“…every once in awhile it breaks free and there is nothing you can do but ride it out and hope to god that you make it out on the other side.”
This is Rachel, describing losing her sanity.
I’m mentally ill and that is one thing–it is one thing to be mentally ill, it is another thing to be insane. Unless you’ve been there you can talk about it, you can read about it, you can think about it, you can joke about it, you can think that you know, but until you are there, you have no idea what being insane is like.
I had insomnia for three months straight and it had gotten to the point where I was sleeping two hours a week, I went to the doctor to find out if I could get something to help me go to sleep. They decided to do a bunch of tests on me to decide why my insomnia was so bad and discovered that I was bi-polar. They insisted that I needed to go on medication, I needed to seek therapy, I needed to find out how to deal with my mental illness. Because I’d had a really hard time in life and I seemed to have all the symptoms for it, I agreed to it and decided to go into therapy. Within the first six months of being introduced to the psychiatric community they got the medication wrong.
It put me into what is called a dysphoric mania. Most people hear mania and they think happy euphoric, somebody who just can’t stop, like, they start painting the walls in their house and fixing their car and they are doing fifteen thousand things at once, super-creative and they are beyond Pollyanna optimistic. Well, I don’t get that, I get manic and it turns into a psychotic episode, where I hear schizophrenic voices and nothing makes sense anymore. The voices turn into a multitude, then into a legion, and then there is millions and millions of voices all talking on top of each other in my head.
I was working at Netherworld that morning. They got so bad that I couldn’t function anymore and I broke a glass with my hand. I broke pint glass with my hand, just squeezing it. Didn’t cut myself, but sat in the corner while the cook called my mother trying to figure out what was going on. It got to the point where I just wanted to make it stop. There’s nothing else in your head, there is no conscious decision… There’s no conscious decision of “These voices are okay” or they are not okay; I’m listening to them or I’m not listening to them; they won’t let anything else through. It is so hard to describe it. It is like being in an audible nightmare, everything looks normal around you and you seem to be normal on the inside, but your head is in a totally different place and you can’t hear anything other than what’s happening in your head.
And then as soon as the negative side of my psyche caught ahold of the idea of “I just want to make it stop”, then the idea of I just want to kill myself, because if I die it stops. I started just saying to myself “I just want to die”, just let me die and if I die it will stop.
They put me in the psychiatric ward for 24 hours and put me on heavy duty anti-psychotics and knocked me out for 18 hours. I barely remember anything past my mom coming to grab me and take me to the hospital. Coming out of that, I wanted to be out of the hospital so badly. So I thought if we stayed balanced on the medication, then over the years I’d be fine and I was really okay for five years.
That was the first part of losing my sanity and all the things that I lost with it. You lose your respect. People who took you seriously before, no longer take you seriously. You can say something about just a modern day, like anything, “I feel like I have a cold and it won’t go away.” Well you are just crazy. “I think that that person doesn’t like me, they are giving me the cold shoulder.” Oh, well you are just crazy. Anything you say, the answer that comes back to you is “Well, you are crazy.” So, how can you tell, one way or the other that you are crazy.
I went to Burning Man the first time, and Burning Man is so the way I wish the world was that it blew my mind. It wasn’t until two weeks later when I’d been home for a week, trying to reintegrate into a society that I already hated, that I went insane a second time in my life. I went down that hole where you just black out because you don’t want to deal with it anymore. I could not deal with our society as it was. It just no longer made any sense to me. I couldn’t deal with the squareness of cars and houses. I wasn’t logical anymore, nothing made sense to me. Every time I tried to make logical sense out of something I would see that my version of it was completely skewed and off from what it should be. You start to notice that you are going slowly insane and you fight it really, really hard. If you been there before and you know what it is like and you see it coming on the horizon, and your behavior is starting to twitch out and spazz. You are like “No, no, I don’t want to go there.” But I was probably dehydrated still from being in the desert for a week, and undernourished and freaked out and stressed out and exhausted and I couldn’t fight it.
Finally, one night I had a fight with myself, life is miserable, what do I do with myself? Do I kill myself or do I try to press on and figure out how to deal with not fitting in so drastically with the rest of my culture. Do I give into my insanity and just live as an insane person. Something happened and the switch got flipped.
It’s like drowning, it’s like tremors–it’s a genetic thing from my dad’s side of the family, and when I get close to the edge it looks like I have Parkinson’s disease; my whole body starts twitching. It is like the internal struggle becomes externally visible. I don’t know how else to put it. And then the madness takes over. It is a thing unto itself. It’s like when they talk about vampires or werewolves and there is the beast within and you try to keep control of the beast within. It sounds so fucking cheesy, but it’s really like that! The madness is this thing that sits in your subconscious and it is always there, but we keep a lock and hold on it and every once in awhile it breaks free and there is nothing you can do but ride it out and hope to god that you make it out on the other side.
And it just comes over you like a black wave and I just remember thinking “I have to not leave my house, I have not leave my house, if I leave my house it will be bad, so, please, I just can’t leave my house!” It was the last thing I told myself before I totally blacked out and made my consciousness look away, I don’t remember much beyond thinking “I can’t leave the house” and “What am I going to do with myself?”
And then 24 hours later I was on the phone with a friend of mine, I was saying to him over and over again without letting him speak “I just need help cleaning my house, could you please just come help me clean my house.” He was trying to get me to say that I would stay put and that I wouldn’t do anything until he got there. I said “How long have we been on the phone?” and he said “That is the first thing you’ve said to me that wasn’t ‘come help me clean my house’, are you finally there?” I said “What’s going on, why am I asking you to come clean my house?”
I walked around my house and realized I had made an entire mess of my house, I’d pulled things off of shelves, I’d also taken two canvasses and painted entire paintings from start to beginning [end] in 24 hours. I had signed them and everything. One of them was a self-portrait, I’ll never paint over it, I’ll never fix it, it is a horrible painting. It is Ophelia Drowned, with red hair, fire in her eye sockets instead of eyes. Chaos symbols everywhere, like spirals and chaos symbols. Fish swimming in and out of her mouth, it is just a really bizarre painting.
It causes you to second guess everything, I second guess everyone around me, I second guess myself, I second guess everything. I try to pay attention as closely as possible, while not getting involved very far. You become afraid that the madness will take over when you least expect it. Ever since I quit my medication–I quit my medication in 2005, 2006–and I have had an episode like that since I got off of the medication. So, I’m hoping that it was the medication and I will never have an episode like that again. It is one of the scariest things I’ve ever been through in my life.
It is one of the reasons I’m so self-obsessed, if I don’t regulate my thoughts and what is going on with me on a constant basis, if I don’t constantly pay hyper-attention to my behaviors and my moods and the way that my thought patterns are cycling through, I can very easily slip into a manic cycle without realizing it and be in the middle of it and be “I haven’t taken the proper precautions to make sure that I don’t go to far.” You have to be highly disciplined on taking care of yourself at all times, you can’t… there is no such thing as taking a vacation from making sure that you don’t go insane.
Losing Something by Jody Stephens is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.