Am I mental?
When someone says 'psychotic' or 'psychosis' to me, I immediately think of the shower scene from Alfred Hitchock's classic film Psycho.
The music, the camera angles, the expressions on Janet Leigh's face, the way she thuds to the tiled bathroom floor (if you’re not a film nerd go and Google 'psycho shower scene').
Then I immediately think of the Mr. Donut Man scene, from that other cinematic classic, and one of my favourite films ever, Wayne's World. I love the way that Dana Carvey reprises Hitchock's classic in the form of doughnuts held together with skewers, complete with the 'ree ree ree ree' string sound effects as he stabs Mr. Donut Man repeatedly! (See my comment above about film nerds.)
The first scene is terrifying, the second is by turn bemusing, ironic, uncomfortable; hilarious.
I'm sure that many people would think of terrifying, uncomfortable things when they heard the words 'psychotic' or 'psychosis'. How would you react if a doctor said it to you? And told you you had it? Or some form of it? And that you would need to take medicine for the rest of your life as you had a chronic disability? How would life play out – like the terrifying shower scene, or the ironic doughnut scene? When you took time off work, off life, what would you tell people? How would you explain your actions to your friends and family?
I told my colleagues, friends and family that I was depressed. Depression. I experienced that too. It somehow seems less confronting than 'psychotic' or 'psychosis'. Hell, even John Kirwin had it, so it mustn't be that bad! Maybe people could understand or excuse or ignore my behaviour in that context, maybe I could survive; even recover.
For around five years I experienced daily paranoia about people tracking me, about receiving messages through receivers implanted in my teeth by an army of guerilla dentists (c.f. 12 Monkeys – Google 'crazy dentist', you know the drill).
How would I survive each day when I believed that I was under constant surveillance, being tracked, that my enemies might harm my family unless I did what they told me, that my nemesis could appear from anywhere on any street at any time (and did so once or twice)? How would I survive the suicidal thoughts that plagued me constantly?
Thanks to a loving wife, who has strength I can only wonder at every day. Thanks to a wonderful nurse who had coffee with me every week while I tried to hold down a high pressure management job. To a wonderful psychology student who asked me about my self without any threat of sending me back to the psych ward. Thanks to surfing, running a half-marathon (after one failed attempt), a couple of understanding and caring bosses (one of whom I still work for).
I managed to rise like a phoenix from the ashes. Thanks to wonderful friends who visited me in the ward (google One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, it's a reasonable proxy), thanks to my children who gave me tears, joy, and a reason to stay well. Thanks to my drugs, although I found them a double-edged sword, and as I approached wellness again I found they did me more harm than good. Thanks to a reserve of inner strength I never knew I had.
I'm not out of the woods yet. I have to work hard to stay well, to stay connected with my friends, to not lose track of what is real. Sometimes I walk to work, and remember terrifying things that never happened, which I now find uncomfortable, bemusing, instead of terrifying. I can function again, I can think clearly, my thoughts are rational. I don't believe I'm under surveillance. I'm doing well at work, I have a house and great family.
So if you know someone who has been diagnosed with a psychotic illness (Google it…), don't be afraid of them. Don't be afraid if they tell you they think they are being tracked, if they are suspicious of you. When you walk down the street, and see someone walking along talking to someone very real (who you can't see), who looks like they don't have a home or job or friends, don't be afraid. People experiencing psychosis don't need your fear, we need your compassion and understanding, your patience, your friendship. We need to to not give a shit that we look and sound mental.
Perhaps the most important thing I have learnt from my experiences with psychosis is that we are all responsible for each other. You might be the difference between whether someone survives life, or not. Also that psychosis is a stupid word. Kinda like AIDS was in the 1980s. Just like AIDS, it can stigmatise you, cause you unnecessary suffering, and end your life without the right treatment. We all have a part to play in reducing stigma around mental health, and allowing the vulnerable people among us to live a good life - without fear of seeking help, in case you think we're mental.
If the content in this site is distressing or triggering, or, if you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, we have added in contact details below. If you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call the police immediately on 111.
• NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor (available 24/7)
• LIFELINE: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• SUICIDE CRISIS HELPLINE: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633
• KIDSLINE: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
•WHATSUP: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757