Someone asked me the other day: but what has changed in terms of psychiatric treatment in twenty years?
I can reflect on this question because I have been dealing with the psychiatric system for a long time. I got my first psychosis twenty years ago, and they came back every couple of years until two and a half years ago, when I finally met a brilliant psychiatrist who found me a medication that seems to keep me stable, without any side-effects. I am on a cocktail of ‘drugs’, especially designed for me. Not because I am terrified of psychoses, but because I have a son who needs me. I can’t continue being in and out of the psychiatric hospitals while I raise him, and, unfortunately, with a psychosis, going to the hospital is the only choice, at least where I have been living, in Belgium, the Netherlands and England.
No, my psychoses have been beautiful experiences in their majority. It’s in them, in the state of ‘psychosis’ that I experience what can be described as magic or simply reaching for God. It’s in them that I rejoice in my faith (Christianity), and hear angels and the voice of God. I also hear from the devil (and see him), which confirmed for me that what is written in my religion is true. It’s all real.
‘Psychoses’ are also a real thing in terms of needing a safe place to be able to process them, whatever might be your individual experience with it. My psychoses have been beautiful, but I hear from many others, that it has been terrible. Lots of other patients/survivors/people with lived experience have told me about absolute horror in a ‘psychosis’, accusing me of trying to romanticize severe mental illness.
It isn’t what I am trying to do. I am just trying to find some meaning. My psychoses have had meaning for me. Apart from seeing and experiencing very unusual things, they also healed me from terrible stomach pain and trauma from my adolescence. When you hear a voice of God, you feel validated. When you have powerful visions, you feel enlightened, on top of the world. When you encounter the domain of magic, it enriches your life.
It was in 2008 that I tried to enter the Abbey in Brussels, in order to get help. I lived right across the Abbey, that stands magnificently on top of the ‘Les Etangs d’Ixelles’ (the lakes of Ixelles) in Brussels. I could admire it from my balcony. It was a minute’s walk away from my apartment.
I ran one evening towards it, because I felt that another ‘psychosis’ was coming. I can’t really describe the feeling, as it has no equivalent in our modern society. Maybe the term ‘enlightenment’ comes the closest to it, but in my case, I would multiply it by ten. It is the feeling of absolute deep connection with the universe and God.
Instead of calling mental health services, I decided to try the Abbey. I ran towards the church on the Abbey’s grounds. I wanted to be there, to ask for help and to stay, in order to process my psychosis. It’s a weird experience, the ‘psychosis’, one needs protection and a safe place in that state.
There was an angry man in front of the church, throwing pieces of bread at a dog. He was blocking the entrance for me, shouting at me that I was a ‘dirty woman’. I remember standing there, feeling totally miserable and upset, and there was nothing I could do about it. There was no one else in the proximity to help me to enter the church. At some point even the birds stopped singing, when the main shouted at me again: ‘Go away, you! Go away!’ And I walked away, crying and eventually reached my apartment, and the next day, my mother arrived from the UK, put on me on the plane and brought me to Sheffield, where we called emergency services and I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital in Sheffield.
As for all other mental services in the Western hemisphere, they weren’t interested in my experience in a psychosis. They were only interested in symptoms of an illness, the fact that I could hear things and see visions. For them they were delusions.
But for me they had meaning. I have been thinking about it for a long time. I do accept the fact that I have vulnerability to psychoses, and the fact that I need to take psychiatric medication probably for the rest of my life, but I can’t accept that what I see and hear in my ‘psychosis’ are things that are purely due to my brain activity. Yes, there was an angry man in front of the church in Brussels, and he could have been the devil. Why not, especially when you happen to be a Christian (like me) and believe in God and what is written in the Bible? It clearly says that devil is real, and I saw him several times in my life. What if my psychoses are just deeply religious experiences on my part?
But psychiatry, twenty years ago or now, denies me the possibility to find some meaning. Their reasoning is based purely in a bio-medical model, and while I agree that in some cases, medication is really needed (I do need it), I don’t agree with diagnoses and I don’t agree that it’s a chronic mental illness. I am not ill in between my psychoses. I lead a very active life. I moved between countries, I work almost full-time, I raise a son, take care of my home and my cat.
Last time I was in a psychosis, I felt I was Jesus Christ. It’s considered, of course, as delusion of grandeur by psychiatry, but when I dug deeper into my own understanding of it and analysed as to why I had felt that way, I discovered that when one believes in Jesus, one can become one, by embracing what he stands for and represents. I want to do something good for the world when I am in such as state (psychosis). I want to do some nice things for humanity. But the psychiatrists, then (twenty years ago) and now, remain totally inflexible in terms of what a patient tells them. They simply prescribe me some more medication, and look at it as an illness.
For me, such an approach is damaging. It takes away my agency. I don’t feel schizophrenic, or bipolar, or suffering from schizo-affective disorder (I received all these labels during the twenty years that I have dealt with psychiatry). I don’t feel that I am sick. I feel that I have access to some parallel reality, where God is present, and so is the devil, and where I sometimes hear the voice. I hear the voice of God.
I heard some voices, and they were magnificent. It isn’t an illness, but a spiritual gift.
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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