My husband and I were living a happy life. I was working as an assistant professor for the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in the Netherlands when psychosis insidiously entered into my life to turn it upside down. My husband and I were on a holiday in Cuba when I had the feeling that a travel companion was a secret agent, who would determine if I was suitable to fulfill a position in national politics (I was active in a political party at the time). When we came back from our holiday, my sister managed to get me out of my psychosis by asking questions. It occurred to me that the possibility that my travel companion may just have wanted to know more about me because he liked me was more realistic than the idea that I was being spied upon by the secret service.
This was the beginning of a long journey with psychosis, mania and depression. Here I would like to share my impressions of my psychosis and highlight what I have learned through dealing with it, and how it ultimately became a source of inspiration in my life.
A new psychosis
Eight months after my son was born, I slipped into another psychosis. I was in complete stress, didn’t sleep for two weeks and was cold all the time, drinking a lot of hot tea. Because of the frightening thoughts and the stress, I had to throw up a lot. I attached meanings to colors. If someone was wearing the color red, this could mean that he was a secret agent whose duty it was to protect my family. Our housekeeper and our neighbor seemed not to be real, they looked like look-alikes. I guessed that the secret service covered them up to distract information from me. My husband’s mother belonged to the secret service as well. The temporary headquarters of the secret service was a big office villa close to us. Once, a letter for them was delivered to our address, but as soon as I brought it to them, they covered everything up.
I also had the idea that the secret service was tapping my phone and that cameras were installed in our house. The news in the newspapers seem to contain messages for me. When it was mentioned in the news that a baby’s leg was broken in the hospital, this was a warning that the secret service would break a baby’s leg if I didn’t obey. Because the secret service was spying on me, I couldn’t tell anyone about this. Later on, I had the feeling that I was working for the secret service as well.
On top of all this, I was in complete panic when I thought that my husband wanted to kill me. This wasn’t true, but I believed it was going to happen. I called the emergency number and the ambulance nurse needed to calm me down. That was when my husband realized that there was something terribly wrong with me.
The side effects of medicines
The next day he took me to the GP, who sent me to a psychiatric hospital where I was prescribed antipsychotics. I suffered from the side effects of the antipsychotics, such as depression, drowsiness, lack of energy and gaining weight. Whereas I always used to be at work at 9:00 AM, I sometimes came in late. My boss sent me to the company doctor because I couldn’t pay attention in meetings.
What also made it hard for me to take antipsychotics was that psychiatrists sometimes didn’t seem to understand just how much I suffered from the side effects, even though most of them are mentioned on the leaflet. On top of that, several psychiatrists said that I would have to take the antipsychotics for the rest of my life — since I suffered so much from the side effects, this seemed like an impossible task. Therefore, I sometimes just gave up immediately.
Every time I stopped, I fell back in a psychosis again. After several years, the psychiatrist found an antipsychotic that had less severe side effects. I am feeling better, although I sometimes still get out of bed late and still suffer from weight gain. What helped was that I can have a say in how much medication I take. My psychiatrist and I balance between enough medication not to fall back into a psychosis again and little enough medication not to suffer so much from the side effects.
Being open and taking into account my vulnerability for psychosis
What helped me in my recovery was to take into account my vulnerability for psychosis. Sometimes, when I feel that I am busy in my head, I know that I have to cancel some appointments and do sports again. I am also open now about my vulnerability to psychosis. This works for me, because in that way, others know how to deal with me and I can mention that I don’t want to work with ‘targets’ for example. However, I also know other people who don’t tell others that they suffered from a psychosis, and for them this works as well. It is an individual choice.
The need for sincere contact and care
During my depression, a psychiatrist said to me: “You are a valuable patient to me.” She also mentioned that I was “a tough cookie.” Her words meant so much to me, because I felt so miserable and inferior.
Later on, during my forced hospitalization, what really helped me was when a nurse said to me, “I can see that you are really suffering, May-May.” For a moment he was able to reach me within my psychosis; I felt that he really cared about me. Another nurse prepared a sandwich for me and helped me talk with my family. These little gestures can mean a lot when you are feeling ill and weak. Most of all, what really helped me was when my son said, “Mum, you don’t think that you are getting better, but I think you will.”
The first time I had to be in forced hospitalization, I had the feeling that I could communicate with people from Mars. I ‘talked’ with them and with the secret service via exchanging thoughts telepathically. Sometimes I was so busy communicating via telepathy with others that I couldn’t pay attention to what my sister and father wanted to say to me. Or I would run away to ‘talk’ with the secret service, because I wanted to hide that from my family. There was a fellow patient who shouted that “the demons were coming.” I mentioned this to the psychiatrist, but from the look on his face I could see that he clearly did not believe this. The second time I was in forced hospitalization I had the feeling that spirits entered my body. I will explain how this feels. Imagine that you are drinking water that is too hot or too cold. You feel it going down your esophagus. In the case of spirits, you also feel energy moving into your body, but it can go in different directions. It took a long time before I found a psychiatrist who was open-minded enough to talk with me about this.
Suffering and finding God
During my periods in forced hospitalization, I did not feel that the psychiatrist understood how much I suffered. When I stayed in solitary, I felt that the earth would vanish. There I was, locked away from my loved ones. Every time I drank a glass of water, I had the idea that I could save humanity… or die. It was hard to make contact with me, because I thought I wasn’t allowed by the secret service to talk with anyone. However, by offering my life for humanity all the time, I met God. He said that I could call him Christ. During my psychosis, I found out that God is love.
After I had forced medication, I couldn’t believe that I had actually met Christ, but I felt a certain feeling. Then in 2013, I met Christ again. This time he encouraged me to be open about my vulnerability to psychosis, and to come to his home, the Saint Vitus Church. I did both. The Father of the Saint Vitus Church mentioned in our first talk that the church is called ‘the house of God’ indeed. I wanted to give a present to Christ, and Father said that the best present I could give was to join the church. We had several talks about the essence of faith, and I did my Holy Communion and my Holy Confirmation. I still regularly visit the Vitus Church. During the Holy Mass, I sometimes get tears in my eyes. For example when we wish each other peace, I feel that we all belong together. No matter whether you are selling a street paper or are a director, we all shake each other’s hands.
Communicating with my son about my vulnerability to psychosis
At this moment my son is thirteen years old — when he was three years old, I was in forced hospitalization. After my release from the mental hospital, I have always been open with my son about my vulnerability to psychosis and mania. I also explained to him that this was the reason his father and I got divorced. I say to him that I need enough rest and sleep, because otherwise I can get a psychosis. My son was playing a computer game when he met someone who also had a parent who was vulnerable to psychosis. He was happy he could talk with him about this. He doesn’t like it that I don’t drive a car anymore, but luckily in the Netherlands the public transport is quite good and he can go to school on his bike. Every time I was released from the hospital, we went to his favorite restaurant. In this way, he knew that I would be coming home soon and that everything would be normal again.
Psychosis as a source of inspiration
I remember that a journalist asked me, a year after my first hospitalization, what positive things I had learned from my psychosis. I couldn’t think of anything positive except that my sister and I were even more close than we already were. This terrible illness wasn’t only devastating for my health, it also caused a divorce, I had to quit my job as assistant professor and I suffered so much from the side effects. However, in 2014 I became active for peace. First I was a volunteer for “Women for Peace.” They taught me that peace comes from the heart and to ‘talk with the enemy.’ That you should let yourself be guided by your heart, and not by your brain only, is something that also became clear when I encountered Christ. However, I was happy that people I could actually talk to also told me the same.
In 2016 I founded the peace organization Peace SOS. Our mission is to strive towards world peace, to improve human rights and to combat poverty. We support local peace organizations, I write opinion articles in Dutch national newspapers about how to achieve peace non-violently, and we visit embassies to tell them that we would like to see ‘A world in which all children can play’. I have learned to let my heart decide what to do, and let my brain think about the peaceful means to achieve it.
My hope now is to help contribute to the recovery of other people who suffer from psychosis. I wrote a chronicle of my psychosis experience, from the first signs of my psychosis until the day I was released from the mental hospital, and I titled it Inner Voices. This week I had a drink at the home of my publisher to celebrate its launch. It’s been a long journey.
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.