Seaneen is the three-quarter sized Irish writer behind The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive blog. In her spare time she enjoys tea, hurling insults at the television and tutting at those who tut at others on public transport. She lives in London with two cats and eight million other people.
After the psychosis has gone
30th November 2008
I've been stalked, poisoned, financially ruined and have sat in front of a mirror peeling chunks of dead skin off my face as though it were glue on my fingers, due to a horrific disease that had infected my youthful flesh.
Have I had a life worthy of my own Hallmark television movie? Will I be immortalised by a translucent Hollywood waif? Alas not. I have manic depression, and for the past decade I've been experiencing frequent bouts of psychosis.
Psychosis is portrayed as the heart of madness. The most utterly nonsensical set of delusional beliefs can exist in a coldly rational vacuum away from the really real world, and remain unwavering even in the face of advice like: "Look, there's no way you're being stalked. You're not that interesting, you know". And it's highly improbable that a four-foot long rat is in your bathroom - but it's there, nonetheless. Every one of your senses tells you it's there. You can see it. You can hear it. And, if you're brave, you can get close enough to smell it.
At the time, you could watch Gordon Brown fly into your microwave and it would seem completely normal. After the fact, though, as the mists clear and you begin your descent to Earth, it's time to deal with the fall out.
There's a little known fact about psychosis, a piece of information so crucially omitted from the various 'So, You Think You're Crazy?' handbooks littered around GP surgeries, and it's this: psychotic episodes can cause deep embarrassment to the people who have experienced them.
Psychotic episodes can feel like one long, drunken bender. However, instead of one night, it's one week, or one month, or one year. Some of us will remember exactly what happened during the episode, and some of us are equally cursed and blessed with forgetfulness. But not for long. Bystanders will remind you that you were animatedly regaling them with tales of how you're related to the Queen, and some day, somehow, at some point, the flashbacks will begin their onslaught.
My psychotic episodes have been many and varied, and appeared in the context of severe mania and equally severe depressions. When the symptoms were subtle, I'd barricade my doors, tape up my cupboards and refuse to speak to my friends and eye their hair pins and badges with suspicion. I could be quiet and withdrawn, locked in my own world populated by shadows. Other times, though, my episodes of psychosis were all-singing, all-dancing public displays of crazy.
If you'd bumped into me in September 2006, you'd have noticed that I wasn't at my usual, charming best. I was panicked, paranoid and incoherent. My hair was a wiry, bedraggled mess, adorned by the leaves of the hedges I'd been hiding in. I thought I was being stalked by Danny John Jules, who you may know as the stylish, suave Cat from Red Dwarf. My rationale was that he was after me because he was angry that me and Tony Robinson (who I referred to as 'The Robinson') had written a new series of Maid Marian and her Merry Men ... and we had slyly excluded him from it.
Sounds far-fetched? To me, it was utterly reasonable. Of course, Danny John Jules would be angry at me for excluding him from a show he'd previously been part of. Why wouldn't he be? Likewise, I had my reasons for walking the streets of Belfast barefoot trying to convert people. I, the eternal atheist, believed I was a disciple of Jesus and was saving the masses. And had you asked me why I was inviting complete strangers back to my home at four in the morning, I'd have told you it was because we were destined to be friends.
These episodes were, for the most part, lost on me. I only remembered little bits when I was recovering and drifting on a sea of antipsychotic medication. I was horrified by my behaviour. Worse still was the fact that other people had to fill in the gaps. The sheer humiliation of being seen so naked and unwell was almost unbearable.
So how do we resist the temptation to punish ourselves for something that, essentially, we have little control over?
In a perfect world, we'd all be able to catch ourselves before we fall. We'd get help with our problems before they become unmanageable and sleekly divert ourselves from the gigantic iceberg looming ahead. But we can't always do that. Sometimes, we will hit it, and we will sink.
If you can, seek counselling, either in person or over the phone. If you're under the care of a community mental health team, speak to your psychiatrist or nurse. Mental health charities often offer counselling services for free or for a small donation, and sessions can help unravel the experiences and provide ways with which to deal with whatever consequences have arisen as a result of them. If you can, be upfront with people and explain why, and how, you behaved in such a manner. There will be parts that you can make light of, and parts you can't. Some may be accepting, some puzzled, some unperturbed and some might grab you by the collars and bellow "Get away from me!" into your face. Their response is their responsibility, not yours. Above all, try to be kind to yourself. It was you, after all, who went through it.
Psychosis can be a devastating, but valuable experience. Where else could I have been best friends with Tony Robinson?
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