I’d fallen in love with a good man and moved down by the beach with him and our cute dog.
And it would have been a dream come true—if I didn’t have a nervous breakdown.
I started to get depressed about my poor physical health, lack of career, and familial relationships. As a result, I began to isolate myself. I stopped sleeping regular hours and spent hours on the internet. These factors, combined with poor genetics, all got to be too much.
My spiral down happened so swiftly I can barely recall the weeks in which it transpired.
My fall from grace was radical—it was less renowned but every bit as spectacular as the Britney Spears head-shaving episode. Energy drinks and chocolate became my staple diet, as I was too preoccupied with the internet for meal preparation. I couldn’t sleep.
The pace of my thoughts picked up and I started smoking inside the house, just in case I was being watched. I felt like I couldn’t be too careful. Then, I stopped going to work, and eventually, I didn’t dare open my blinds.
When my boyfriend, Steve, noticed the changes, he began to leave the room for lengthy periods, and I was only vaguely aware that he was on the phone to my parents.
“Yeah, it’s not good,” I overheard him say in an understated manner.
Reentering the room, he looked strained and said, “I can’t go back to work until you get some help, Naomi. You’ve got to see a doctor.” Begrudgingly, I agreed.
The doctor looked foreign, and although he spoke perfect English, I could barely comprehend what he was going on about while he interrogated me. “Why aren’t you sleeping? And who don’t you trust?” he quizzed. His eyes burnt right through me.
All I could think through the conversation was that he’d clearly been watching me prior to my appointment. He knew too much—how and why did he know of my movements? I wanted to escape his interrogating gaze and infuriating questions. To appease him and Steve, I accepted some pills so I could get the hell out of there. Within moments of getting into the car after that appointment, I nodded off.
When I awoke again in bed, nothing made sense.
I was disoriented and felt as though I’d been unconscious. I believed I’d been poisoned by them.
I checked the packet of medications, which suggested that they were to be prescribed to patients with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. I screamed at my boyfriend: “Are you and that doctor f*cking mad to give me such rubbish?” It was clear, he was with them after all.
I then began seeing spot fires in the backyard. The flames licked at the side of the wooden fence panels as I ran to splash them with water, one after the other. I could barely keep up with putting one out as another ember would reignite. The sparks climbed up the backyard foliage, igniting my potted palm.
The paranoia and pressure of what I imagined to be deep-seated worldwide corruption became too much. On my laptop, I typed a suicide note for when the time was right. At that point, words no longer came easily, nor did sentences or rational thoughts…nothing made sense.
My boyfriend either stumbled across it or was keeping close tabs on my “work” and became alarmed and distraught by what he found.
Out of desperation, he contacted the mental health Crisis Assessment Team (CATT). I sensed someone was coming and put up a “trespassers will be prosecuted” sign, which only served to cause extra alarm. The cavalry entered our flat, guided by police and paramedics. I recall some heated debates and smoking many cigarettes.
The words echoed through my house: “You are being sectioned under the Mental Health Act. You need to come to the hospital, so we can help you.”
The comings and goings and the raid on my civil liberties attracted the attention of nearby neighbors. Some peered from behind their curtains, while others stood openmouthed in their driveways as I was frog-marched across the front lawn into the back of the police divisional van.
The ride smelt of urine.
I was quiet—resigned to my fate and sure that I was a sacrificial lamb in a big game of corruption.
The police led me out of the back of the van into the hospital emergency department where I was flanked and guarded by hospital security officers. By this stage, I had started to giggle nervously, which is a family trait reserved for when the most serious of sh*t goes down.
I spent days locked up in that hospital and the antipsychotic medication took months to work.
The side effects were appalling and included nausea and dizziness. Every morning, I felt like my head had been run over.
As the acute psychosis faded, anxiety and shame set in. I tried to piece together my tattered, faded memories, but they were like jigsaw pieces. I was too scared to ask: had I really sent delusional emails to senior university academics who I knew? Who I worked with?
Oh, dear God.
I wanted to crawl up in a ball and die. In place of the paranoia, post-traumatic stress disorder and panic set in. Every part of me had been to war. I was broken from the turmoil and disconnected from the world and just about everyone in it. It was hard to fathom that my boyfriend had stuck by me while I told his friends conspiracies and then stayed in mental health facilities after being publicly carted away by police.
Today is almost exactly a decade since that mental breakdown.
The recovery journey has been nonlinear, but I have continued putting one foot in front of the other.
Sometimes I stumble, and sometimes I cha-cha, but I keep moving…always. I’ve fought the good fight and it’s been a long way to come back from the very brink.
However, with proper sleep, nutrition, stress-management techniques, medical interventions, and correct medication, I’ve made a good recovery. I write this piece from the lounge-room of a new light-filled abode I own with that concerned but compassionate boyfriend who I later married. We now have a darling son.
It’s little more than a raw nightmare now. But I’m proud to have reclaimed the power of expression. I am so grateful for clear thoughts and a clear mind. These experiences have undoubtedly made me a far more compassionate soul because I know what down and out is. How it looks, smells, tastes, and feels.
I’m occasionally confronted with memories of the days my speech was stunted. I marvel again that I am coherent. I can write and express myself to others and hopefully help someone else along the way. Next to my health, sanity, and the strength of my relationship with my soul mate and son, that is possibly the greatest gift of all.
Today, I find great solace in telling my story, and hope it helps others feel more comfortable to share theirs too.
Society sees nothing “sexy” about psychosis, so while depression and anxiety receive the time of day for discussions and funding, psychosis, schizophrenia, and schizoaffective disorders don’t rate. The assumption that psychosis is always drug-induced needs to end too. And, acute mental health services deserve a hand up. This is particularly the case in Australia where our suicide statistics are higher than the national road toll.
I’m seeking to make a wave in the ocean—for change. I’m sticking my neck out as a voice of reason from the perspective of someone with lived experience. I encourage you to share the message that it’s okay to admit if you are not okay. There really is no shame in it.
It could be as simple to fix as a chemical imbalance in the brain, rectified by a medication. There is shame, however, in the stigma, the real taboo that still reigns supreme and even more so, the silence that kills.
Let’s get together and let my whisper catch the wind to help end all that now. It might just save lives.