Akathisia is truly an indescribable thing—and has to be one of the most hellish experiences on earth. It’s like your brain is hijacked. Every day I thought could be my last.
It has taken me close to three years to be able to live with my memories from the hospital, where I felt completely and utterly alone, despairing that I might never live a normal life or see my family again.
Dating someone when you have a history of “schizophrenia” is very hard. I figured that if people left me for something as common as depression, anyone hearing my story of psychosis would give me an immediate boot. My initial efforts were awkward and lacked discretion — into each date I’d burst, willing to commit for an eternity with unconditional love.
Around me in the room I could see the different faces lit up by the big whiteboard raised above us. “There are these symptoms...” The psychiatrist would talk for long periods of time, while the nurses would sit quiet, nodding. I became skeptical and thought: “You are trying to talk me into something.”
I wanted to spare you, my son, from suffering like I did. I wanted to give you every opportunity I could. You have grown into a good man, a caring and successful man, yet you still have to fear for your life in this country. You still feel pain when you see what is happening.
My personal and professional experiences have taught me that the only way to address mental health is holistically. If you are struggling with anxiety or depression, I believe it is necessary to attend to all of your bodies—physical, mental, emotional and spiritual—in order to achieve wellness.
Ironically, my post-traumatic stress disorder no longer stems from the events that led to my hospitalizations, but from the maltreatment I received within the hospitals. Now, every time I take my medication late or miss a dose, I feel the unsettling presence of dissociation creeping in, the terrifying panic of losing my mental bearings and being rehospitalized.
Free flow had characterized my creative process — and now an art practice that had come naturally since my childhood was extinguished. Not only were my reproductive capabilities shut down on psychiatric drugs, my ability to create art had been effectively disabled.
A conflict in my personal life made it possible for me to imagine the power of emotional trauma to trigger a mental health disorder—and gave me new insights about what can help heal it.
When I read recovery stories, I am sometimes challenged by the prospect of thinking about my life in linear terms, "Here are the years...
Why am I whole when I dance and paint but deathly ill when faced by a European/American medical mechanic? Why was I locked in a room for a week in the first place? Was it to heal? Or was it to fill a bed?
I feel like I have been failed by the healthcare system over and over again. I expected to be able to rely on therapists, psychologists, and doctors to properly evaluate, diagnosis, and treat me… especially when chronic suicidality is in the picture. Instead, I have a lengthy list of ways I have been failed. These failures have often added to my hopelessness.
Back in 1983, I put myself in a mental ward. I desperately wanted help with my eating disorder, but no one took these types of problems seriously back then. The ward was rather nice, so I returned many times. Nothing good ever came of it, but I always hoped this time, it will do some magic. Every time I left, I'd realize my eating problems hadn't been solved at all.
We have all become assembly line workers in the factory of mental health. At the facility, I put in at least 50 hours and live with a constant dread of not having clicked a button, of not having made another phone call, of overlooking the sadness in someone’s eyes. The risk of burnout or empathy fatigue is high, yet the machine hums along.
Recovery is not a bridge we cross and never return to. Rather, it is more like crossing a stream we ford by side-stepping on different stones. Not all of the stones are as sturdy as some of the others. Yes, we slip at times, only to regain our footing and forge ahead.
The following are some excerpts from my journal about my inpatient experience. Please know that the people in that hospital often reached out to one another in beautiful ways, but overall felt frustrated and stressed due to an oppressive and sterile environment with little positive reinforcement.
I need somebody who will push through that thick cotton wool ball with me until that moment when we can toss it away altogether. Someone who really tries to look at this world through the lens of my life, not theirs.
What I want to share with you, dear readers, is how spiritual experiences like mine have been reflected in so many people’s stories of being labeled with psychotic disorders.
Flying from Anchorage to Cleveland while suffering from life-threatening akathisia was going to be a constant push-pull between the urge to freak out and maintaining my body and psyche so as not to scare the other passengers.
People who can’t take care of themselves need support and protection, but guardianship provides neither. I know: I've lived it.
I want to share the journey I took to find a new language, a new story, around my experiences and how that journey impacted my survival.
I am now haunted by guilt that my daughter never really had a chance for anything like a normal life, because of the choices that were made for her. Choices made with the 'best' medical advice of the day, which I had never quite accepted as correct, but in the end largely complied with for lack of any clear alternative.
It would take decades before I recognized the trauma caused by repeatedly being separated from my mom when she was hospitalized. I grieved almost exactly the way children did who had lost a parent to death. Yet it was grief without closure because my mom was not dead, just... gone.
How did I become someone who could barely function? I was a high-performing sales executive ranked in the top 2% of an international business communications company. But now, after using powerful psych meds for depression and anxiety for more than a decade, I couldn’t do basic things like go to the grocery store, plan a meal, make dinner, or get together with friends.
After suffering PTSD in the late 1980s, I reluctantly accepted antidepressants. In time, I had resolved the trauma, but when I tried to stop the antidepressants (Prozac, and later Zoloft), I assumed my desperate feelings and “return” of depression were an indication I had an imbalance and needed those drugs. I didn’t understand I was experiencing withdrawal. (I was never told that for most people, psychiatric medications need to be tapered.)