I had researched a great deal on the origins of psychosis, in a need to understand my own, but the majority of what I came across in the mainstream was all theory-based via invisible writers, many long dead. A lot of what was written was by men, and the language quite intellectual and dry.
I wanted to hear from people with experiences not theories. I knew of someone who worked in the local mental health system. We often bumped into each other on the street. One day I asked him if I could interview the clients that he was managing through a non-government-funded housing and mental health support team. He was happy to welcome me as he felt personal interaction was important for those living with mental health issues.
We discussed safety guidelines and then he put the offer out to them. They were free to say yes or no. Many surprisingly said yes.
What I found after many cups of tea and conversation was that everyone I spoke to had one thing in common, and that was that none of them had ever had any counselling.
They had all been diagnosed, assessed and medicated but none of them felt that anyone, other than perhaps other diagnosed people, was interested in hearing their story due to the risk of exacerbating the inner torment as they had been told by psychiatrists or causing their medication to go up. There was no one that they felt safe to share the deep stuff with.
I, however, was interested. I was fascinated because learning about their experiences offered more insight into my own journey. The experience of being invaded by sounds, voices, horrible beings, things that you could not explain to a so-called ‘normal person’ without getting that worried are you okay look.
My next step was to go further into the system as a working volunteer, which began by putting in an application to run drama games for a group of inpatients at a live-in mental health clinic.
I was admittedly quite nervous walking in, being early as always. The room slowly began to fill up. More men than women but that was fine with me as I grew up with big brothers.
I was there to meet the head psychiatrist who ran the activity group. One of the guys pushed a button on the portable stereo, not too loud, and not unpleasant as many in their medicated states shuffled to find their seating.
Introducing myself, I felt at ease with most of them. I always have with those that sit outside the norm.
The door swung open and a partially balding man in a suit, the head psychiatrist, walked in and turned off the stereo. I could feel the previous sense of ease in the room instantly disappear. He was energetically intimidating. The head disciplinarian of a prison. I felt it as much as they did.
He instructed them to do a ‘drawing your feelings’ task which they all obeyed.
This gave he and I time to have a little chat. It may have started as a chat but it soon turned into an interrogation.
He asked me about my past. Coming from a military background I had moved a lot and growing up in Asia was a big part of my childhood. He responded with “Oh dear.”
He asked me about my career. I told him I was a theatre actress and now a drama teacher. I had done a lot of improvisation and Shakespeare and I mentioned that I had won an award for it, trying to show I was not a flake. Again, he said “Oh dear.”
He would ask another question with the same response to my answer: “Oh dear.”
It came to the point where I just could not help myself. I said, “I’m sorry, but I just need to mention something. Maybe you don’t realise it, but you have said ‘Oh dear’ repeatedly to me in response to my answers.” He snapped, “No, I haven’t!” with an air of authority and pursed lips. I relented and slightly shrank back until, dare I say, he said it again. ”Aha! There, see, you just said it!” I cooed triumphantly.
Not surprisingly, I was rejected. I remember thinking to myself: well, if that was how he treated me, then maybe that’s why patients are afraid to tell their stories, if this is how their life choices/experiences are judged.
I didn’t give up though and went on to work within the system, starting as a volunteer at the place I had first connected with, then as a support worker to a case manager and program manager. Did I like what I saw within the system? On the whole, no, but it gave me great insight into what it doesn’t offer. I needed to see from the other side, how sensitive people under the mental health act were treated, judged, managed.
There were often times when I questioned if some of the burnt out psych nurses would be better off as clients, or at the very least change jobs. I witnessed time and time again psychiatrists talking about the unwell person in front of them as if they didn’t exist. I saw bigger corporations disguised as NGO’s put money before people’s well-being and downsize the support structures and sense of belonging that were desperately needed.
You see, out of my own time of unwellness or what I prefer to call Acute Sensitivity there was no support system that wasn’t linked up to a mental health body that answered to the psychiatric medical association. I couldn’t trust anyone enough to share the ‘craziness’ I was experiencing. There was no one I could trust that wouldn’t look at me with worry, fear, judgement or a need to section me. There was no one who I felt was safe to talk to.
My own unwellness began in my late twenties. I knew I was deeply sensitive and with the little bit of insight I had, I was just able to stay free of the psychiatric medication model. It was not an easy ride, it was more of a living hell and I was constantly terrified I would lose myself. I felt invaded by horrible malevolent spirits who like hungry ghosts fed off my fear. The only way I knew to survive and not be sectioned was to cut myself off from all the people that would not understand me, which meant everyone I knew at the time: my family, my friends, everyone.
My parents worrying just added to the intensity of my unwellness. I kept up the bare minimum of acting for them when they called. I was glad to not live in the same city. Added to that I was also physically very unwell and in hindsight was suffering from terrible IBS and chronic fatigue. My cousin was diagnosed with schizophrenia and an older cousin further back in the matriarchal side suffered from it as well, hence I was sure I was doomed to the same fate and I could not stop my legs from shaking as if they were running in terror.
I feel that what got me through was my insatiable interest in what this experience of being invaded by such horrors could really be. Was I truly mentally disturbed? Or was this sense of being invaded due to something else that was, in kind, disturbing my thinking?
There was a lot of hospitalisation in my childhood due to a failing kidney so the western system did not hold great favour for me. I found a master of acupuncture to work on my body’s imbalances and I went hunting to see if there was any language or way of thinking that I could relate to regarding my invading experiences.
I landed on Carl Jung’s relationship with the shadow archetypes — a man who did not run away from the terrifying shadows but faced them — which then lead me onto Shamanism.
Boom! I found my language, the understanding and the how-to of navigating the unseen beings within the multidimensional landscape. I read and wrote notes like someone obsessed. Well, I was obsessed but the difference was that I was integrating the information that resonated. It was as if I was remembering what I had forgotten.
As a kid I always felt spirits around me, was interested in graveyards and stories of hauntings or strange spiritual abilities, etc. This way of understanding how to work with the unseen in a shamanic way was like drinking clear water after sipping mud through a straw. It had no god or goddess, no hierarchy, and whatever your particular talent was, you honed it into your original signature. I was spiritually inclined but not religious, and this fit me like a glove.
How could I apply what I was learning to my own circumstances?
The seed of what I do today and what I offer my clients was planted when I moved from the city to a seaside country town, knowing I needed space. It was noisy enough in my head, I no longer wanted to be crammed like sardines into a city space. I wanted to be able to walk in nature and not hear anything but nature.
Noise within and without was a huge issue for me. What I didn’t know then is that the house I would move into… was haunted. And I chose the worst room to be harassed in.
Part of me knew my mind wasn’t the primary issue; I felt that there was something off in my psyche and I was being attacked. I saw an ad in a local paper about a man who had just returned from Holland and was doing energy healings of some sort. A little nudge came from within to make an appointment. The so-called healing in itself made little impact but what the nudge was about was the two pieces of paper he handed me. He was told to give them to me via his own guidance. This was channelled by a seer in Holland and I had told this man nothing about what was going on inside me. I was just hoping the energy clearing might give me a bit of a break.
The channelled information shared that the mental health system will need to go through big changes as it is not meeting the people’s needs. That mental health issues will be seen in a broader, more spiritual, holistic light and there will be wayseers and pioneers who will help to change that. That was the seed planted within me that took root and still holds strong to this day.
I began by creating a meditation called ‘The Meditation for Sensitives’ in order to deal with all that was coming at me in the haunted house, and any entity or thought form that manifested as one. I learned that trying to fight, ignore, push away what I was dealing with was not working. I had to face it, accept it, work out what it had come to teach me and then work out how to set it free.
Was it easy, hell no. I fell asleep a lot, and encountered some really heavy stuff but I did not give up and that set me on the course for the rest of my life’s purpose. I had the attitude of no matter how tired I am I will come back tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that, till you get that I am not giving up on ‘me’.
A few years later I flew to England, not having any real idea why, to find out after a month of terrifying nightmares of witches being burned, hung, drowned (I was in Norwich, notorious for the early burning times) where the next step in my learning would be.
At the last minute, freaking out with no direction, it came. I was flipping through a well-known spiritual magazine at the time, feeling quite desperate as I knew I had to leave the house where the nightmares were so bad, when I saw a small, unpretentious ad in the bottom corner of a page. The college of contemporary shamanism and past life therapy. I rang and a synchronicity kicked in that led to me packing my bags. Some synchronicities are helpful, others not so much and can be distractions. This one was the former.
I took to the training like a duck to water. The landscape around the old converted mill in Devon was everything I desired. The teacher was a hard taskmaster but expert in their knowledge and ability. I lived there and became their apprentice. I had found my language.
I was taught to be an impeccable psychic gardener as well as a well-trained shamanic practitioner. I came to find that my sensitivity was my gift and I just had to work out how to manage it.
I did a lot of energetic retrieval, built up my core and found the depth of understanding that I needed to then carve my own path. My teacher, just before passing, handed over the teachings to me as she knew I would continue the path of service in my own way.
My credo as a practitioner with lived experience has always been ‘Safe Practices’ because to me that’s what was and is missing both in the psychiatric model and many of the alternative models of care that I tried.
My clients are sensitive people who have experienced abuse through both western modalities and alternative modalities and they need someone they can feel safe with. Someone who is interested in their story and is not seeking to inflame it, rather I help interpret it.
I have healthy boundaries now, in comparison to when I was young. My boundaries are no longer walls to keep people out. They are to contain my core and keep me safe so I can be a lighthouse for others walking that same sensitive path. As my teacher once said: “You being a sensitive soul by nature may always find a challenge in protecting yourself, but I can teach you to be an impeccable cleaner of debris.”
I have seen through the eyes of madness, as well as the mental health system’s lack and I found a gap I wanted to fill, to be of service to. My dark night of the soul, my fragmentation, changed the course of my life, and honestly I wouldn’t have it any other way. Imbalance is a formidable teacher in showing us where we can create balance.
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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