What I Have Learned from My Psychosis

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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.

Spirits

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. 

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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.

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52 COMMENTS

  1. This world would be better if all the people who experienced psychosis spoke openly about the reasons for it (marijuana in my case, seeds of which i bought in Amsterdam, by the way). And I’m also sure that the use of a vaporizer leads to psychosis.
    It also seems strange to me that people suffer from psychosis, you can suffer from neuroleptics or from an unfair diagnosis (schizophrenia in my case).
    But psychosis, moreover, caused by plants is no reason for suffering.
    I made this picture (in a state of psychosis) to show what psychosis is. When random actions result in something unexpected and related to the state in which you are
    https://imgur.com/Yf3ocnK
    It looks like the face of a man, and such synchronicities in psychosis occur constantly.

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  2. Hello May-May,

    my wife used to experience a lot of dissociation. From the ‘official diagnosis’ one would expect her to experience a lot of psychosis as well. But as she and I have walked the healing path together, I’ve wondered if psychosis (that isn’t caused by drugs or medications) is just a result of the mind trying to bring those dissociated, trauma memories back to the front so they can be processed and entered into the person’s current narrative.

    I never really thought of my wife as psychotic. In the beginning she felt it was scary and disorienting, but slowly, as I learned to stayed calm and acted as an anchor for her to the present, her fear subsided, and we were able to help her brain/mind integrate those old memories into a way that she could deal with in the present.

    I can’t tell you what you are experiencing, but I don’t really believe psychosis is a helpful word or concept: it just has too much baggage because of how it gets portrayed in the media and by mental health ‘experts.’ This is what worked best for me/us: viewing this phenomenon as ‘overlapping realities’, one past and one present, and my ‘job’ as my wife’s healing companion was keeping her grounded and safely helping her sort things until at this point most of the dissociation is gone, and thus, so is the psychosis.

    Wishing you well.
    Sam

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    • Hi Sam,
      That is wonderful to hear Sam, that you could really support your wife. Thank you also for explaining that you see it as ‘overlapping realities’. I use the word ‘psychoses’ to describe that I was living in two world. A world in which everyone lives and a world in which the secret service was talking to me. During my psychoses, I lost contact with even my closest family members. They couldn’t reach me anymore. What didn’t help was that they choose the side of the doctors (you are sick and need medicines). I couldn’t talk about what I was experiencing, as you and your wife could. That made me feel isolated. Later on, I explained to my family that they shouldn’t automatically choose the side of the doctors. The last psychoses I suffered from, we were more in contact.

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      • “They couldn’t reach me anymore.”

        Do you mean physically or mentally? It took me awhile to learn how to ‘reach’ my wife when she was going thru some of her more ‘extreme’ things like flash backs, panic attacks, etc. Attachment theory has the concept of a ‘safe haven’. Think of it like a boat in a hurricane that finds a sheltered harbor during the storm. That’s what I had to learn to become. I realized she could still hear me even if she couldn’t respond to me. And so I would literally wrap her up in my arms, gently and loosely, so it didn’t feel suffocating or constricting, and then I would speak gently and softly to her, pulling her out of her mental storms and confusion. Things like, “It’s ok, Honey. I’ve got you now. You aren’t alone anymore. You are my girl and I take care of my girl…” The warmth and safety of my enveloping presence and the calming of my voice would slowly stabilize her and blow out her mental/emotional hurricanes. And after a time, those hurricanes became less and less volatile…until at this point, they are mostly a distant memory.
        Sam

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        • Dear Sam,
          What beautiful to read how you and your wife formed a close bond during her mental storms! Thank you for sharing your knowledge. When I say “they couldn’t reach me anymore”, I mean that I hardly wasn’t able to talk with anyone. Not even with my sister. I could talk about superficial things like the weather, but there was another world of the secret service which attracted my attention. When my psychosis was severe, I acted as my voices told me to do. My mission was to pursue world peace, and I literally pushed away anyone who was in my way. I have tried to describe this gradual process in my book ‘Inner Voices’. I wish you and your wife all the best! Wonderful that the ‘overlapping realities’ are mostly a distant memory.

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          • I’m sorry no one understood how to enter into your world and walk it with you. One of the first things I had to learn was to ‘get out of myself’ so I could enter my wife’s world. Too many people try to ‘drag’ people out of their worlds into ‘the real world.’ If you look at Jesus, that’s not what He did. He incarnated Himself into our world so He could understand us in ALL our weaknesses, and then He made a way out…thru Him. That’s kind of what I’ve done with my wife. I don’t demand she join ‘the real world’. Instead I walk with her, on her terms, in her reality, and slowly we are finding our way out TOGETHER.
            Sam

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  3. Very moving and inspirational. Thank you for sharing your journey and for the courage and wisdom to trust your process despite the feeling of vulnerability, which is where most people stop dead in their tracks and hide from their own truth, and which, in turn, is the road to nowhere. You are doing the opposite, speaking your authentic truth with transparency and positive self-regard which I respect more than anything. Congratulations on your profound accomplishments!

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      • World peace is my vision, as well. I believe it begins with inner peace, despite anything going on around us, that we are clear and comfortable with our own truth as we go along discerning and making choices in life, moment by moment, based on what we know about ourselves and our intentions—that is, how we are moved by our spirit to proceed forward from any moment in time.

        We must know our strength to endure and overcome, as well as the power of our heart’s wisdom and guidance. This is what I have thus far learned in my particular life journey.

        Thank you for voicing your truth and vision so unambiguously. There is great power in that level of clarity, I believe.

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  4. This post is trying to validate the long-term use of anti-psychotics. It seems to me against what Whitaker has been arguing. And it’s not just about weight gain and occasionally waking up too late. Also, it mentions an innate vulnerability to psychosis, as in a spectrum. Something psychiatry can profit from. Like bipolar spectrum or autism spectrum. Muddy the waters.

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    • Dear mental,
      I share with you my journey. If someone can help me stop taking antipsychotics without getting a psychosis (or still being able to function well), I would be very grafeful and immediately stop taking antipsychotics. But I already suffered 8 times from a psychosis when I lowered the dose, and ended up 2 times in forced hospitalization. As side effects, I mentioned weight gain and waking up late, because these are the most important two side effects for me. I also suffer from other side effects as well, such as lack of energy. This is terrible as well indeed. In addition, side effects of medicines may differ per person. Wish you all the best.

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  5. Hello May-May,
    very interesting story and life experience, I have been thinking about it since yesterday when I saw it.
    There is a concept, very unique to Russian culture, of ‘holy fool’, it was a ‘foolishness’ for Christ, with origins and justification found in the Bible. These ‘fools’ would walk around and talk the truth, acting often weirdly. Many of them were later recognised as saints.
    It is very sad that today, these experiences are indeed called as ‘psychosis’, relegated firmly into the domain of ‘mental illness’. I totally understand why you use this term, it is the current discourse, which is hard to avoid, and gives it a ‘meaning’, even if some people are offended by the term.
    I think that without the intervention of the ‘doctors’ you would eventually find yourself in your ‘psychosis’ and connect even more with God, but it isn’t possible in the current age, and thus, you can only do what you are already doing.
    i have a very, very similar experience.
    Good luck to you and thank you for sharing your story. Read about the ‘holy fool’ in Russian Christianity, it might help you to understand more.

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    • Hi Ekaterina,

      Thank you for sharing your experience. Wonderful that you had a very similar experience. I know that there are more people like us. I hope that together (and also with other people longing for peace) that we can change the world and bring peace. Interesting what you tell about ‘the holy fool’ in Russian Christianity. I also had the idea that it is important to ”tell the truth”. But because I was scared of the secret service during my period that I was in my forced hospitalization, I hardly dared to speak. But I recognize it, that the truth is important. And yes, I notice here that talking about ‘psychosis’ is a sensitive term. In the Netherlands, where I am from, the term is widely used. But you can debate about what a ‘psychosis’ actually is. I also noticed that there were moments in my psychosis when I lost control completely. But when I am suffering from a psychosis now, I know that I have a psychosis and that we have to scale up the antipsychotics. So am I really psychotic then? Interesting topic for discussion as well!

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      • Hello May-May,
        I meant by ‘speaking the truth’ in its general meaning. I actually would advise against speaking ‘the truth’ while dealing with the psychiatrists, who are seeing things only through bio-medical lenses. If anything, it can be detrimental.
        I meant, leaving the life truthfully. Recognising that you have your unique path, which can be different from other people’s paths, but also beautiful and unique. Trusting in the path ahead of you, not feeling down because of someone else trying to make you feel that way.
        And well, you are among very few who talks about your experience openly, which is a very, very brave act. You are already speaking the truth.

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  6. In the IFS model of the mind, I don’t think there is any such things as psychosis, just parts of the mind which have taken on extreme roles. They try to work with those parts, to persuade them to assume more beneficial roles. Makes a lot more sense to me than just using the concept of the whole mind being in some state or other. My mother had her trials with this sort of thing. There are quite a few IFS trained therapists now, I think, they have something called the Center for Self Leadership. Worth a look.

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    • That is interesting indeed. In my answer above to Ekaterina, I just wrote that ‘psychosis’ doesn’t necessarily mean that you are in one state or in the other. In my book “Inner Voices” I try to give insight in how my thoughts switch between the ‘normal world’ and my ‘psychotic thoughts’. Gradually the ‘psychotic thoughts’ take over. I must admit that I stayed away from Internal Family Systems, but yes, maybe it is helpful indeed. Although I already tried a lot and I am also happy with the way I am feeling now. Anyway, thank you for your suggestion!

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  7. We can all be open about our vulnerabilities to an extent. The degree of this is different for everyone. At times, I may admit to someone that I am very afraid of doctors because I was harmed by one. Then they understand why I work so hard to be healthy. I might also explain why I hate being interrupted or being accused of interrupting. I will say that a long time ago I was in an abusive situation where I was not allowed to get a word in and constantly cut off by other people.

    If you bring your story to a point where others can relate, it isn’t just your story anymore. It is reflective of a universal struggle. Who does not want to be understood, loved, or included? Fear is fear for all of us, we feel it similarly, though we may fear different things.

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    • Thank you for your openess Julie. I hope that you are feeling better and that other docters treat you well. And you say that beautifully, a universal struggle. I hope, that with sharing all our experiences we will feel better.
      Yes, we all want to be understood, loved and included. I wish you all the best!

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  8. Thank you so much for your honesty, generosity and positive loving spirit.

    You have helped me make it through another hour of ongoing fallout from criminal mental abuse. This reaction of mine is especially astounding to me since I was violated at a Catholic psychiatric hospital and usually turn away from Christians.

    I have not experienced hallucinations but have been accused falsely of hallucinating, which has literally dismantled my life and made living unnecessarily extremely difficult.

    I too was a former college teacher. Your bravery in coming forward with your story is remarkable, incredible, a great credit to you. Thank you.

    You are teaching still, still serving education and students. Thank you.

    My real life is a horror, with documentation, that no one wants to acknowledge. For real. Which may sound delusional. Which is the irony of criminal mental health care!

    FYI. My story with documentation is way too long but true (still under construction): “Coloring with the Catholics: My Story of Criminal Mental Abuse in Modern America” https://gina184813185.wordpress.com/

    Thank you again. My support all comes from strangers, who may not intend it, so thank you again.

    Gina Fournier

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    • Hi Gina,
      Thank you for your loving words. I have taken a look at what you posted. A lot of what I read sounds familiar to what happened to me. Yes, we were both college teachers. I wish that I could help you, but I am based in the Netherlands. All I can say, is that psychiatrists and nurses try to help you….It took a long time before I found that out. And for me, it was and still is, extremely difficult to take antipsychotics. Not only because I thought that I would be poisoned then (which was not the case), but also because of the side effects. In my case, they made me feel sleepy, I gained weight etc. But in my case they do help. Wish you all the best!

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  9. https://gina184813185.wordpress.com/

    Language barrier? Person, you read or understood incorrectly. I was locked up illegally. Doctors broke the law. I do not hallucinate. I will assume a language barrier came between us.

    God, I wish I had never responded. Wow. This place isn’t even safe for me. This is not a safe place for me as a victim of criminal mental abuse. I am not psychotic. I do not hallucinate. I have taken incredible measures to document my claims.

    Bad day worse. My life is unlivable. I’m trapped in hell.

    Oh god the horror never ends only grows. I’m too delicate for this mental and full life nonstop pain and trauma.

    For seven years.

    Body, please have mercy on me.

    Oh god the horror. I will not post here any more, to avoid what just transpired.

    Oh my god. Please let me out of this nightmare.

    I don’t blame the Mad in America organization, of course. I am reasonable. I am not crazy.

    I was set up.

    Gina Fournier

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