Losing touch

Photo: Justyn Hardcastle

Photo: Justyn Hardcastle

Being confirmed as mentally ill was one of the least worrying moments of my life. Firstly, I apologise. Trying not to be melodramatic does seem foolish, but I feel a duty to cling to the pretence of stoicism, no matter how misplaced.

I suppose, writing about it all here, and especially my opening sentence, could be seen as self-pity. However, this is a mere side note before I give you my story. All I want to do is let you share with me a sense of morbid fascination about my nausea. So bear with me.

Before I start getting philosophical, let’s go to the start. ­­Have you ever felt dread? Raw, heat of the moment, dread? I’m not trying to evoke something in you that you have never felt, so please join in with my thought experiment. I guarantee you will find some recollection of dread etched into your memory. That is, if you are brave to dig deep enough. It’ll be buried away in some loathed corner of your mind. Childhood is good for this. That’s where the real dread can be found.

Knowing that your big lie had been found out? That moment of shock as something visual was burned into your mind’s eye? Or that sickening moment when your world stood utterly still? Hold on to that for me, please. Take a moment to recollect the focused, timeless air of it. Repeat it over, if you need. Hardly pleasant. I apologise. But it’s all for a good purpose.

To help you further along this path, let’s be rational here. It’s the amygdalae and the rostral anterior cingulate cortex. That’s all it is. This corner of your brain just fires up. All natural. Perfectly rational. I do what all people rightly do in situations beyond their control; rationalise.

But it’s the tremble that starts slowly from the knees, the involuntary twitches around your frame, the dull throbbing pain of your heart, the stomach that churns on and on, the surge of sickening energy, the breath quickening faster, faster still, sinews tightening, body clenching, mind failing and the fear, that sharp, short, shock of fear. Hard to keep it all in perspective.

But try. I was at a table, surrounded by numerous friends; warm atmosphere, conversation and laughter. I presume you can picture this scene more readily, and comfortably. Feel free to stand in my shoes, replace your friends with mine. Imagine the faces of those you care for, just relax and let them smile back at you in your mind. Most of all, feel safe. Safe, happy and content. Because I want you to let that fear flow back into you.

You realise that something is wrong. You hardly have time to grapple with this strange new thought, because it’s growing. That fear. It’s accelerating, you know. Building up, snowballing. You clear your throat, your hand shakes. The shaking is faster, breathing becomes hard. Your breath has failed, your mind reacts, raves and races. Each thought becomes actuality. How have they not noticed? How are they not feeling this? You look imploringly to them.

Their inhuman eyes turn in their skulls, dead and glassy, in perfect, unholy unison, to you.

The way they roll in the skull, all in unison. A perfect, pale blue. I knew those eyes. I find it hard to write about them.

Of course, none of this is happening. Rationalise. Close your eyes tight, that works. Say you feel a little off and leave, that helps too. Deep, strong breaths. This one is strong, stronger than any before, but don’t think that. Because it didn’t happen. You are fine. Just fine. It’s all in your head. Repeat if you need to. Leave the table. Vomit, sob into the toilet bowl.

This would happen five to ten times a day, increasing over time. First starting because of some catalyst, later for no clear reason. First ebbing away, later never leaving, lingering in the back of the mind. First only that starting feeling of unease, but later actual physical and visceral affects. I’ll remember those eyes. Among the worst hallucination, or whatever bastard thing you want to call it. The way they rolled in the skulls, all in unison. All blue. A perfect, pale blue. I knew those eyes. I find it hard to write about them.

That was, as I have been told, evidence of prodromal psychosis. It is the start of true psychosis, in which an individual loses all touch with reality. A descent into hallucinations and delusions with increasing psychotic episodes, leading to a total loss of reality. However, to reassure the reader, this is short-term and curable. Most importantly, it is prodromal, crudely, a term meaning ‘the start of’. Early interventions stop the literal eroding of brain functions as the psychosis manifests itself.

Being confirmed as mentally ill was one of the least worrying moments of my life. In fact, I felt a wave of relief. Wouldn’t you? This was no admission, no defeat or surrender. But it was confirmation, and in that, freedom.

Remember what I said? Rationalise. “It’s all in your head.” “You’re fine.” Yet I felt it, had been feeling it, and that day I saw it. I looked into the eyes of fear and realised that some parts of the mind are beyond its own understanding. This was certainly beyond mine. I would soon reach out for help.

This was only the start of things, and nor was it the end. Many events had passed before, each a story in their own that paints the bigger picture and somewhere in those hides a reason for all this. And I would yet to begin my true mental journey; from here on out, new planes would be handed to me in the form of pills.

I apologize for trying to put you in uncomfortable shoes. But we slow down to see car crashes, heads craned to see what disasters lay ahead. Why should this be any different? And here I present to you my mental crash, told from within. What more could be more morbidly fascinating?

I’m no special case here, and I apologize again for my dramatic tone. One in four people suffer from some form of mental disorder, many of these suffering without help or realisation. Call it the march of obsessive medicine, but I care little; I want nobody to suffer in silence. Reach out and arms will grab you; pride and fear have no cures.

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