any choice but to end the bus trip. When the bus stopped at a convenience store in a small town, I left and walked down the highway and through a small farm field. I hid in a small stand of trees and fell asleep till morning.

When I woke the next morning, I tried to figure out what to do. Now I was down to $2 and stuck in the rural Midwest. I decided that I would change plans and hitchhike to Austin, TX. A woman stopped and gave me a ride back to the town the bus had stopped in. I’d left my jacket in the bus and, as I was standing along the highway trying to figure out which way Texas was, I found myself in the coldest, wettest rain I’d ever felt. I went into a Burger King and tried to warm up. Again, I blacked out. There are brief flashes where memory would seep through. The female manager asking me if I was all right. The concerned police officers questioning me. But, for the most part, I seem to have blacked out most of it because I woke up in a hospital room where the doctor told me that my parents were coming to pick me up. (When I went missing, my parents called the police. Because I’d had previous problems with psychosis, the police sent out alerts or something to other districts and, possibly, hospitals.)

Sleep and food, two things that I had gotten very little of in the previous 3 or 4 days, seemed to clear my head when I returned home. The delusions persisted for about a week afterward. Sometimes, you’ll hear knocks from the walls and ceilings in the attic. Normally, I just take them for what they probably are. Branches falling or the house reacting to the difference between the indoor and outdoor temperature. But, for a while, I thought they were messages being sent to me.

The End

I wrote very little about my experiences in between the breaks because, well, not much really happens. Occasionally, I’ll experience something whacked. A voice overlaying the songs on the radio. A strange hallucination where everything in my field of vision will constantly move to the left. But, for the most part, everything’s quiet on that front in between the breaks with reality.


alyceclover said...

Fascinating. I told docs and case workers of having blackouts of periods of time and they say: everyone forgets things. I never understand why, when I tell them of my experiences they find some excuse for me having them.

I would say it was like an alcoholic blackout but I was not drinking. I still can picture co-workers looks at me one morning. Take too long to explain it here. It was as if I was two totally different people.

In retrospect one of those me's was the one under the influence of symptoms of whatever my mental health condition is.

What you describe I have experienced in other ways. I swear the musical card thing is a real experience. The booming voice from outside my head was real too, except that was definitely a hallucination.

The internet can make anyone paranoid I think, especially with google reading our mail and putting matching ads next to the letter. I freaked the first time I noticed that one!

Berryvox said...

Yeah, my blackouts definitely weren't just a case of me forgetting things. I'd lose huge chunks of time and would be standing there thinking "What the hell?".

Wow, never experienced it myself but I've heard of people who felt the 'two different people' thing too, I think. Sometimes they actually felt they were separated from their body. Other times it was two separate people inside their body but both of them still them. If that makes any sense.

Anonymous said...

Hey thanks for posting that. It took me a long time to realize things weren't really what they seemed. I felt like I was being watched and monitored for a long time and I guess time and prayer helped ease the fear. I still have moments but I am glad the major episodes are behind me. I think that the next time I have one I will be more aware and ready for it.

Anyway, it helps tremendously to read about others' experiences. I don't feel so alone when I do. Thanks again Berryvox!

Anonymous said...

Thank you. I am going to write mine down. It has been 5 years and I still can't remember what happened and what didn't happen, but I'm going to write it down now. I was found by the police and they attacked me as I recall and I fought back. After they cuffed me I remember being tied to a table and stuck with needles at the psych ward and I haven't slept much in the five years since. I just want to live peacefully and be happy. I smoked a lot too but it was how I dealt with stress. Also I'm a guy, don't know if that matters.