“Remember what they did to you. You can’t trust them”, said a voice clearer in sound than anything I’ve ever heard before. I was alone, assuming I was overhearing a neighbour’s conversation, until it called my name. “Ellis”, it called me louder and louder until I followed it straight outside, but nobody was there. Yet, I could clearly hear someone talking to me, and that’s when my heart dropped in fear.
I’d been scared for a few days before I first heard the voice, but I attempted to brush the fear off by pinning it on my anxiety, which I’ve battled with for years prior. I wasn’t sure what it was that made me feel so worried, but it had made me sleep on my mother’s bedroom floor for two nights, and also made me wet the bed for the first time since I was a young child. Still, with strange things happening, I ignored each and every sign until I heard the voice; and then I was terrified.
Instantly, life became a whirlwind. No longer was I hearing one voice, I was hearing many. Different tones, different pitches, different words – none of them positive. My thoughts became flooded with memories that felt like my own, but didn’t align with things that I consciously remembered. I remembered sexual abuse that nobody, not even I, could confirm to be true. I remembered drug addictions that my frequent blood tests over the years denied. I remembered suicide attempts that just didn’t happen. “Remember, remember, remember”, kept ringing in my ears, and the things that I was being summoned to remember were gruesome. Being honest is an important key to living a healthy life, mentally. Unfortunately, when faced with an episode of Psychosis, it’s hard to separate your own reality, from the reality that your illness is creating for you. And that’s what I was facing, an illness, called Psychosis.
I didn’t know much about Psychosis before my own experience, so I had no rationale to combat the feelings I was experiencing. When the voices said, “Don’t trust them”, I listened, them being my family, the people attempting to take care of me, yet I could no longer trust them because the voices told me so. When the voices said, “spit”, I spat. And when the voices said, “walk to the other side of the kitchen and wee through your clothing”, I did exactly that. In front of a room full of worried loved ones. I disobeyed my morals, my beliefs, and my loved ones, and became obeying of voices that I’d just met. As medical professionals walked through my doors, the voices told me tales about them and why their intentions weren’t pure. Everyone was out to get me, according to them, and I had to forget everything I knew to be true, and adopt a new way of living to protect myself from death. Because the voices warned me that I would be brutally murdered by the ones I love.
Psychosis is a mental illness that causes people to perceive or interpret things differently from those around them, with symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions. Before my own experience, I assumed that the illness was straight forward in the sense that a person experiencing Psychosis would be so clouded by delusion that their true self would cease to exist whilst they were sick. That is not the case. I was still very present during my episode, which is what makes the illness so brutal. It felt like I was trapped inside of my skin, front-row watching someone else take control of my body; like a puppet. I still knew right from wrong, but the fear that riddled through my body when making a decision that went against everything the voices told me kept me from speaking my truths. I didn’t want to spit and shout, I didn’t want to swear in front of my grandmother and tell the nurses to get out of my house, but I did. Because I was in survival mode. And survival mode when you have Psychosis feels like giving in to the hallucinations and delusions and letting them win, simply for peace of mind. True survival mode, however, is seeking and accepting help; which is what I came to find when I surrendered.
From the first day that my mother took me to the hospital, I was given medication to manage the symptoms, although I wasn’t yet diagnosed. Again, I faced another war vs the voices. They warned me that taking the medication would kill me, yet it was handed to me every night by my mother, who, although I was warned not to trust her, I couldn’t believe in my heart would kill me. People commonly presume that your mental health illnesses outweigh the feelings in your heart, but they don’t. Psychosis taints perception, but your heart is still very active, and if anything you feel things even more intensely than you do when you’re well. Which is why, although I know that I’m not solely responsible for my actions during my psychotic break, I still feel remorse because I know that others were negatively affected by what I did, and what I said. It took me experiencing Psychosis for myself to realise that the illness is not as straight forward as people, including my old self, believe.
My first step to healing was choosing to trust my mother and take my Olanzapine, although I was being told not to. It wasn’t easy. I shook in fear, I hesitated to put the pill in my mouth, I held the pill in my mouth for minutes before swallowing, and then I cried myself to sleep in belief that I wouldn’t wake up in the morning. On the outside looking in, people were pointing fingers and telling me how important it was for me to take my medication, but it was so much easier said than done. Yes, the right medication for your mental illness can help heal you, but it takes more than just a pill. It’s a fight, against yourself, to disobey yourself – because the voices belong to you – and to trust someone that doesn’t truly know what you’re experiencing. None of the medical professionals I saw had experienced Psychosis, neither had my family members, but they were all telling me what to do as if it was easy; unknowing of just how heavy the weight I was under felt.
The more days that passed with me taking medication, the more I died. The voices were true in that sense, the medication would kill me, but not in the sense that I initially thought. The medication killed the voices, bit by bit, until they became whispers that turned into mere thoughts. It was hard to separate the two for a while: the voices and myself. I had become intertwined with my illness, to the point that I felt like it was me that had truly died. My mother would take me out to get used to society, gradually, and I felt invisible. People looked right through me. Nobody smiled at me anymore. Everyone else looked dead too, and it made me feel like I was in the afterlife. Everyone except for my mother. So, I held onto her with a tight grasp. I wouldn’t let her turn a corner without me being right by her side. Because she was the only thing keeping me between two worlds. If I let go of her, I would be truly dead with no way of resurrection. It would be the end of me for good; so I thought.
Things changed for me when I met my Godsend. For everyone experiencing Psychosis, their Godsend will be different. Some may find it in medication or the health specialists assigned to them, some may find it in loved ones. I found mine in a therapist. I found discomfort in speaking for months, because I was dead. The old me had died, and I was mourning her. No longer was I allowed to be oblivious to the state of my mental health. No longer could I brush off the damning thoughts that flooded my mind. I had to face my illness – head on. I had to accept that I was not well, and I had to talk about it. My therapist helped me find my own voice again, not that of the voices that spoke at me. She helped me rebirth my true self in a better form, a stronger form, by simply letting me talk, and allowing me to separate myself from my illness. I am not what happened to me, and I am not my sickness, before any of those things came to pass, I was Ellis. And when you’re experiencing Psychosis, it is important to have an end goal of finding who you are again; or you’ll settle for being anything. The first step is to stop judging yourself.
In The Collected Schizophrenias, a book of essay’s by Esmé Weijun Wang, the writer says, “Because I am capable of achievement, I find myself uncomfortable around those who are visibly psychotic and audibly disorganized.” Now imagine you’re the one visibly psychotic and audibly disorganised. Yet, still with the same discomfort. I made myself feel more uncomfortable than anyone around me felt. However, I used the discomfort to motivate me to learn about my illness, separate to my own being, and to learn how to manoeuvre in the same world with a different mind. Psychosis is not just the end of one mind state, it’s the beginning of a new life. But most importantly, it’s a marathon not a sprint. It’s an illness that takes a huge toll on you, but with patience and dedication, healing is not far fetched at all. It’s possible. And I’m living proof of that.