I have been asked a lot lately about what happened to me which led to me sitting sobbing in a Psych Ward.
Perhaps I have always been a little bit mad, yet a combination of deeply personal stressors just pushed me into new chemical territory leading to some sort of ‘it’. That perhaps the burden I had assumed over my life wasn’t going to be consciously put down, so I needed life to knock the shit out of me until I literally couldn’t keep carrying that shit around. I don’t know if this was chemical, mental, emotional, psychic or an illusion. I don’t know what you would call what happened to me, but it was the surrealist real I have ever experienced, and that is saying something!
The experts say that I had a nervous breakdown, that I have bi-polar type 1, that I had a psychotic break, that ‘it’ damaged my brain and I should treat it like a head injury and even that my kundalini awakened and so am now more spiritual! WTF… Each person gives ‘it’ a name, a label, an identity without really knowing the inner experience of what happened. So, who is to say, when no-one can agree?
I can feel that behind all the questions, weighted pre-conceived judgements about who I am, what happened and even what mental health issues are meant to look like, impose their burden. Our society seems to revere sanity (unless you are a high functioning/productive lunatic) and anyone outside of that is really cast out.
Of course, no one likes to think they are unkind to the ill, fragile, vulnerable or marginalised – that would be like kicking a kitten down the stairs! However, what I encountered when my skin had been ripped from my body leaving me exposed, raw and receptive to life in a totally new way, was so much ingrained cruelty we accept as normal social behaviour. Often well intentioned, yet superficial glib campaigns suggesting that we help those suffering by asking ‘R U Ok’ or checklists found on Facebook on how to support those suffering, lead to so much more harm.
In my experience, the attempts to support those genuinely in need through these mechanisms only absolves those witnessing another’s meltdown from the need to do anything substantial, enduring or effective. It simply offers those who want to be seen to help but who don’t have the capacity, a quick getaway. They can step up with the platitudes and then away as quickly as possible, never to be heard from again.
So, crazy looks different on every individual. Their cracks fall in the fault lines of their individual traumas which of course are unique and deeply personal.
I can tell you what crazy feels like and is experienced as, when approached by others who want to ‘help’ …
The projections are insane! To be so sensitive that you can feel so much subconscious matter. That the shadows borne within one are cast onto the other without any awareness and which is absorbed as there is no skin. It requires the ‘helper’ to have done some deep inner work. Often the ‘sane’ ones are really quite sick and if you could have seen from my perspective what others were carrying, it would be shocking how the sick carry the burden of the sane. At least my crazy was visible to all and relatively benign, if not selfish & depressive.
Mostly when people hear that you have been ‘unwell’ they offer either consciously or unconsciously;
PITY – ‘Oh you poor thing. You broken damaged fool who is weak and can’t handle life. You are broken, beyond repair and will never be normal. You will remain separate and sick forever and sorry, but we don’t really want anything to do with you. You are not normal like the rest of us’.
SUSPICIOUS – ‘Was she really even sick. She admitted herself to hospital, so it can’t have been that bad. She is always having to go one up on everyone and this “crazy” trip that she is on, is just another way for her to be “special”. I have had a much more difficult life than her and I am okay so what is she complaining about’.
CONDESCENDING – ‘If only she would have listened to me, then she wouldn’t be in this position. I always knew something was wrong with her. She just needs to get over it and get on with it. Things aren’t that bad, just think positive and everything will change. You are bringing this upon yourself. Things have been difficult for me too, but I just look for the good in people and situations and everything works out’.
FEAR – ‘There was nothing that happened to you that created this – it is simply your fault. I can’t deal with you or your emotions. If I hang out with you, and you are known to be a little odd, then people will think I am odd and that there is something wrong with me. Maybe it is contagious. She is so fragile, we can’t be around her in case something happens’.
ANGER – ‘Don’t tell anyone that you were sick, no-one cares and so there is no need to talk about it. Why did you get hospital, housing and an opportunity to get a fresh start when I didn’t? You always land on your feet and I must struggle for everything. I have given you so much and you just don’t appreciate it.’
AUTHORITY – ‘Just listen to me. That is not right, you should……. I am not sure you are in a position to question my authority. You need my help because clearly you are sick and are not really thinking straight. I know you are doing your best but really you need me to help you. You must take these drugs and if you don’t, we will make you.
What does it feel like from within to go a little bit mad?
The events that occurred in the 6 months leading up to me admitting that perhaps things were a little off and something was wrong were;
- Moving overseas but it not working out
- Identity dissolution (separation from very close knit and intense community)
- Return to place of deep trauma and unresolved past issues – away from support network
- Attempting full time academic studies for the first time at 43 years old
- Dysfunctional family dynamics impacted heavily on my existence
- Financial Resources limited and work opportunities scarce
- Psychic or unexplained phenomena became overwhelming & intrusive to daily life
I think the combination of these factors probably caused the tipping point of my nose dive over the sanity cliff and what I first noticed was the Shame. No-one tells you that this is what will happen. You roll around your mind all the ways that you failed. You tell yourself that if I had only practiced a little more or harder or better or something – because everyone tells you that Yoga works and so if it is not working, you must be the problem. If I had only listened to those experts, who cast advice like Maltesers onto the screens of other people’s lives. If only I wasn’t so different, weird or weak. Why am I so weak? The loss of the child you were and the broken adult you have become. That there is no-one to get out of this mess but you, yet you are the one that arrived here. So, there is a shame that you have failed as a human. That you have become less human or unworthy of basic human rights. And that’s exactly what happens. Your choices are diminished, and you are told what you can and can’t do. Basic decisions I had grown accustomed to, as an adult, were suddenly removed and I was managed by a team of specialists.
Then there are the affects of the drugs which accentuate the crazy. The first I noticed were the turrets like symptoms. Thoughts would explode right at the forefront of the mind. Prior to ‘it’ happening, thoughts would flow in – I could see them coming and would have time to see them and respond. However, after this, they were simply not there one minute and but fully formed the next and at the forefront of my mind. This would cause me to have a physical shock and reel, flailing my limbs mid conversation. Clearly that didn’t help me go stealth crazy! Then there was the inability to concentrate, focus or string together thoughts in a cohesive and systematic way. I became slow and mentally sluggish. Foggy thoughts led to the inability to pull words out and lost the capacity to name the most basic things in mid conversation. I would forget the name for things like stairs, shoes, tomorrow etc…. People stopped trying to talk to me as most of the time I was simply searching for illusive rabbits of ideas. Then there was the plummeting blood pressure which led to the nausea and blackouts. Scrambled vision made reading impossible and therefore any job associated with writing, reading or communication was clearly beyond me. Not to mention the fatigue which is underscored by a dull adrenaline pulse and the prickly Echidna who has taken up residence deep in your tissues who decides to chase the ants right when you decide to sleep! Really unpleasant and unrelenting.
Then there is the isolation. The experiences which led to ‘it’. The experience of ‘it’ and the by-products of ‘it’ are not normally discussed or addressed in social conversation. If attempted to in the hope that disclosure would explain some of the difficulties encountered, then the onslaught of all the above projections began, which had to be combated. There were those that were curious about my being sick – Was it real? What is a psych ward really like? and used it as an opportunity for them to get up close to a world they will never know but without any real connection to what was happening for me. My experience was about them and their needs not mine.
The senses are piqued yet the ability to relate is removed. I could feel everything, hear comments from the other room, catch an eye-roll from behind a wall and even feel a critical judgement launched at me as an arrow to my heart. Then there were the overt attacks. I find that some people see that you are so vulnerable and verbally, physically or socially assault you and this is accepted as normal behaviour and to be expected as just part of everyday living. People, and particularly groups of people, became terrifying and places where I experienced deep and painful trauma.
The exhaustion and deep fatigue which demands you to sleep insane amounts. A loss of appetite and yet a desire to get better and so I forced the healing. I said yes when I should have said no. I was asked to assist another who was sick, and it made me even more unwell. I am curious about why someone would ask one who is clearly unwell to help, when there are so many others who had the bandwidth which I didn’t. I got hit again and had to start again, but with another layer of hurt.
Slowly, I noticed that I could stay awake longer, I was noticing the beauty a little more, I was laughing or open to smiling at life and that I wanted to plan for a future I couldn’t yet see. Month by month I am returning to a new version of myself. There are elements that are familiar and so many that I don’t recognise. I don’t know who I am, where I am going or what is this life, but I am walking and hoping that soon, something will make sense…
What does a mad person needs?
How to help someone you care about through this time?
What I do know at this point is that ‘it’ happened as a result of believing others knew how to live my life better than me. That I was too broken to understand how to live properly and so needed help – clearly that is untrue and irresponsible. I gave everyone and anyone willing, the chance to tell me how to do me. Gradually removing self-confidence and self-reliance until I was lost without others telling me what do to. I looked to family, friends, teachers, organisations and even foes!
Now that is crazy!!!
I was lost to myself and slowly had to reclaim me. This was often confronting as it required that I mark boundaries around my wellbeing, my values and around my skills which had previously been misused, dismissed or abused.
When a grown person starts redesigning themselves, many who had come to relate to the outdated self are shocked, confused or even at times unwilling to have the game changed. Particularly, if their needs are no longer being met the way they once were.
So, when someone is recovering from ‘it’, they may not always be clear on boundaries. These will develop as the new personality forms and so a way to support them is to encourage them to value their needs, time, beliefs, desires and hopes which may or may not support yours. It is called love people, and these people are very open to giving it, receiving it and appreciating it when it’s offered.
Recognise they are in transition and probably quite different to who they once were. This will be confusing for them as well as for you. Show up anyway. Let them know that you are with them on this journey. You were friends before when they may have been fun or giving or whatever drew you into friendship with them, and you may just like who they become even more. Or maybe not. But if you choose, stick with them. A phone call on a regular basis. Requests to meet up and do things even if the answer is always a no, tell them how much they are valued, appreciated and that you admire their resilience and trust their capacity to heal.
Unless you have been sitting on a psych ward bed sobbing, best leave your understanding to those that have. Listen and hear what your ‘friend’ has experienced. Don’t assume you know what it was like, what led them to either being committed or the difficult decision to take themselves into admission. If they have struggled in the past, you can assume that it has now escalated but attributing blame, shame or righteousness into your thinking process, is not helpful, accurate or kind. Also, if their conversations are circuitous or repititous, it means they are trying to work things out. Just give them room and don’t be so quick to jump in with all the chaos in your world that you want to share or get help with. Can you hold space for them as they hold space for you – even if that space seems a little funky?
If the relationship changes and your crazy friend wants to discuss dynamics which they can no longer accept or which have caused them pain in the past within your relationship, notice if you are willing to go on a journey with them. If you are not willing to grow with them and address perhaps your own issues while they look at theirs, then be honest. Own the fact that you are not ready, not willing or not interested rather than accuse, attack, manipulate or humiliate your friend. It is simply time to move on. If you are willing to do the work, then perhaps both of you will grow in ways you never imagined.
Your crazy friend may experience things much more intensely. For example, nature, music, art, kids and dogs. If they spend a little too much time attending to strangers, make friends with anybody, laugh a little to loud at the most mundane event and delight in the joy expressed through other beings, then please just let them. Others may judge them or think they are being intrusive, weird or odd but a reset in thinking about our one human family can be an opportunity for everyone. Learning to live in the moment and love all people, not just your loved ones and family but accepting everyone and everything as part of your life that deserves love and appreciation. Celebrating existence and being devoured by life is quite something.
The counter side of the above is that they may suffer at the suffering of our existence. At the pain of others, the planet and those forgotten or left behind. An empathy increases and they may just feel a little too much and be a little heart sore if they encounter distress. They may need time, support and peace to repair after an experience like this.
Labelling them as being ‘too sensitive’ is not useful. They are sensitive and that is their gift and their curse. This is something they are, and they are learning to live with and deal with. Accusing them or shaming them for being them is quite hurtful and deeply disrespectful.
If you are a carer, an expert or healer, please ensure that you are seeing your friend. That you are just showing up with love and letting them navigate their life and their experience. Your technical knowledge may be valid, but it will also be limited and incorrect for them at times. Be willing to look at your need for power, authority and fear for them, so that you empower, enable and simply support your friend to make their own decisions in their best individual life.
To be honest, I think I am mad. But mad about the how deeply unkind we are to each other. The insanity of me handing over the authority of my life, assuming my mother, my teachers and an organisation could effectively live my life for me because I was too diminished to do. I am crazy in the belief that we can create a better world – one of kindness, beauty, love, harmony and upliftment for all. And am a lunatic for loving a man that exists only in my mind, one whom I cannot touch in life.
I was asked if ‘it’ was a pervading experience or just episodic? And I really don’t know. Was this a once in a lifetime event or is this a chink in my nature which I will always have to manage. I don’t know – that is a question for a sane person perhaps!