I was young when I had my psychotic episodes. I was in my twenties, and had the first one when I was 21. I’ve rarely heard people describing what these experiences are like to recover from. The episodes themselves are quite phenomenal. Although they are terrifying they left me with incredibly rich tales that I treasure and have recorded in various ways. But I’ve never talked about what happened after these episodes. When I left hospital. When I was left to pick up the pieces of my life. So, this is a brief tale of those experiences.
I’m not sure how science would describe the state of the brain after it has been psychotic. But, from the first-person perspective, it is like your brain has exploded. As though your brain is a big fuse box and every fuse, every neuron, has been lit up by lightning. What is left, afterwards, is a skull full of burnt, dead, fried grey matter. Nothing works.
It’s hard to describe what this ‘nothing works’ is like. Apparently, according to Buddhism, we are supposed to live in the moment. Well, after these episodes I most definitely did live in the moment. But there was nothing enlightened about it. It was like hell. Or, rather, purgatory. That is how it felt at the time. I was living in purgatory and every moment, every second of every day, was both full of pain – and empty. Empty of meaning and hope.
I was stuck in the present and time seemed to stand still. When I woke in the morning it would take an eternity to reach noon. And for a split second I would celebrate having made it this far. But immediately I would be plunged into depression again. Because as the day crept towards an end I knew I would sleep and then find myself facing another endless day.
It was Groundhog Day. I was living an eternal, and excruciating, now. A moment that never shifted or changed. Where the ‘me’ of my experience was held prisoner – trapped inside a skull that was an echo chamber. Locked inside. And for every second, every second for months on end, the only thought in my mind was of how I wished to die.
Gosh! That’s depressing, isn’t it? I didn’t know if it would ever end. It was an impossible time. I had one ray of hope when I was 23 and recovering from my second breakdown. I met a girl a bit older than me on the psych ward, and I can’t remember her exact words, but she told me things would get better. No one else said that to me. So, I treasured her words and hoped she was right.
Of course, things do get better. But it takes time. And, in these states, time is the enemy. Because our brains refuse to work. Our brains are burnt out, fried, like I said. All we can do is wait until they recover.
There are lots of tales I could tell about these times in my life. After my first breakdown, I was sent to live with my parents. This was not a good move but I’m not sure what the alternative was at the time. The thing about these experiences is that no one knows what you are going through. And I had no way to describe it. I remember my mother not understanding why I was ‘bored’. It wasn’t boredom of course, it was something far worse. But she thought she would amuse me by sending me into the backyard to pull weeds. I remember kneeling on some paving stones, pulling out the weeds that were growing between them, and thinking to myself ‘could it possibly get worse than this?!’
The most important point to my story is that life gets better. And we do recover. It just takes a long time and is a slow process. Your life has shattered into a million pieces, and the job of picking up those pieces seems impossible. But it happens, slowly. There is light at the end of the tunnel.
And I think this is what all young people in psychiatric wards need to be told. That their life is not over. That they have a future. That things will improve. Because it is difficult to know this when you are young and when you are in that place.
Another point to my tale, or moral if you like, is my bewilderment at why people who experience these episodes are stigmatized. Because I know how hard we work to survive these experiences. And I know how brave we are.
Recovering from psychosis is the hardest thing I’ve done in my life. And I’ve done it three times. It hurts to think about these times and remember what they were like. All I know is that I’m so grateful that I didn’t die. Because my life has been rich and full of joy. And this is something that those suffering need to be told. Loudly and clearly. Life gets better.