On the Brink of Psychosis

20
9625

What if I tell you that with the diagnosis of bipolar disorder and a few psychoses, you can still live a very nice life?

It was in 2003, while living in Amsterdam, working as a financial analyst of banks and a portfolio manager, that I landed in a psychiatric hospital with a psychosis. Since then, I have had ‘relapses’ and was told by the psychiatrists that it’s a chronic illness that I need to monitor for the rest of my life. I was told about the life of misery awaiting me because of my bipolar ‘disorder’, where I would probably not work, create a family, or ever be happy. If you read a description of the condition, the picture looks indeed gloomy. It tells you about your inability to look after your finances, a libido out of control, and difficulty forming relationships.

It was after my second psychosis two years later that I decided to defy the odds and focus on creating a happy, joyful life, regardless. I think the main reason for my decision to do well in life was motivated by the fact that I am simply a happy person by nature. I love life, I love to laugh, spend time with my friends, and enjoy simple pleasures, such as good coffee in the morning, a nice glass of wine in the evening, cooking yummy food, listening to singing birds in the garden and deriving pleasure from work.

And so I sat down and did my research. My main problem with calling my experiences ‘psychosis’ lay in the fact that I had enjoyed it. A new parallel reality would open the doors to me, and I would end up dealing with magic. I would witness the manifestation of angels, experience lucid dreaming and feel incredible connection with the universe and its creatures. Yes, there was that side of ‘crazy’ things while being ‘psychotic’, such as proclaiming myself as Jesus on my online social networks, and over-spending my money, but overall, if someone would ask me whether I would like to experience it again, I would say a ‘definite yes’.

But the society here in the western hemisphere doesn’t allow you to experience an initiation into magic, shaming and stigmatising you through the whole journey. I quickly realised after my first psychoses that from the outside I need to look subdued, sad, ashamed and full of regrets because of daring to end up in anything remotely resembling ‘mental illness’. I saw pitying expressions on the faces of people in my life, as if there was something wrong with me and I should live up to expectations of bad things associated with a psychiatric disorder and give up on having a happy, fulfilled life.

I decided to challenge their assumptions and do not just well, but very well. After my second psychosis, I applied for two PhD bursaries, winning both, and completed a PhD in England in the field of sociology. I am a Doctor of Philosophy now. I also became a mum and was happy in a long-term relationship until it ended. I moved countries three times after my diagnosis, landing in interesting, exciting jobs, making friends around the entirety of Europe. I learned another language, next to three other languages I already spoke. I can care after a child and a cat, and at this moment am living my dream by lecturing at a Dutch university.

My research into the phenomenon of the psychosis showed me some interesting tendencies. First of all, it is assumed for some reason that it is the same experience for everyone involved. But from many talks I had with other patients who have had psychosis, I learned that it’s really totally different experience depending on the person. Some have had a ‘magical trip’ like me, while others had the biggest nightmare of their life. I do think it’s also wrong to call anyone bipolar, based on the fact that the psychiatry gives you a diagnosis in case you dared to end up in a psychiatric hospital more than once in your life.

However, I am not anti-psychiatry as such, and I disagree with the current tendency to divide the debate into half: one half is pro-psychiatry, while another is anti-psychiatry, with the discussion mostly focusing on whether to take psychiatric drugs or categorically refuse them. There should be something in between.

I have been both on medication and off it. I also met some very nice psychiatrists and some not very nice ones. Once, I experienced a nightmare psychosis while being on aripiprazole, thinking that I was ‘safe’. It was nothing like what I experienced with my ‘naturally’ occurring psychoses. But after looking at all possible options I decided to take another medication, and with the help of an excellent psychiatrist, I am now on a ‘cocktail’ of medication that has zero side-effects but yet keeps me stable (I hope). It was trial and error for a year, before I became ‘satisfied’ with the solution that both my doctor and I are happy about.

Of course, my life is not perfect. I do lead a meaningful life but I have also been living a very hard life. Just to give you an example, I ended up with a massive, very upsetting psychosis in October 2020, and had to go to the hospital FOUR times within two years. It was very difficult for me to relocate to a new country right before the Covid nightmare began, as well as grieving the loss of my incredible stepdad last year, and the death of my cat in October 2020. The picture for this article is me, trying to survive that year, not very successfully.

I was eventually put on injections and spent a year as a zombie, begging my psychiatrist to diminish the dose. I was writing to him every two days, explaining my problem: I felt sick, lifeless, unhappy, in total despair and the possibility of ending my life briefly passed my head, but I had to stop that thought because I have a son to raise. Thank God my psychiatrist was listening, and eventually I was put on the lowest dose possible (paliperidone) and another medication (cariprazine) was added, because my doctor and I both agreed that I am simply too vulnerable to psychoses. I have an extremely stressful life.

The medication on which I am now, my personal cocktail of drugs, is working, I hope, but I am terrified to develop another psychosis, regardless. It isn’t the psychosis which is a problem, but the labels attached to it. You feel like a total failure afterwards, guilty, ashamed and full of regrets. I am glad I found a really honourable doctor who looked for solutions together with me, such as finding the formula that helps me to avoid a psychosis, while allowing me to lead an active, full of meaning life. But I know what the nightmare is when you emerge from the hospital on a killing dose of anti-psychotics. I have been there; I have been there several times. I am not sure how I survived my own psychiatric nightmare, but I am thankful to God that I am still here, and want to be happy, alive, and joyful.

But what if it did happen again, I wonder? Why is it such a big deal that someone dares to have a psychosis? Why are we, as a society, so terrified of this phenomenon that it’s constantly portrayed in the media and films as the worst possible outcome in a person’s life? I can assure you that when I am in a ‘psychosis’ I have no tendencies to harm anyone. I am placid and nice. But the label is so damaging that every time I emerge from the hospital, I have to deal with a feeling of shame that is much more damaging than the condition itself. (I refuse to call it an illness, because I genuinely don’t feel ill. I feel absolutely amazing.) I feel guilty and afraid. Here I go, I tell myself, I did it again.

There is also a feeling of resentment from others, I noticed, when you do well in life after a psychosis. The expectation is that you should give up on ambitions in life, and for some reason, I feel a wave of waiting from others to see me ‘failing’ again. There are rumours and accusations, and the desire to cancel me.

But I stay. And I am determined to live my life well. I worked extremely hard to be where I am now, and I plan to continue to work hard to have a good life, full of meaning.

When researching everything around psychosis, it was in non-western philosophies that I found some answers that appeal to me more, rather than the label of a diagnosis or an acceptance of a chronic disease. I found the description of shamanism as something that reflects my own experience. But I also found some answers in Christianity, and other religions. It is in the field of magic being possible that I found some reassurance that I am not simply mad. That maybe I am simply gifted, and possess a very vivid imagination. Maybe it isn’t an ‘illness’ (I don’t feel ill at all), but a call for spiritual emergence.

I don’t trust the gurus in the current ‘New Age’ phenomenon because most of them come from a position of privilege rather than from first having experienced trauma and hardship. You can become a shaman only if you have had a ‘psychosis’. But no one will teach you any shamanism in the west, because we all became too rational, too judging, too ‘normal’. And therefore, I search for my own truth, my own meaning, where I want to live my life well.

Living life well, however, is never in isolation. I came out publicly with my condition (including writing on my blog) because of lack of support and information from people with a similar experience. Most available narratives are sad stories centred around the aspect of a disease, or terrifying tales about psychiatric treatment. But what if there is also something in between? What if some of us have had a good outcome from the ‘psychosis’? What if some of us are happy and fulfilled, despite the label of the diagnosis?

I might be a ‘crazy cat lady’, but I do have things to say, regardless. I have two master’s degrees and a PhD, I lived in four different countries and achieved a few things, despite having landed in a psychiatric hospital more than once. I refuse to feel ashamed or sad, because I made a massive effort to remain happy.

And I want others to feel the same and do well in life.

***

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.

20 COMMENTS

  1. I read a comment a few days ago that went something like;

    Being a people pleaser means that everyone likes you, except the person who is most important…….. YOU.

    Yeah, yeah, I know it was written by someone with narcissistic personality disorder and a chemical imbalance which requires them to be incarcerated and force drugged, but ……. other than that….. funny how slander can become a knee jerk reaction huh?

    I know that whilst my ‘journey’ has meant hardship, I have always valued the truth over the fraud and lies of these people who claimed to be trying to ‘help’ me (and emptying my wallet in the process). I’d rather die on the streets of London a free man, that live this existence in captivity for daring to challenge the authority of the people who subjected me to arbitrary detention and acts of torture….. and then tried to ‘negatively outcome’ me for trying to access the protection of the law. While those with a duty to act, chose instead to remain silent and neglect their duty. None to be held accountable for that right? Nuremberg proved it with “just doing my job”.

    Article 2 item 3. “An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.” So, what justification does the Community Nurse have other than the Senior Medical Officer made me do it? He didn’t know it was torture? ”

    Article 10. Item 1. “Each State Party shall ensure that education and information regarding the prohibition against torture are fully included in the training of law enforcement personnel, civil or military, medical personnel, public officials and other persons who may be involved in the custody, interrogation or treatment of any individual subjected to any form of arrest, detention or imprisonment.”

    Item 2. “Each State Party shall include this prohibition in the rules or instructions issued in regard to the duties and functions of any such person.”

    Has the State deliberately neglected this duty they agreed to when they ratified this agreement? Negligence being their greatest tool, that and the threats of ‘treatments’ for asking questions of the Minister. My wifes close friendship with his psychologist sister obviously a problem if anyone knows what nepotism is.

    Another comment I read which I believe will become part of my ‘psyche’ (whatever that is) “The truth does not mind being questioned. A lie does not like being challenged”. To those who have refused to question my truth for fear of confirming what they do not wish to be true, a big fuk you. To those who have attempted to harm me for challenging their lies….. also a big fuk you. It doesn’t really leave a lot huh?

    Though my hope is that the ‘cancer’ which has spread in this community, is not something shared by other places where they do actually value a rule of law rather than take oaths as a cover and enable the exploitation of trust. Hi to the ‘lawyers’ at the Mental Health Law Centre. Still throwing your ‘clients’ under the bus for your State funding once you have had them ‘play their hands’? It’s not that ‘we’ don’t torture, it’s just you will never manage to prove it….. with a little help from our ‘friends’. Is it any wonder they fear any system which would hold them accountable?

  2. Hello. I feel I have a similar experience in my life. I had a meltdown at school when I was 13, then started seeing a psychiatrist. I’m 29 now. A few years ago everything got worse. Hospitalized involuntarily in 2019 and 2020 for psychosis (after trying to come off my drugs too fast.) A nightmare both times however. But in 2017 and 2018 I was half enjoying my prolonged psychosis. I could feel things that I could not see and I started hearing a voice. The voice is strange. Sometimes it is nice other times very mean.

    I really liked your article. I’ve been doing better the last few years after my last hospitalization in 2020. I found a really great psychiatrist who has helped me lower my medication.
    It’s true that there could be a middle ground. I live every day feeling things that can’t be seen. I’ve gotten used to it. It’s hard to talk about stuff like this to people without them wanting to “fix” you. Or them just not knowing what to say to you.

    -Meg

  3. I’ll start at the ending: I feel terribly sorry for anyone having to deal with a society that prefers a disabled mind not being able to express trauma, dissent, or spiritual themes that aren’t understood or suppressed: and thus the disabling with psychiatric drugs is seen as healing. And there are many people who see what’s going on in a way that retains the thoughts going on that are labeled as being an illness, instead giving them room to be understood, and then a person has their own space to understand them; but that space should be allowed. It certainly should be allowed when there are people who can help give space, and are part of approaches that statistically correlate with helping the person.

    Ekaterina, do you understand that this site doesn’t say one shouldn’t take the drugs, it promotes informed consent, and that means information should be given, from the beginning. And what you share here actually supports the data that psychiatric drugs only suppress symptoms for an interim period, and then things get worse. Your four commitments to an asylum in 2020, then. Also how your psychiatrist didn’t even see how he was over medicating you, and you state that because of the over medicating and how it made you feel, if you didn’t have a son you might have committed suicide, consequently.

    You state: “However, I am not anti-psychiatry as such, and I disagree with the current tendency to divide the debate into half: one half is pro-psychiatry, while another is anti-psychiatry, with the discussion mostly focusing on whether to take psychiatric drugs or categorically refuse them. There should be something in between.”

    This site really only promotes the scientific data that’s suppressed. That isn’t saying to categorically refuse someone taking psychiatric drugs, it simply points out the science and the statistics. And then promotes alternatives. It does become a problem when someone, being articulate or adept in detailing the true scientific data regarding psychiatric drugs, that then they become accused of dividing the debate in half. The only thing dividing the debate at that point is that one isn’t allowed to actually be articulate, or knowledgeable, or one is made out to be one sided, and from that the necessary information for informed consent, or informed involvement is suppressed. Statistics also points out that psychiatric drugs are more in correlation with a spike in mental illnesses. One can’t say that either, or be articulate about the information without being accused of dividing the debate in half? Many people would say the same about smoking, or sugar, alcohol, street drugs, fast food or Pizza, when information is shared. I’m not even saying AT ALL that there might be mitigating factions that make it more healthy to smoke for awhile, or the rest, just to get the mind off of what’s said one shouldn’t do. Things people do when one is overloaded, but to start promoting those things as a form of healing because they treat a chemical imbalance that would otherwise be chronic becomes dishonest. And then meditating, or mindfulness, or taking a walk in nature, or just consciously deciding not to try to follow said rules, and quietly letting go, that really might help more.

    I think it’s more psychiatry that categorically refuses to see that how they implement their drugs, and how they suppress information is causing an epidemic. Yes, there are people that will say just stop taking the drugs, and won’t even acknowledge the difficulty of withdrawal, or that there’s lack of support to do that in a healthy way. But to suppress information, get people addicted, make them think they need medications that don’t help them, and then they are special and taken care of, while denying the statistics of said approach, that shouldn’t have been going on in the first place.

    I feel terribly sorry for anyone having to deal with a society that prefers a disabled mind not being able to express trauma, dissent, or spiritual themes that aren’t understood or suppressed: and thus the disabling with psychiatric drugs is seen as healing. And there are many people who see what’s going on in a way that retains the thoughts going on that are labeled as being an illness, instead giving them room to be understood, and then a person has their own space to understand them; but that space should be allowed. It certainly should be allowed when there are people who can help give space, and are part of approaches that statistically correlate with helping the person. That would be what an asylum is…..

  4. Ekaterina, when there’s the amount of suppressed evidence involving the conclusive science regarding psychiatric drugs, and instead of it being acknowledged how they can get in the way of recovery it’s made out they are necessary for it. This is really comparable to Russia not even allowing a person to express the benefit and happiness they found themselves when they acknowledged their homosexual desires and/ or acted upon them, because would they do so it’s considered pro homosexual lifestyle propaganda and against the law.

    Expressing truths isn’t cutting a debate in half. So, it isn’t: “the discussion mostly focusing on whether to take psychiatric drugs or categorically refuse them. There should be something in between.” There could only be something in between if people were allowed to express openly, in a medical capacity, at asylums, in therapy, to their psychiatrist, to their medical doctor, to their family and to the police how they feel the “medications” aren’t working for them. THAT isn’t going on, and THAT is what cuts the debate in half.

  5. Thank you for this great coverage of your experience.

    As someone who has experienced psychosis, I emphasize with your struggle with shame. I think there are two components, the shame of what we have done to ourselves, racking up spending, being trapped in a hospital, medical bills, and the shame we feel from other people that look on us with pity.

    For the former, what you have done, trying to build a beautiful life, is the best panacea. It’s what I strive towards.

    For the later, I think your understanding of shamanism is great, and let’s us build an identity where our “illness” is a strength. I have rigid, logical friends that are sorry for me because I’ve “gone crazy,” and because I believe in spirits and magic and the like. But I am sorry for them, because they will never witness the hidden depths of beauty and complexity in our world, lying beneath the skin.

    Thanks again for this wonderful article.

    -Patrick

  6. I’m sorry, but reading the intro to this post: “Most available narratives are sad stories centred (SIC) around the aspect of a disease, or terrifying tales about psychiatric treatment. But what if there is also something in between?”

    To begin with, most available narratives regarding psychiatric treatment DO NOT contain the horrifying tales about psychiatric treatment at all. They are mostly bad fairy tales about an evil chemical imbalance that prince charming in the guise of what have you… (Seroquel, Prozak, Ritalin, Ambien etc.) are going to save you from, while the scientific truth is that they all cause or create exactly that, this “evil”: a chemical imbalance. And then there’s the whole setup of being made paranoid regarding “symptoms” which instead of being explained as normal responses to an environment and understood as any response or emotion is there to be, they are basically discriminated against, instead. Reactions that in reality is there to be understood are separated from their cause suppressed, and the disease model, again created by indoctrination sets in. Emotions are there to be felt, that’s why nature creates them, and psychiatric symptoms are not responses of a brain that’s not working, they are responses of a brain that IS working, science also shows this, because when you DON’T damage the brain with psychiatric drugs there’s more recovery. Other than street drugs (many of which used to be psychiatric drugs a bit more than half a century ago) or bad nutrition and other substances, the only substantive area they are a response from a brain not working, is from the very psychiatric drugs that are said to cure the disease. The side effects, the added on diagnosis as response to side effects. The “cocktail.”

    Even regarding spiritual experiences. It’s real easy to glorify an experience into a whole other world, akin to a resort, but to actually work with those energies, to actually detach from the world, to actually decide you don’t need the whole plethora of “gains” the game theory of society and it’s deceptive rewards give you, this is something different from having a number of degrees, a well paying job and the ability to go shopping at will as distraction. The happiness there is beyond that, not from it.

    • Nijinsky, I really appreciate your insightful comments. And I fully agree with you on the importance of detachment from the goals and values imposed by mainstream society. I have found a true, deep happiness and peace in a life liberated from such goals.

      I am not successful in mainstream terms, I don’t have a “career”, but I am now much happier than when I worked as an academic. I have much more time for thinking and reading, for contemplating nature, for my local community. I am now poor in material terms, but this poverty does not depress me, it makes me feel a deep solidarity with people who are much poorer than me and with other marginalized people.

  7. Ekaterina, this is crazy anyone would get spooky with you, when you say you were Jesus. Ask them to show you the amazing machine that can measure your soul’s capacity, to see whether Jesus is in there are not. How would it measure ingredients? Would that even be spiritual?

    Maybe you better not. They might hang you on a cross to die, to see whether you’ll resurrect. (JK!?)

    THAT would be interesting. Tell your psychiatrist that you can’t say whether you were Jesus or not, because he might…..

    Might it be that ANYONE touching in on the Kingdom of Heaven is Jesus? The same as anyone going to music to allow the emotions of their soul some legroom to express itself might be “Mozart?”

    Only if you’re this lonely Citadel of whoever passed away so long ago that he’s not allowed any friends akin to him at all, in order to be “Unique,” only THEN can anyone have been…….

    • Nijinksy, you may be missing the point. For if one understands Christianity, the idea is the individual became the fleshy word, a Temple, the Temple. Though if further education arrives at the point, where the neural synapses are firing off, releasing an “ah-AH” sort of I got what Ekaterina is talking about or you, then how do we sit with a cat like smile of “We know”. And if the idea is somewhat akin to understanding buildings of life, as akin to Sholem Aleichem, then we, as community have some challenges to create the currency of learning to learn to share with ???. Perhaps the experience of a mental hospital in Russia is vastly different from one in the Netherlands. Though what gives rise to the paranoia?

      • Bil Wells, I don’t understand what you are trying to say at all. Neither do I see what it has to do with my post. All I can think is that when the word becomes flesh, or a temple, it having been the word first, has no loss in being shared, no such boundaries. You also can share thoughts without any loss, or depletion of any resource. So there really isn’t ANY LIMIT as to who is “the word” that became flesh, or who is “Jesus.”

        My point, in MY post was how psychiatrists decide that someone saying they are Jesus, or Napoleon, or whoever they say they are, that they think they can decide that is crazy, without even trying to make sense out of it. Jesus died 2000 years ago, if reincarnation exists there’s no way anyone can determine whether anyone else was that person or not, thus the joke about testing the “ingredients” of someone’s soul. I think I explained that quite well.

        I also would appreciate it, when you use the name “Nijinsky” that you spell it correctly. It isn’t “Nijinksy” it’s “Nijinsky.” Could you be that respectful?

        There was a person on this site years ago, who used the same misspelling when I and another challenged him on his ideas of original sin, which historically is a plant by the Roman Catholic church, when Christianity had so many followers they couldn’t dismiss it anymore. The same mind control used all over the place with the guise that when you tell people they are under attack (by the “devil” or “original sin”) that you can tell them what to do in order to “save” themselves. It’s not Christian in its philosophy, because that’s actually against what Jesus taught, that there is no sin, that when you see the innocence in everyone, then you see yourself, who you really are, and that’s not a body that needs protection from “evil,” it’s a soul from forever that can’t be destroyed. That’s what Jesus taught me, himself, if you have other ideas of who he is or what he taught that’s your business which you are free to, not mine. You aren’t going to convince me anyone saying they are Jesus, from simply doing that are “crazy” nor are you going to convince me of original since, or that there’s a lake of fire for whoever follows their own truths rather than to be programmed by “Christians”, either.

        • I’ve never heard of a Muslim claiming to be the prophet Muhammad. Not saying it doesn’t happen, i’ve just never heard of it.

          “They say: “O thou to whom the Message is being revealed! truly thou art mad (or possessed)!” (15:6)

          The did try and stone him to death which is the historical equivalent of ‘mental health treatments’ when you think about it. Slander and a flogging.

    • This still made me laugh, how psychiatrists decide someone saying they are Jesus is to them a normal form of “psychosis.” It makes me laugh because it isn’t funny at all. HOW MANY people have they killed with their treatments? What if one of them would resurrect (after dying from treatment), and show up as an angel amongst us? Would the psychiatrist then see that the person wasn’t crazy in the first place? Or would they themselves seek “professional” help? I knew someone who was as big on the drugs she took for her psychiatric “disease” as she was to me quite brainwashed “Christian,” and then one day she had seen “the devil” in the television, and had gone to her psychiatrist who gave her such an upped dose, that her hands were shaking from it. But she found that necessary…..

  8. A pretty amazing story of a person who has done amazingly well despite psychiatric intervention. Ekaterina, I would hope that you will eventually get away from all those toxic cocktails and live your life to the fullest. You obviously have the intelligence to access information you need to find out about your so-called “psychosis” and the terrible labelling of people–and, as you mention–the stigma attached to it all. I would suggest you study the history of “mental illness” and what has led us to this story state. (I am writing an essay on the subject.) I think that we need intellectuals (particularly philosophers) who will finally get to the bottom of psychiatry and inform the general public that the idea of “insanity” is not what we see so often portrayed in literature and movies and to move beyond fear. And I hope you will look at the work of Wouter Kusters, a philosopher who says there is “meaning in madness”. (See: “A Philosophy of Madness: The Experience of Psychotic Thinking” 2014)

  9. Hello Ekaterina,
    it’s good to see you back on Mad in America again.

    My wife and I have walked thru her extreme dissociation these last 15 years: I never saw her as ‘psychotic’ even when the other girls (‘alters’) first came out and believed a lot of ‘different’ things. But we gave them as much ‘outside’ time as each wanted and needed to heal. To me a lot of ‘psychosis-like’ symptoms were based on their confusion from being locked up inside 4-5 decades (kind of like RipVan Winkle…a man out of time).

    Anyway, I’m with you and not sure why everyone makes a big deal of it. The person just needs a safe person to be an anchor and reference point. When my wife’s different ‘alters’ switch, I just ask the new one outside, “Do you know what’s going on?” If she says ‘no’, then I give her a quick update…and we go on. It’s really not a big deal…but we keep working to tear down the dissociation and hope some day I won’t ever have to ask that (getting closer!).

    Anyway, I think ‘psychosis’ is overblown for too many people and just is an excuse for people on the outside to be lazy and not really ‘hear’ what the other person is experiencing or why.
    Take care,
    Sam