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Psychosis and me

23/05/2013

The schizophrenic drowns in the same ocean in which the mystic swims with delight” – Joseph Campbell

Hallucinations may be a normal part of religious experience in certain cultural contexts” – DSM-IV

There are several negative reasons why I refuse to treat my bipolar with prescription medications, the foremost being my extensive reading of clinical trial data.

I have both tertiary and professional training in statistical analysis and the fact is that when you strip away the hype, interrogate the surrogate endpoints and discard the products of frenetic data slicing aimed at producing publishable results at any price, psychiatric medications just aren’t very effective. In fact the main difference between most psychiatric drugs and sugar pills is the serious side-effects that so often come with the former.

But I also have a positive reason for rejecting Big Pharma’s poisonous blockbusters, though talking about it has caused psychiatrists to shake their heads with concern and counselors to go wide-eyed with horror.

mad-pride
You see, I like psychosis.
When I can, I often induce it deliberately.
And I’ve become quite adept at doing so.

Although I’m pretty sure my bipolar and my psychotic episodes are closely linked I’ve been subject to psychotic breaks for much longer than I have displayed symptoms consistent with bipolar disorder. My earliest memories of such experiences go back to my early childhood attempts to control my breathing and panic attacks in the face of asthma induced hypoxia.

Right from the start I was fascinated at the magical world which suddenly opened to me – merged with me – though I have never been able to find words to begin to describe it. And while I have had rare flashes of fear – even existential terror – while under the influence of psychosis, my experiences on the whole have been overwhelmingly pleasant and infinitely interesting.

And they’ve helped me. More than any person, practice, dogma or therapy ever has.

Last October I had what was  the most intense and sustained psychotic break of my life. Like most of my psychoses of recent decades, this one was deliberately induced with mental exercises when I realised that a manic upswing had placed it within my reach and was largely under conscious control for most of its duration. In fact it was really a series of relatively brief psychotic breaks interleaved with periods of ‘normality’ during which I tried, unsuccessfully as always, to capture the insights it seemed to offer in communicable form by writing them down.

Three days in I had the ‘flash’ and knew I had attained something profoundly life changing.

The non-dual state of mind I generally enter while psychotic stayed with me for over a week and during that time many questions I had long been asking about myself and my relationship to the universe as a whole were answered. Again, what I mean is essentially inexpressible, but I found that many of the tensions and mysteries within me had a kind of mirror correlate in my ‘external’ reality. When I brought them together, they resolved themselves into the fundamental unity that I firmly believe underlies all experiential reality.

See, I told you it was hard to explain.

What I can explain is that the existential despair that had been with me for almost ten years had lifted. Just like that. What’s more, my perspective of myself and my part in the universe has shifted in such a way that I don’t believe its possible for such despair to ever touch me again. Unless, perhaps, I seek it out for some perverse reason.

I still get sad and I still struggle with my day to day existence, but now  I have completely come to terms with the contents of my own mind. For the first time in my life my head is a comfortable place to be.

Yet there are people who think psychosis is bad for your mental health?

While that moment in October represents perhaps the greatest gift my psychosis has ever given me it is by no means the only one. A few weeks later I was psychotic again and that’s when I first met the Goddess.

No I’m not making a poetic allusion to a perfect lover, I mean a real, honest to Goddess, dancing Goddess.

She is the One whose presence is inherent in every form in my subjective universe and whose dance both creates and destroys all that there is from instant to instant.

She is my Other. The Female to my Male. The Earth to my Sky. The Water to my Fire. The Yin to my Yang.

Though She has no intrinsic physicality, She is inexpressibly beautiful. And though I don’t fully believe in Her I love Her with every fibre of my being.

I’m a lunatic. Who says I have to be consistent?

And She touched me.
And I was healed.
Healed of some of my most disturbing psychosexual hangups.

Which was very nice of Her, considering I was and remain a skeptical agnostic.

Not only that, I think She showed me the way forward to coming to terms with the world around me. How to live in the universe of name and form.

You  don’t try to fight it and you don’t try to embrace it. You don’t try to understand it and you never, ever try to possess it.

You don’t even try to touch it, though in a moment of true grace it may touch you.

Instead you try to live your life as a playful kind of dynamic worship.

You dance with it.

Bloody obvious really.

Sankara was right. The only ultimate reality is undifferentiated, attributeless Brahman.

Not this, not this. Oneness.

But still you must worship the deities of māyā, though they have no underlying truth to them.
Because neither do you. You and the gods are contingent upon each other.

I’ve spent all my life on the Jnani path and perhaps I have reached its end.
I now know Brahman not just as an abstract concept, but as an immanence that informs every instant of my existence.

Now I must learn what it means to be Bhakti.
The true meaning of Love.

Now do you understand why I would never take a pill that claims to be able to take my psychosis away?

So if anyone wants some advice about going psychotic, just ask me.

I’m an expert.

But if you want advice about handling psychosis and mental illness, you’re in the wrong place.

Its serious stuff and the fact is I don’t know why it’s so benevolent towards me and messes so many other people up so much. I might write a lot about breathing exercises, accepting your disease, not taking pills and third rate metaphysics but the fact is I haven’t got a clue what I’m on about.

If I had the answer I wouldn’t be working all this stuff through on a blog.

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2 Comments
  1. Wow, wow…i dunno what to say, but i gonna have to think about this. I have not ever enjoyed pyschosis. But i might have been also scared off by others from even trying to let the experience simply BE. Not to mention myself in the process. Letting myself be and not judge how that is, is the hardest thing, but also letting go of fear and the fear of letting go. I have so often done things while in such a state that my usual self does not want to think about having done…you know, the usual, stripping naked in public, smearing shit, even, I regret to say, feeling induced to eat some…but at my age the idea of having departed from my usual modesty and displayed public nudity no longer bothers me, frankly. Who would even bother to look at me, except for the perverted guards at the hospital, where those men got their jollies by stripping me then spread-eagling my naked crotch on a restraint table and shackling me four-points to the mattress, as if it were merely their “duty” and just a job, not the visual rape and deliberate sexual assault that it was…

    BUT they had my body, only, not my mind. And they were not the ones lucky enough to go out of body each time the MRI machine reached a certain frequency or who had had four literally life changing miracles…no, they were just four dirty old or young men getting their jollies off any woman’s body they could take out their rage on…

    Psychosis, as i was saying, has never been either a safe state of mind, nor experienced, needless to say, where i felt safely taken care of. And the problem is the people who appear then, those entities that others call voices, are deeply and malignantly malevolent. It is not that i could not see some therapist re-evaluating even these with me, and teaching me different ways of looking and listening to them, just that they have never done so, and neither have i. I simply do as They tell me, and it is virtually always not so good for the human flesh…

    That said, your post makes me want to reconsider everything, everything. I just posted about TLE on my blog, which makes me reconsider my own “diagnosis” — as if an MI label actually means anything more than what the person labelled makes of it, and of course her or his official guardians if he or she has them. But i want to shed the MI concept entirely. It is not that i can shed the psychotic experience, but if i recast it, perhaps in the context of TLE i will feel less terror when next it comes around…? And also,mimportantly, it might behoove my treaters to deal with me differently if they think TLE and not schizo! Not mind you that schizophrenia is terrible, but i just do not think it is anything, at all. Not as defined now…it just MEANS a lot…like the way a poem should not mean but be? When schizophrenia IS nothing but it means everything.

    Enuff for now!
    pam

    Liked by 1 person

    • But i might have been also scared off by others from even trying to let the experience simply BE.

      I think that’s the key, just accepting it. Another part is letting the fear just BE, if it arises.

      I’ve long had episodes of sleep paralysis that filled me with existential fear and the conviction that a malevolent being was in the room with me (often sitting on me). After a few such experiences I realised they’re not dangerous and there is no basis for the terror, but the terror still comes. But I’ve learned to sort of step outside the fear and observe it as a kind of objective phenomena. The fear is real but the danger isn’t. I guess it’s a bit like watching a really good suspense or horror movie where fear becomes more a form of entertainment than a threat.

      That said, I’ve had a few bad ones, mostly when they’ve come unexpectedly when I’m not in a ‘safe’ place and I’ve needed to do something that is temporarily beyond my capabilities (e.g. work out how to get home). My big advantage there has been a largely unstructured life relatively free of time-bound responsibilities. If I need to ride a psychosis for a few days I can usually do so without too many problems. If I had children or a high responsibility job like surgeon or bus driver it would be a very different story.

      While psychotic I’ve done a few odd things, including some socially catastrophic ones, but usually there’s a bit of warning and I’m careful to ensure I stay indoors during them. I’ve upset neighbours with my abusive shouting back at ‘voices’ but so far none have called the cops on me. I’ve never stripped in public but once I climbed a tree in my underwear with a full backpack because I was convinced the sea was about to inundate my suburb.

      And the problem is the people who appear then, those entities that others call voices, are deeply and malignantly malevolent.

      My relationship with my voices is a bit more complex. I’ve never felt them to be particularly malevolent but they have said some things about me I found deeply humiliating yet strangely enlightening. Sometimes they’ve said nasty stuff about those I care about or told me someone I love had died. I find that sort of thing harder to take but it hasn’t happened for a long time now. And I’ve never felt compelled to do what the voices tell me. In fact I don’t recall them ever telling me to do anything specific (though they’ve said stuff that strongly suggests I should change my behaviour).

      I found your TLE posts pretty interesting actually. As you point out, TLE has long been associated with religious experiences and usually my psychoses subjectively feel more like such experiences than a manifestation of some kind of disorder. They are more often blissful than disturbing – to me at least though perhaps not to people who have to put up with me. But I don’t really find neurological explanations for experience or behaviour very helpful. They just seem like a simplistic way of shifting the locus of agency – as if anything in the real world has a single discrete cause. In my universe everything is completely tangled up with everything else so trying to blame genes, brains, upbringing, culture, etc seems like simplistic reductionism that illuminates very little.

      Like

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