The Year Of Potentiality

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Ten years ago I experienced psychosis, which some people believed was a drug-induced psychosis. It was actually a quote, often incorrectly attributed to Albert Einstein, that pushed me over the edge:

The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

Looking back, I can see how the psychosis emerged. I was being indoctrinated into a system that my spirit could not accept.

psychosis trauma informed

It was 2011. The year of the Occupy Wall Street protests. Experts from all different fields were increasingly calling for social and political change. People were talking about the Maya calendar. Some said there would be a spiritual revolution. Others, the end of the world. I was 27 years old, in the third year of my PhD in Psychology at a university in Cairns, Australia. My work was focused on the hemispheric asymmetry of emotion, asking the question: “Where is emotion in the brain?”

For every quote I read, I could see that half of it belonged to the left hemisphere (i.e. the rational mind is a faithful servant) and the other half belonged to the right (i.e. the intuitive mind is a sacred gift). Even Aboriginal proverbs: “Those who lose dreaming are lost.”

Some people say to be careful what you wish for. I had made a New Year’s resolution for 2011 to be “the year of potentiality.” Because I was not very bright at school and later ended up getting a scholarship to do a PhD, I was genuinely curious about what humans are capable of.

Towards the end of that year, my friend Rachel who I was living with at the time wanted to go to the Woodford Folk Festival for New Year’s. I had never been to a huge festival like Woodford so I agreed and we both signed up to volunteer. On the bus on the way to the festival, one guy was reading a book. We started chatting and exchanged some quotes. One of the quotes that he loved and shared was: “Truth disappears with the telling of it.”

I had always been taught that festivals are “bad.” I was taught that they are just a big drug fest, a waste of space and full of people with no direction or purpose in life. People of no value or the classic: people who don’t have a “real job.”

I was blown away by what I found. This festival was like a mini Utopia. The sheer amount of hard work, devotion and love that went into Woodford was seriously impressive. There was delicious vegan food, artists way cooler than me, meditation areas with sacred music. The festival also had a conference with leading scientists on cutting edge issues like climate justice. I did not take drugs at Woodford. If I drank, it was barely anything. I did not experience people irresponsibly drunk or crazy high. I saw a community of extreme talent.

At the festival there was a wishing well. I have only ever had one fascination in life and therefore one wish. My whole life I saw science and religions fighting. I saw beliefs destroy relationships and people even kill each other. I would often defend my Persian Bahai friend when Australians teased her about her faith. For every criticism towards her faith I would throw the same back at science even though I was not religious myself. I was not for religion but I was also not proud of much of the arrogance I personally experienced within science.

So I made one wish and I put it into the wishing well: “I wish for the marriage of science and mysticism.”

That night there was a New Year’s Eve festival and it was truly spectacular. There was a sign made in the shape of the letters “ME” that was set on fire. At the end of the performance, the sign was turned upside down and the word flipped to “WE.” Something happened to me at this festival. Everything just clicked and connected from the moment I arrived. Things that made no sense, or only made sense intellectually, became an embodied reality.

My perception was enhanced. There were bricks on the ground with sentences carved in them like “Love is the answer.” Normally I would see something like this and not think too much of it. However, I read these words and felt the statement penetrate every fibre of my being. I felt the bricks on the ground. Love really was the answer.

The next day, New Year’s Day 2012, there was a Tibetan dawn service. It was the most surreal experience. Nearly everyone was crying, it seemed for the world. My 2011 New Year’s resolution — that I had completely forgotten! — returned to my mind: “The year of potentiality.”

That’s when my PhD, the state of the planet and injustice and trauma all around the world made complete sense to me:

The intuitive mind is a sacred gift. The rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

I had no idea that my wish for the marriage of science and mysticism would become my living reality. I wanted my PhD to explain the brain hemispheres’ involvement in this marriage. I could see it played out from the beginning of history to where psychology and psychiatry are now, and the destruction of other cultures and their systems as a consequence of the intellect. Why the intellect? As the Dalai Lama says: “Love is the absence of judgment.”

I had listened to a climate scientist at the festival, Dr Graeme Taylor, share his book Evolution’s Edge: The Coming Collapse and Transformation Of Our World. I remember thinking: no one will connect with climate change until they feel deeply connected to the natural world, and you cannot deeply connect to the natural world unless you are deeply connected to yourself.

I remember thinking my PhD could be the necessary link. I thought we needed to deconstruct psychology and help people drop the Psychological Mind to reconnect to themselves. I had already directly experienced this so I knew it was possible.

I went back to the university and unsurprisingly these ideas were not embraced. I was kindly advised to write a book.

I did not want to write a book outside of my PhD because that was my whole point. The exclusion of reality was the very reason so much of life and therefore ourselves has been rejected, destroyed, lost. That was the entire point: Where is the love in institutions and business?

Love is freedom. It does not require qualifications, complex theories, diagnostic categories, standardised testing, training, endorsements. And actually these things often get in the way of our innate capacity to be deeply human, genuinely kind, caring and compassionate.

Despite this realization, my options were to soldier on with my original PhD topic or to leave. But something within me had fundamentally changed. I no longer saw the relevance of my topic. We all knew that nearly no one would ever read it.

I had found a genius locked away inside every single one of us and that was all I could now see and all I cared to talk about. How much Western education has discriminated against the majority of its willing participants because they did not colour inside the lines, or fit in a box.

***

There are some sections of this time of my life that I cannot remember, or I do recall but I cannot place events into the correct order. Trauma will do that.

I remember that one day towards the end of my PhD I was in the university lab, reading the work of psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist who had just published a book on the divided brain and the making of the Western world. McGilchrist’s work was also on hemispheric asymmetry. He argued that there once was a balance between the two hemispheres of the brain. The fractured and decontextualized world we see today is a consequence of the left hemisphere outrunning the right.

Among other things, the left hemisphere is the bureaucrat trapped in a hall of mirrors who cannot see outside of himself. He cannot see the whole picture, which is too big. So the brain formulates a map, which works for the most part. However, this map has become so far removed from reality, illustrated by our explosion of mental illness and the climate crisis.

McGilchrist described the right hemisphere as relational and connected to all that is. However, its all-knowing voice is silent. Dr Jill Bolte Taylor released a TED Talk A Stroke of Insight that mirrored this. She had a stroke in her left hemisphere. As her left hemisphere shut down, so did her constant brain chatter, “to do” lists and years of baggage. Imagine that. Dr Taylor’s right hemisphere was still online, which she described affectionately as “la la land.” She also realised that this is traditionally known as Nirvana: Freedom.

According to Dr Taylor, our left hemisphere is the “I am” — our sense of separateness. I am Louise. I am female. I am 37. I am Australian. I am an academic. I am a psychologist. I am a human rights activist. The right hemisphere is not interested in “I am.” So here, I am “that which is not,” inseparably connected to everything, beyond words.

So you can imagine me at 25 years old asking a simple question, “Where is emotion in the brain?” and by 27 stumbling upon all of this. My PhD had taken me from my left hemisphere to my right. I became nothing, connected to the entire universe, beyond words.

I remember thinking to myself that I had just found this secret treasure, the solution to life’s greatest dilemma: a divided brain in the Western world. Around the same time that I had this realization, a woman walked into the lab wearing nothing but swimmers with bleeding cuts and scratches on her legs. Her eyes were wide awake. She had just come out of a night spent in the rainforest. She said to me, “I’ve been connected to the Universe.” I was speechless.

This woman was in a mixed state of blissfulness, distress and terror. As I began to comfort her, my PhD supervisors returned from somewhere. They asked if she was okay. The woman started sharing her story. Next minute a clown on a scooter came into the lab.

The clown interrupted us and started making an animal with a balloon. The first thing that came to my mind was the left hemisphere bureaucrat! Distraction from this moment of truth at hand. In reality it was just Orientation Week. A friendly clown the university had hired.

Before I knew it, an ambulance arrived and the woman was taken away. I asked my supervisor what would happen to her. I was advised that the ambulance had taken her to the mental hospital. This destroyed me.

While I remember both stories vividly, Woodford festival and the woman in the lab, I cannot recall which one was before or after. All I remember is that my PhD connected me to the Universe and that I witnessed the one other person who had a similar experience being locked away in a mental hospital.

The only way I can describe the six months of my life that followed these events is that it was like taking an acid trip that went horrifically wrong. My reality melted, and not just as some poetic description. My entire reality became a living and waking nightmare. I will not go into my symptoms of psychosis other than to say that they were truly debilitating and terrifying. I can relate to Russell Crow, the movie A Beautiful Mind. I was in and out of hospital for 6 months. Even once I was finally stabilised, a part of me was gone.

My spirit died.

I barely held a conversation for the year after I left hospital. I seemed to be a lost cause. Some called me crazy behind my back. Some assumed it was a drug-induced psychosis. I took no drugs at Woodford. I simply made a New Year’s resolution and I got exactly what I asked for.

My wish for the marriage of science and mysticism was also realised, although I could not materialise it in my PhD. Ten years later I now understand why. Even if my beautiful PhD supervisors had said yes, you can do that, it would never have worked anyway. Ten years ago I had not found martial arts, yoga, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and India’s cultures, my partner from the Philippines, or the trauma informed tools for well-being that collectively were fundamental to my recovery from psychosis. It is almost as if I had to fall and completely break down to find these treasures over the next ten years. I had the vision but I had zero life experience to make it a reality.

I actually cried several times this year because even though I was unable to explore this for my PhD, my dream did eventually flower. I have shared my truth with the world. I have created a website, Trauma Informed World, which is everything I wanted my PhD to be. So my tears are gratitude. My tears are also loss and grief for those who were punished or even killed for sharing their truth. Tears of admiration that many people have woken up enough that stories like this can be shared and are less shunned.

Tears of a lotus flower. The greater the mud the more beautiful the flower. I lost three years of my life to my first psychosis. I lost eight months to my second psychosis. I am living proof that your entire world can be smashed into a trillion pieces and you can recover and turn the broken pieces of glass into a kaleidoscope. I am living proof that you can be absolutely terrified of something and find yourself in the heart of your once greatest fear.

I would like to state here that in no way is my path necessarily advised or the right path. All I know is that I followed my heart. If you do tell your truth and it is denied, rejected, misrepresented or twisted and turned against you, please know that I understand as do the many others that this has also happened to. There are plenty of them out there.

I can see my errors looking back. I thought my truth was everyone’s. I saw a world where world peace is possible and free and I wanted all of us to be there. But that was never going to happen immediately. Just because I see it, does not mean others do, no matter how clearly I see it.

What I do know is I am unbelievably curious about what lies inside each one of us. Imagine if we lived in safe environments where we were all given the opportunity to explore how to flower?

This is why my vision is for a trauma informed world. There are as many paths to truth as there are people. We know the ingredients required and they are within reach. I want that sense of freedom to be a living reality for every person before we die.

“The language of psychosis is an intelligible one, though steeped in metaphor. It is a human language, but a language of despair. And it is only spoken when all other attempts of communication have failed.” – Dr Dan Edmunds

***

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.

13 COMMENTS

  1. “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” Great quote. I’ve spent many years of my life teaching children how to utilize the creative side of their brains, and it is quite amazing to watch the children’s creativity blossom.

    “Those who lose dreaming are lost.” As one whose initial spiritual dream was proclaimed “psychosis,” and whose drug withdrawal induced “super sensitivity manic psychosis” took the form of an awakening to my dreams, I agree with this quote as well. I like to think of myself as a “beautiful dreamer,” since I have a love story within my dreams.

    “I wish for the marriage of science and mysticism.” I’d like to see a respect for mysticism by both the scientific and religious communities, but an ending of the non-mystism believing “partnership,” of my former religion and the DSM “bible” billers.

    “Love is the answer.” I agree, I actually now have a couple “Love is the answer” pieces of artwork I’ve made, so I guess it may become a series.

    “… connected to the entire universe, beyond words.” That’s what my awakening (drug withdrawal induced “super sensitivity manic psychosis”) was all about, too. It was staggeringly serendipitous, and really quite an amazing experience, as if I was living in perfect timing with the rest of humanity. And God, and other humans, were showing me thousands of “signs” of the collective unconscious, and God’s existence – as if we all truly were “one in Spirit, one in the Lord.” But you are absolutely correct, those of us who’ve experienced such mystical experiences are the ones some of the “mental health” workers, and some of the pastors of my childhood religion, want to stigmatize and neurotoxic poison.

    “my tears are gratitude. My tears are also loss and grief for those who were punished or even killed for sharing their truth.” I recently finished a piece of artwork I call “Tears of Joy and Sadness.” I believe experiencing both is part of the human experience, my former DSM “bible” billers believe such normal human emotions are signs of “bipolar.”

    “I saw a world where world peace is possible and free and I wanted all of us to be there. But that was never going to happen immediately. Just because I see it, does not mean others do, no matter how clearly I see it.” I saw it also – albeit via a Christian lens – and it is a beautiful promise. It provides hope … exactly what those who believe in the “life long, incurable, genetic” (actually not life long, curable, iatrogenic) DSM disorders want to steal from innocent others.

    Absolutely trauma informed care is needed. I had no idea back in late 2001 that psychologists and psychiatrists believed distress caused by 9/11/2001 was “distress caused by a chemical imbalance” in my brain alone. How absurd!

    Best wishes to all the truth tellers on MiA for a Happy New Year! “Imagine” is playing now at the NY Ball Drop, and I do believe we can get to the point we are all “one.” Although I do not personally believe it will be achieved through the fiscally irresponsible globalist banksters’, and Klaus Schwab’s et al’s, Ponzi scheme of a banking system.

    I believe Jesus was right to turn over the tables of the money changers 2000+ years ago, and such needs to be done again. Nonetheless, Happy New Year to all.

    • Thank you for taking the time to read my piece. I loved reading the parallels that you were able to draw. I think we would all realise that we have much more in common than we think if were given opportunities to explore our experiences. That is one of the benefits of working in mental heath, seeing the same tragic pattern of silence or judgment, blame, punishment, shame and stigma. You quickly learn this was never about you but the way we all respond to one another and also what can be done to break this cycle. I cannot think of a more suitable framework than Trauma Informed Care because it honors the non-negotiable aspects of being human and yet equally allows each one of us to uniquely explore how to flower. I am so glad you found ways to be true to yourself. Best wishes always and thank you again for your reply.

  2. “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

    Thank you Louise, for a very inspiring article. The quote above means a great deal to me as it served as the grounding for the documentary film The Divided Brain, that I produced several years ago, based on the work of Dr. Iain McGilchrist.

    I was half-way through Iain’s book The Master and His Emissary, when I felt deep in my soul that I had to make a film about his key idea – largely a grand illustration over centuries of brain science and culture – of the quote above. Reading the book was the beginning of my transformation of how I saw the world and my deeper understanding of it.
    But creating the film was the most hard-fought, white-knuckled and greatest challenge of my career – the least of which, was that potential broadcasters felt the film was too brainy for their viewers! Yet at many screenings, audience members, regardless of educational level, had a visceral reaction in recognizing certain truths about our world.

    Jill Bolte-Taylor, whom you mention in your article, appears in our film in a meeting with Iain where she describes her left-hemisphere stroke and her extraordinary journey.
    It was a comfort to read your article very late, on the last evening of the year. I wish you a New Year of hope as you reach many people through your web site Trauma Informed World.

    • Hello Vanessa, thank you for your lovely message. I was so pleased to hear from you and to read your comment. I apologise for taking so long to reply. I actually saw last year that you had made a documentary on this topic and it brought the biggest smile to my face that someone saw the importance of this issue. In the same way it brought me joy to see the Greta Thurnberg’s of the world finally being listened to and respected. I had decided not to watch the documentary because of my original Psychosis although as I was replying to you, I felt that was a copout, so I watched it the evening that I read your reply. It really was what I was trying to say ten years ago so thank you truly. I could not reply straight away because it took me back there momentarily. However, I am so glad I did watch it because it helped me to see that your documentary and Trauma Informed World are so complimentary. I chose not to focus on the divided brain for the website other than to share how my Psychosis began because I did not want anyone to experience what I had. So I have made Trauma Informed Care – safety, trustworthiness, choice, collaboration and empowerment – the skeleton of the website instead so that the reader feels safe to explore all of these systemic issues under a framework that they can always fall back on if they feel they have gone too far. So the website has a brief snap shot of how far Psychology has come, to our understanding of Neuroplasticity, Trauma Informed Care and the Power Threat Meaning Framework, as well as five trauma informed tools for survival and wellbeing. I use a range of current social justice issues as examples of trauma and links to the expert or social justice warrior in each field for inspiration, guidance, hope and social and political change. I also included the Dalai Lama, Sadhguru, etc for where knowledge melts into wisdom. After watching your documentary I realised that the people that I included are the embodiment of both hemispheres and Trauma Informed Care. Watching your documentary helped me a lot to see that this issue is very real and that Trauma Informed World provided a glimpse of a pragmatic way forward with the choice of whoever the reader trusts has humanity’s interest at heart. Also systems such as Yoga, Martial Arts, Traditional Dance, etc that were doing this all along. Also a song at the bottom of each piece to show people were singing about this all along. So I am so very thankful to hear from you and I am genuinely glad that I decided to watch your documentary because it really helped me to understand my journey and to see the website with fresh eyes. For example, your documentary helped to understand something Sadhguru once said: “If you still see me as a person, then I am not your Guru.” I always interpreted this as meaning he is just life itself, not his name, age, gender, status in the world, etc. However, after watching your documentary, it helped me see that he is also the embodiment of the right hemisphere. So thank so you very much for all of your hard work. I can only imagine how challenging it would have been to capture such an enormous topic for a documentary and I am very thankful that you did and that you did it very well. Best wishes for 2022 and I am always here if you need anything. Kind regards, Louise

  3. Hi Louise,

    “As the Dalai Lama says: “Love is the absence of judgment.””

    I’d have $5 on the Dalai Lama if I were a Tibetan man. Seriously though…… you write; “Some assumed it was a drug-induced psychosis. I took no drugs at Woodford.” How can you be sure you weren’t ‘spiked’ with something? My ‘history’ which I won’t go into here makes me wonder about how often people are ‘misdiagnosed’ based on ‘spikings’ which are then concealed by ‘mental health services’, the symptoms of the ‘spiking’ used to justify the forced drugging and incarceration of individuals with the very drugs that caused the problems in the first place. In my instance it was benzos which where put into my drink, and a doctor then concealed this offence by writing a fraudulent prescription for what were now my “regular medications” ( a doctor I might add that had no idea of my existence when the drugs were administered without my knowledge, and who wrote the fraudulent prescription AFTER I had been subjected to interrogations by police and a Community Nurse. A compounding of offences)

    So, I guess I have to ask. Perhaps you too have a doctor who you are not allowed to be informed of (Shine Lawyers. “We can’t tell you who your doctor is for reasons of confidentiality” [mainly because it was patently obvious from the documents I didn’t actually have a doctor, and thus they would need to look further and recognise the offending by these people, preferring instead to not see acts of torture and kidnapping], who is writing prescriptions for drugs to be administered without your knowledge that you would otherwise reject based on your religious belief system? (ie in Islam, intoxicants are strictly forbidden. Benzos being one of four stupefying/intoxicating drugs often misrepresented as being ‘medicine’).

    Quite clever when you consider that with the concealment of one single fact (the ‘spiking’) a person goes from being the victim of serious criminal offending, to a mental patient requiring incarceration and forced drugging with the very drug which laid them out in the first instance (for their ‘paranoid delusion’ of believing they have been drugged without their knowledge. The cover up by mental health means police can now be procured as co conspirators in the offending.).

    Consider your situation if it were to emerge today that someone had ‘spiked’ your drink with LSD for instance, what would change about the way you view the events described above? The lack of proof of a drug that caused the psychosis, does not mean that it wasn’t present.

    • Hello Gracezw, thank you for your generous feedback. I am so pleased to hear that you found this piece moving and that you now have access to Trauma Informed World. I do not know if there is an equivalent to Woodford where you are. I have not been back to Woodford since that happened. It would be such an experience to return there after having put this story altogether so thank you for sparking the idea. There are plenty of people trying to create a more peaceful and joyful world even if they get drowned out by the mainstream narrative. I have included some of the ones that touched my life deeply on the website although I know there are plenty more around. I hope you enjoy the website and thank you again for your generous feedback. Take care alway and if you ever have any questions you are always welcome to ask. Cheers, Louise

    • Hello Angele, thank you for your kind message and generous feedback. It’s very strange how when I wanted to write something like this when I was younger, I could not find the words. However, once I began engaging with others on social media on a daily basis over a year, gradually sharing bits and pieces of Psychology along with my own lived experience and recovery, it eventually came out naturally. There is no way this piece or Trauma Informed World would have flowered without the relationship I had developed with strangers that became friends online over the course of last year. It is a beautiful example of what we are all capable of when we work together nonjudgmentally and in collaboration with one another. So I think that is how the weaving of this story came to be and I appreciate your feedback in noticing that. Best wishes to you always and if you ever have any questions you are always welcome to ask. Cheers, Louise

  4. I always find stories of recovery from mental illness very enlightening and uplifting. Forty years ago when I worked in an institution I wish I met someone like you. I may have stayed longer.

    May your voyage of discovery bring you more enlightenment.

    ML Eric

    • Hello Er, thank you for taking the time to read my story and for your generous feedback. I might have stayed in Academia longer too myself. However, overall I had a good experience as a student and a teacher because my university was small and some of the lecturers I had 20 years ago were really inspiring and shaped my mind beyond words. It was mostly the PhD and my topic that pushed me over the edge. Being taught to think outside the box and then when you finally do realising that you are not allowed to. So I can see looking back how easily it happened. So it is my hope that the Website Trauma Informed World provides a framework for people to fall back on if they do find themselves in a similar situation. Thank you again for taking the time to read my piece and best wishes always. Cheers, Louise

    • Hello Vickilyn, thank you for taking the time to read my piece and for your kind feedback. It means a lot to me to hear that someone deeply appreciates what it means to be human and living in this world. I am glad you got something out of reading it. Best wishes always and always here if you ever have any questions. Cheers, Louise