The start of the most traumatizing time of my life, my time to “bear the cross,” was in 2006 when I was 49 years old and about to go through menopause. I had just finished several years of Bible studies, as part of my volunteer position as a Sunday School teacher. In addition, I had spent two years of intense Bible study through the Companions in Christ program. This spiritual exploration was through my local Methodist church and included courses on the Way of Grace, The Way of Blessedness, and the Way of Forgiveness. Many of Christianity’s teachings were new for me, or perhaps I was seeing them in a new light. I had been raised in the Jewish tradition in Framingham, MA. At that time I did not understand what it meant to be “born again” and did not fully believe it was possible for a human being to experience death and resurrection. I wasn’t even sure whether angels existed. These beliefs were soon tested by what I was about to experience.
We were encouraged to develop constant prayer as a daily habit, to weave prayer into each activity. Living a spirit-filled life is very difficult in a culture that values materialism and worships the almighty dollar, but I sincerely pursued the goal to become like Jesus. I began to experience altered states while in the church. In one instance I was a Reader up on the altar and as I read the Bible story I felt as if I went back in time and was there with Jesus. During a Stations of the Cross dramatic performance, just before Easter, I saw a shadow of a cross behind a large sheet that was hung in a doorway. Behind the sheet the actors stood waiting to come out. The shadow was similar to those images viewed during a shadow puppet show. This shadow of the cross represented, for me, the outstretched arms of Christ waiting to embrace me.
A short while after the Easter presentation I began to sense that my husband and I were reincarnations of Adam and Eve, meant to live in the blessed Garden of Eden in holy matrimony. However, our present marital state was in a shambles, falling far from the ideal. I wanted to get back to Eden and felt that I had strayed far from my metaphorical home. I had lost my way.
My husband went away on a business trip and left me alone with my eight-year-old son, the first time I had to take care of him by myself. My son had a meltdown when a friend was visiting him and he became violent. I became anxious and didn’t know how to handle it. Fortunately the friend’s father came to our house to mediate between the boys and calm the situation.
Later that night I made preparations for Sunday School and then went to bed. At some point I woke up and my awareness of reality had shifted into a mythological state. I undressed, put on some Japanese drumming music, and danced nude in front of the mirror, in a trance state. Mythological themes came up in my mind. I felt an urge to cleanse my son, myself, and the house of toxins and arranged for a baptismal ceremony in our bathtub. I felt that in a past life I had been Pandora and without knowing it I had unleashed evil from the box. I was trying to close evil back up in the box to make amends for my mistake, working with a box I found on the kitchen table.
This behavior was frightening for my son and in the morning he called an ambulance and told them there was something wrong with my brain. They brought my son to his friend’s home and delivered me to the hospital psychiatric ward where I stayed for three days. When they first brought me into the ward I heard angels singing with my inner ear, an experience of clairaudience. They wanted to give me sleep medication, but a fellow patient told me I had a right to refuse medication and I did so. I had never had a history of mental illness so they said my temporary psychosis may have been due to stress.
When I arrived home I told my massage therapist that I had gone through a spiritual awakening. I met with a spiritual director from my church and described my experience to him. He said, “You have seen God.” I had trouble accepting this as the truth and integrating my experiences into my everyday life.
Six months later I had another psychotic episode and was back in the hospital for a week and diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder. I used a journal extensively to try to process what I was going through, but not once did anyone in the hospital look at my journal entries to help me understand what was happening to me. They coerced me into taking lithium and Ativan and would not allow me to go home without setting up a psychiatrist and psychotherapist to see on the outside.
A transpersonal psychotherapist would have understood my situation and observed that I was going through a spiritual emergency, but unfortunately none of my psychiatrists, neither inside nor outside the hospital, had this background. Within the current medical paradigm psychiatrists believe that any form of psychosis is a pathology and they use prescription drugs as the main course of treatment.
The diagnosis of mental illness was disempowering and devastating to my sense of self-worth. Others saw me as being unable to make sound decisions for myself. I cried during my group therapy. My psychiatrist told me I would probably have to be on drugs for the rest of my life. The book I read, Bipolar Disorder: A Guide for Patients and Families, was recommended by the hospital and it had a mainstream view of psychiatry. The book said I had to accept my diagnosis and stick to a strict schedule taking my medication or I would relapse (is it relapse or withdrawal symptoms?). My sense of hope for a natural recovery slowly withered away. All authority and control over what was going on with me was given to the psychiatrist.
The lithium caused many side effects. It made my hands very shaky and later I developed nerve damage throughout my body and suffered from fibromyalgia. Additionally I had headaches, nausea, vomiting, decreased sexual appetite, and weight gain. Seroquel was eventually added to my list of medications.
In the fall of 2009 I contracted the swine flu, which lasted for 12 days. In the last few days of my illness I became dehydrated and developed pneumonia. My husband and son were away on a trip and when they came home I was a sorry sight to see: I had brain damage from the lithium. At a dosage of 900 mg, it doesn’t take much for lithium levels in the blood to become toxic.
It was as if I had suffered from a stroke. I had slurred speech and was scrambling words, and, along with this dysarthria, I had crippling vertigo. I remember that at night I had to sit down and slide myself down the stairs of my home to get to the bathroom. My son was frightened to see my condition and my husband rushed me to the emergency ward where they started administering fluids intravenously. I was in the hospital for one week and it was hell. They stuck me with needles every night to draw blood and I had to use a walker. The worst of it was the severe headaches that I had for most of that week. The only relief from the headaches was hot pads on my forehead which allowed me to sleep for a bit.
I had vertigo and slurred speech for a long time. I could not drive at all for a couple months and then for several months I could not drive on the highway because of the vertigo. My voice was so strange it sounded like someone else’s voice coming out of my mouth. It took a couple of years for my authentic voice to completely return. Meanwhile, I took lecithin and rubbed St. John’s wort oil on my feet to aid in healing the damage to my nerves. I had to decrease the lithium dosage and eventually the doctor switched me to Trileptal, beginning with a low dose. I was instructed to increase that amount gradually, but the Trileptal brought back vertigo symptoms and dizziness, so I never increased it to the full amount.
Eventually I had one third and final episode and was in the hospital again for one week. I was put on a new regimen of even more medications: Abilify, Zyprexa, Trileptal, and Seroquel. The conventional wisdom is to throw more drugs at the problem. One evening, while in the hospital, there was a thunderstorm and I was praying by the window of my room, which looked out over a flat section of roof. Just after I asked God to forgive me for all my transgressions, a lightning bolt hit the roof ten feet from my window. I remembered the words my naturopathic doctor had said to me, “If a person is almost hit by lightning, it is an indication that they are a shaman.”
I had to develop the courage and strength to rescue myself. When I complained about the disabling feeling of agitation that the Abilify caused, the psychiatrist wanted to add another drug to the cocktail. That was the last straw! I dropped the psychiatrist, decided to go off the medications permanently, and started researching natural treatments for bipolar. The doctor said there were no natural (non-drug) treatments for bipolar, but that was his opinion, not my truth. I literally threw away the mainstream book I had on bipolar disorder and read Eva Edelman’s book, Natural Healing for Bipolar. A combination of many therapies, including use of a nutritional supplement called EMPower Plus, Jungian psychotherapy, couple’s counseling, sound healing, herbal supplements, Vitamin B taken sublingually and more, helped me to heal.
I am so thankful that my brain healed from the damage caused by psychiatric medications. I could have been permanently disabled. At one time it was believed that brain cells could not regenerate, but now regeneration is more widely accepted as possible, especially when care is taken to nourish the neurons, as I did.
Most importantly, finding my purpose in life and living an authentic life helped to ground me and prevent further psychosis. Psychosis is the psyche’s cry for transformation and healing. When one listens to the call, one is brought from darkness to light.
Excerpt from hospital journal:
The prison she was in was only in her imagination.
She remembered: the key was love.
All loving and knowing the truth,
She was healed!
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.