My Struggle with Mental Illness
June 19, 2018 • Sarah Jean Gosney
It scares me to write this even still, but I need to do it. Almost two years later and I’m thriving, but the thought that this could happen again terrifies me.
In August of 2015 I was hospitalized for a psychotic break. I was “in” for two weeks. In the loony bin. Bedlam. The nut house. Whatever you want to call it, I was there.
Leading up to this time, I had been living with my boyfriend and his family for about a year. He had fallen incredibly ill, and I had moved away from the city where I went to school and worked to stay by his side and take care of him.
It was a very stressful time. There were many nights I wasn’t sure whether he was going to live or die, because we didn’t know what was wrong with him. I wrote a little bit about this experience in my post “All Women Should Serve.” But this post isn’t about his story.
I was in an unfamiliar environment and under a daily strain watching someone I love suffer utterly, but that’s not enough to make someone crack. I was getting by okay working part time and having weekly crying sessions in the parking lot of a local park just to release some of the emotion.
I was just about to start graduate school—in Public Health…whether that was a good idea or not is another question—with a sizeable assistantship and big dreams. It was a few weeks before school would start that everything went downhill.
I don’t remember the beginning very well. I believe it started with high anxiety and severe insomnia. I barely slept for three weeks, doing little more than dozing though I’d lie in bed for hours.
Like I said, I don’t really remember the build up very well. But I remember the crescendo vividly.
I was fully delusional. Somehow, I had gotten it in my head that I was a big-time felon. Identity thief, stalker, kidnapper, committer of vehicular manslaughter and grand theft auto…I thought I’d done it all.
I’m not exaggerating.
To clarify, here is the main cast of characters (actual people who were really there):
- My boyfriend
- His mom
- His dad
- His teenage brother
Note, from here on out, I am spelling out the delusion in full form, so understand that none of this really happened.
At the time, I sort of conceived of myself as a homeless bag-lady who didn’t remember her own past and had been feral for years. I was certain that the person I saw in the reflection (a very ghost-like me) was who I WANTED to see, not who I truly was.
I had myself convinced that I had made up mine and my boyfriend’s entire relationship. I twisted our actual meeting into a more sinister story. I (the feral bag lady, probably in her 50s) had seen an attractive young man outside the main library on campus and started following him. He, thinking I was trying to rob him, threw his wallet at me and kept walking. I stopped following him, but I took the wallet. Later I tried to go to the address listed on the license to find my new love. Of course, I had to steal a car to do this, and being the maniac that I was, had recklessly driven the five hours to get to the general area where he lived, speeding away from cops and causing car wrecks along the way.
When I finally took the exit off the interstate, I drove for hours and hours looking for his address, but wasn’t able to find it. He lives in the land of the “holler,” and if you know anything about hollers, they’re not always able to be located with Google Maps.
So, what did I do? I pulled up to a random house and knocked on the door. A man answered, and hey! He looked like the guy on the license plate. So somehow, I kidnapped him, taking his car and leaving stolen car #1 at his house (how a 50 year old lady would have managed to do this in an area where everyone is armed to the teeth is not clear, but that’s beside the point). Then we were off to visit “his parents” because we were in love and he wanted me to meet his family.
So, I drove randomly and pull up to another house (the house his parents in reality live in and own). We knocked on the door and a man was there (his dad). He let us in and we basically started occupying his house, holding him hostage. (Again, how I had this power over him is unclear.)
I believed that both of these people were terrified that I will murder them, and that’s why they were complying with my delusional family scene. Because he thought I would kill him if he left, the owner of the house (dad) was unable to go to work. Eventually, neighbors came to check on him (the mom and brother, who did not know each other in this situation), and both times the man opened the door, I cast both people into their convenient roles of mother and brother, pulling them into a hostage situation.
So let’s see…so far that’s reckless driving, grand theft auto x2, trespassing, kidnapping x4, and probably vehicular manslaughter on the drive up. I was racking up quite the record!
Eventually, as the people were all trapped in the house, no one had any income, and no one could pay any bills, so the water and electricity got shut off. I take baths to relax me (in real life), so I was convinced I was taking imaginary baths, sometimes multiple times a day.
Eventually the police came, alerted by other neighbors, and every day were knocking on the door to come for me. Somehow they couldn’t get through the door and were waiting for me to come out…
Police helicopters got involved. The house was surrounded constantly. They were waiting for me.
I was panicked. They were going to make me pay for all my crimes! Somehow I believed that what I had done was too heinous to go to jail for (not that they were putting me to death), but that they were going to make me pay. What “pay” means, I am still unsure of, but I knew it was going to be awful and that I wasn’t able to do it.
I got myself into this mental feedback loop of “They’re going to make me pay!!! But I can’t pay! I have no money and no one will hire a felon and they’re going to make me pay! I should just kill myself…they’re here to get me now…I should just kill myself. But that will hurt and I’m scared and what if I don’t do it right and I just maim myself? Then I’ll still have to PAY!”
On and on that thought process went in my head for hours and hours, days on end. I guess you could say I was suicidal since I thought about killing myself about every five seconds, but I didn’t do it for the above-mentioned reasons. Unfortunately, I was actually surrounded by weapons at the time. My boyfriend is a hunter and has lots of various swords and knives he uses on the family farm, and no one at the time realized how bad I was, because I was almost completely uncommunicative during this time. They could see the vacant look in my eyes, the fact I wasn’t bathing, eating, or sleeping, but they didn’t really understand the gravity of it all until a few days to maybe a week in. I was surrounded by weapons, but I was too afraid to kill myself. Afraid it would hurt, I would miss the shot and maim myself, I wouldn’t cut deep enough, I would crash the car and just injure myself, I would jump in front of a car and traumatize someone for life and die or not die…I had a lot of options, but, thank God, I didn’t like any of them.
There was one point where I stood by the side of the road (a country highway where the speed limit is 45 but everyone drives much faster) for probably 10-30 minutes (my sense of time was very warped) just contemplating jumping into traffic, but all the reasons I mentioned before prevented me from doing it. I also got in my car intending to drive recklessly, but only managing to bring myself to cutting some people off in traffic.
I thank God regularly that some modicum of fear, logic, and empathy remained in my warped mind at that time, because otherwise I would not be alive.
Since I didn’t like any of those options, I basically decided to starve and dehydrate myself to death. My boyfriend’s mom kept bringing me food and water, but I would mostly refuse it. My primal survival instincts still remained though and I would gulp down some of the water and maybe manage to choke down a bite of food, but at least once, if not more, I threw up (unintentionally) the food immediately after eating it.
I was an absolute wreck. No bathing, I was covered in stress sweat and various other filth. I’m sure I smelled like hell and I know I looked like a ghost. I am ashamed to admit I conducted myself this way, but I know now it wasn’t really under my control.
I had decided that if I could convince “them” I was crazy, they wouldn’t be able to make me “pay” and instead would take care of me.
The mind of insanity is a tortured thing.
So after about a week, my boyfriend’s mom and brother took me to the doctor’s office, from which they took me in an ambulance to a local hospital.
Recommence delusion: I had myself convinced that I was a “regular” at this hospital, being homeless and all, and knowing that if I got admitted I could get “free” (how are they going to bill a homeless person?) food and facilities. This meant that all the hospital staff knew me and hated my guts, but were forced to care for me by law. This time I was going to pretend to be crazy so they’d have to keep me. And boy were they going to make me act it out!
So, I was convinced that all the stress and strain of the entire hospital was caused by me, and that all the procedures they were doing on me were intended to do nothing but torture and humiliate me (a sentiment that many real patients would probably agree with…) until I would go away.
I carried my delusions with me to the hospital (a trauma hospital, where helicopters landed regularly…more fodder for my delusions). I was sure that, once again, I was holding everyone there hostage, that they hated me, and that eventually I was such a financial drain on the hospital that they too had their power and water shut off. All this meant I was killing patients in the hospital, preventing others and their families from leaving, and forcing them to eat rotting food and wear dirty clothes for days on end.
Little details of the visit were warped in my mind as proof that the delusion was real. The unappealing taste and appearance and lukewarm temperature of the hospital food, for example, was all due to the fact it was “actually” rotten, recycled food.
One young woman refused to eat her food (I think in reality she was bulimic), and I was sure it was because she hated me and didn’t want to play into my delusion.
The false, strained smiles of the nurses and residents were caused by their frustration with having to pretend that this homeless lady was a legitimate patient (not the fact that working in a hospital around crazy people is stressful and you have to talk nice to crazy).
Pretty much immediately they put me on a sedative to help me sleep (it didn’t do anything) and an antipsychotic. Antipsychotics take awhile to build up in your system before they are effective though, so it pretty much took the full two weeks for me to start coming out of the delusions. Meanwhile I had to attend 3 group therapy sessions a day like I was in Alcoholics Anonymous—which, guess what, group therapy isn’t very effective in these situations.
Things that happened (in reality) while I was admitted:
- Hung out (if you call forced group therapy “hanging out”) with two bearded ladies (no joke…they just had five o’clock shadow at first because you could tell they shaved them, but naturally we weren’t allowed razors on the ward so the beards started growing out)
- Watched a man stare with the most terrified expression I’d ever seen into space for days on end, barely speaking (I’m pretty sure that’s what I looked like too, looking back)
- Had an uncommunicative Hispanic woman who only spoke Spanish (they got her a translator…she wasn’t talking for other reasons) stand over my bed and stare at me in the few moments I did sleep
It was a trip.
My mom flew in to visit me a week into it, and I knew she looked familiar, but I didn’t recognize that she was my mother. I can remember her holding back tears as she tried talking to me like everything was normal, telling me what she ate for lunch, where she walked around that day. Just trying to make conversation to soothe me. My dad came the last few days I was there, and after about two weeks I was coming out of the delusions enough to recognize that they were my parents and agree to go home with them.
I have to tell you, it’s terrifying to relive this…writing that about my mom brought me to tears, because I can’t imagine how scared everyone must have been.
My biggest fear has always been being possessed. Whether an intense fear of demons and evil spirits is logical and justified or not, I was still afraid of this. Any movie I saw that involved possession would haunt me for days. I remember the movie The Exorcism of Emily Rose, where they were arguing in court whether the woman was schizophrenic or whether she was possessed, or something to that effect.
Well, I’m here to tell you there’s no difference.
They diagnosed me with schizophreniform disorder, which is like baby schizophrenia. It’s a much shorter duration, and you don’t have to meet as many criteria to get this diagnosis. About 2⁄3 of people with the diagnosis of schizophreniform go on to have schizophrenia. Happily, I have what’s called a “good prognostic features” because my craziness was quick-onset and I was highly functional before the episode. This means that none of the professionals think I’m going to become schizophrenic. This is a huge relief, but I still don’t know what’s in my future.
I am still taking two medications (I’m on my third antipsychotic now…these meds have unfortunate side effects like suicidality and weight gain leading to metabolic syndrome), and am currently tapering off the one seen as less essential. I am supposed to have a consult with another doctor to determine whether I should even try to taper off the second one.
Of course, I don’t want to be taking any medication…what will this mean for my potential to have children? And what will they inherit from me? My hope is to thrive without medication, but I’m not sure if that’s an option.
All of this is a very long way of telling you all that I have already lived my deepest fears and come out on the other side in mostly one piece.
That’s why I speak with such conviction on the matters of traditional values and the importance of femininity and masculinity. There is very little that scares me anymore, and certainly being called a bigot, nazi, misogynist, alt-right, brainwashed, Stepford Wife is not it.
I was already on the road to a more traditional view of the world for about two years before my breakdown, but I would never dare to say anything against feminism in public or to my friends and some of my family. After this, I didn’t care. I spoke my mind.
This is why I speak with my face and my name plastered all over everything I do.
I truly believe I was called by God to do what I am doing. And I think all of this is what I had to endure and survive in order to be brave enough to do it.
For now, I am trying to live up to all of this and improve my health in every way I can think of. I never want that to happen to me again. As awful as it was, I think it needed to happen.
I know there are a lot of people out there struggling with their mental health. Let me just say I understand, it will get better, and there is always something you can do.
Thanks for reading.
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