In September of 2000, I had a psychotic break that resulted in a 2-week stay on an inpatient psych ward after I spent nearly 10 days awake when I left my abusive boyfriend.
The real trauma started when I became lucid and began to heal enough to be discharged home with my parents. Dealing with everything that had led me to that point and accepting the fact that subjected to enough stress that I could break in ways I never imagined were possible — well, it was all brutal. That time was the most difficult period of my life. I blamed myself for what happened. I was alone. I had no one I was close to who had been through such an experience. I needed desperately to speak of the experience, but I also feared I’d be stigmatized should I share what had happened with others, that they’d take one look at me and decide I was “psycho,” just a stray comment or two away from stabbing someone. Fragile. Unstable. Possibly dangerous.
I was 19 years old but had retreated emotionally to a place where I was about 6 years old. Typically sexually liberated and adventurous to a point where some would call me hypersexual, I found I could not deal with thinking about sex at all and in fact in those first few months doing so filled me with such fear and disgust that I’d become dizzy and vomit. I limited my entertainment to PBS children’s programming and novels that I’d read before (mostly children’s books) that I knew were mild in content.
I took the meds and slept 14 hours a day, struggling to wake up so I could get to my college classes (I’d returned on a part-time basis at the urging of my parents). I packed on weight from the antipsychotics (Zyprexa), which made me feel even worse about myself, and quickly found that the only way to not balloon precipitously was to eat nearly nothing.
Meanwhile, I was seeing a counselor outpatient to deal with the substance abuse problems that had landed me into the compromised living situation in the first place, the ones that had led me to my dealer boyfriend and all the stress of our former life. She was wonderful at helping me figure out other ways to cope (I threw myself into my poetry, ending up winning some campus awards which was nice both for the cash and the validation) and instrumental at giving me practical advice for staying away from former drug friends and associates who would lead me back down the same paths. My friends of the time would attest that I still did a few dicey things even during that period of recovery (there was one rave I attended where the guy I was sort of seeing threw a lit cigarette at me because I wouldn’t snort a line with him), but the pendulum was definitely swinging back in the other direction, even if I felt my counselor’s reassurances were shallow (hollow validation) on some level, since after all, I was paying her to be there for me.
Ultimately, I became quite adept at the Cognitive Behavior Therapy self-talk techniques and fostered self-control, and somehow I survived.
It took a long time to heal from what had happened. Some might argue that I never have, not fully, and in truth, I didn’t have the underlying problem (dependent personality disorder) identified and treated until 2011, but nonetheless, I’ve been carrying an incredible amount of guilt, shame, and self-blame because of it.
I’ve been blaming myself all these years for the psychotic break, but I’ve been realizing more and more lately that it’s a virtual miracle with how people are and how I am that I’ve spent as much of my life as I have sane.
I suspect I’ll return to this topic again in the future, and many friends have encouraged me to write a memoir of my personal experiences with psychiatric illness and recovery, but it’s the most difficult and painful thing for me to write about, so I’ve put it off for quite some time and am quite stunned that I’m able to write and post this.
We shall see, I suppose.