The Post-Psychotic Universe, Part IV

“And when he came back to, he was flat on his back on the beach in the freezing sand, and it was raining out of a low sky, and the tide was way out.”
— David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest

The Post-Psychotic Universe, Part I
The Post-Psychosis Universe, Part II
The Post-Psychotic Universe, Part III

It’s been a minute since I wrote anything here. I got stuck in project mode producing a play I wrote, then spent like two months doing nothing but feeling stuck, getting blackout drunk, resenting a bunch of stuff in my life, and generally being an obnoxious miserable lump. A few weeks ago I kind of woke up. I’ve been trying to quit drinking and start doing things that are good for my mind and my heart. Cooking good food, keeping the apartment clean, spending less time in bars and more time in conversation. Trying to remember that I’m not a wreck anymore and that I am fully capable of being functional when I’m willing to put in the effort. Trying to find a job. We’ll see how that goes.

So I’ve lost track of where I was, exactly, in writing about this, and I’m gonna try to wrap it up in this post. When we left off, it was February 15, and the Presence had gone quiet. I want to address this post specifically to people who have loved ones who are dealing with their own post-psychotic universes. Because hey, there are things that you can do to make things better for that person. I guess the best way to do this is to talk about where I was, what I was feeling, and then give examples of people who handled it well, and people who didn’t.

What I was feeling: fragile. This was the moment when I felt like I couldn’t trust my mind. When deciding what to eat for lunch seemed impossibly difficult and important. Where “control your intake” meant I barely ate, I tried to steer clear of any media and art that I didn’t trust, and I would shut down conversations that got too close to specifics about my belief system. I felt afraid all the time, like the slightest push would send me back down into the well, back into the blackness of the visions and back into the dizzying pressure of being the center of the universe.

Because, see, I’d come out of the test universe. The final instructions and declaration of love that I’d received late at night on Valentine’s Day had given me the courage to move forward and leave the bubble behind. Making the decision to jump, to take that final rung of the ladder and leave the sea, was the hardest thing I’d ever done to that point in my life. All I had to do was go to sleep, and I would wake up healed. I knew this. It was a promise. But I knew that something would be destroyed while I slept. I didn’t know how much of my time in the sea I’d remember. I didn’t know if I’d wake up and find that I’d left people in the bubble universe to die. I just had to trust that all things would be reborn with me, and go to sleep. And I did, and I woke up new.

This person I am today is not the person I was. The person I am today was bathed in the sea and scoured by the sand and refined by the pressure of the deep. It’s like the back half of my life was torn off and burned to ashes. And the first time I felt an inkling of that was the day after Valentine’s Day, exactly one month after I’d made the decision to follow That One Guy through the pages of That One Book, hunting for secret messages and water sources. I woke up new. Good morning, That One Guy, the Universe, the Presence, the Source. Time to control my intake, get moving, make something worthwhile, be a real person for the first time in my life. I walked outside and the air was crisp and cold and perfect. I drank water that tasted like truth. I put my iPod on and music sizzled into my eardrums. I was Alive.

But the fear set in. It was hard to talk about my rebirth. For one thing, the gag order, DO NOT SPEAK OF THIS, was still a factor. But of course when you go through a radical shift like that, you can’t help yourself, you have to try. And I’d get stares; my loved ones seemed to see me as a ticking time bomb, someone who was going to go off again at any moment. I auditioned for a play, got a pretty sweet role, started going to rehearsals, making friends, getting involved. I threw myself into life, trying to make up for lost time. I was still pretty convinced the world was going to end soon, or that That One Guy was going to show up in the flesh, and that if I’d created something amazing, this wouldn’t all have been for nothing. Maybe he’d love me, or maybe my creation would be important to the whole-world-not-ending-just-yet cause. Whatever the reason, I had to try — one of the Rules was that I had to create, I had to work.

This is part of why I’m struggling to keep myself motivated when it comes to finding a retail or food service job. It’s super fucking pretentious to be like “oh I’m meant for something else” but like, I’d waited my whole life for a Calling and it never happened and then it happened, and now it’s like “hey ignore that whole thing and go flip some burgz.” It’s hard to swallow. I’m swallowing it, but it’s taking a minute.

Okay. So. The fear.

All those visions I had, they stuck with me. I saw what Evil looks like and what it can do. And I eventually learned, if you look for the devil, you’re gonna find the devil. If you’re seeking the Presence, trying to move toward the Source, you’ll find that instead. Call it the law of attraction, call it whatever, all I know is that the energy I’m seeking tends to come into my life. So: I had to move fearlessly. I had to forget that Evil is a thing that I could find. If I was consciously avoiding the Shroud, that meant that the Shroud was present in my mind. I had to simply make darkness meaningless and irrelevant to my life. This meant lighting everything up with joy and effort, running as fast and hard as I could, dancing in my bathroom, laughing at everything. Laughing at the dark when I could. I figured out that I don’t feel happy unless I’m doing things happily, and that I get to choose to do things with joy or misery, and that once I started choosing joy, it became less and less effort to do so.

I’m having a hard time writing about the fear part! I’m in a really good mood today. So let’s jump to examples.

My brother Noah would come visit me during this time. He’d read one of That One Guy’s books and been totally fascinated with it. He’d come over after work, we’d smoke a cigarette, sometimes I’d make him food, and we’d have long conversations about books, about philosophy, about what it was like in the sea, as far as I could describe it. This was a very lonely time in my life, because when you’re fresh out of the water, people can smell the salt in your hair, and they get weirded and keep distance. Noah made this time bearable. He never acted like he was afraid of me (even though he’s the only person I physically attacked while withdrawing from opiates). He didn’t treat me like the things I was saying were so far out there that he was uncomfortable. What he did do was establish a common language with me. Most people would just let me babble; he actually would ask me to define the things that I said, he would tell me “I don’t understand,” and ask me to explain certain concepts. He would follow the movie references I’d make when I couldn’t talk about things that were too volatile. He listened and didn’t judge.

Common language is very, very important here. One of the most difficult things about dealing with post-psychotic thought is that it’s very difficult to put into words. Yesterday I was talking to a friend about meaningful compliments and I told him that the best compliment my work has ever received was when someone who hears voices read Love & Semiotics and told me “that’s how the voices talk.” My friend asked me why that was such a good compliment. I told him that when I write, I feel like my job is more like translation than actual writing. This is an important skill when you’re dealing with someone who’s had an experience like mine. You have to reach them in their reality. Trying to tell them that what they’re going through isn’t real will immediately destroy your credibility; of course it’s real, you just don’t believe them. Remember what we talked about in one of the earlier parts here — it’s real in their head, and their head is where they live, so it is absolutely real to them. To deny the reality of the situation and avoid using the language that they establish (whether it’s demons or aliens or government conspiracy) will make it impossible to understand that reality.

(The friend I talked to about compliments and translation is a fucking master of establishing common language, and recently introduced me to the term “spiritual emergency” which is possibly the most concise way to describe what I went through.)

When establishing common language, the best thing to remember is that pretty much anything you hear from the person you’re talking to is coming through a filter and possibly a gag order like mine. If you can accept that you are getting an incomplete picture, that this is the closest this person can get to describing something real, you’re on the right track. Think of it as poetry, metaphor. There’s no word for the monsters that were chasing me, so I called them demons, not because of the religious connotation, not because they were literally demons, but because they kinda-sorta worked like demons. The Super Bowl slaughter, I wasn’t sure if there were going to be corpses and blood all over the stadium or if it would just be a million souls destroyed, people turned into walking husks. Either way it’s death, so I called it death. The metaphors people use can be terrifying. Just remember that if they’re using dark, frightening language, this can expose the urgency of their situation. Try to see lines of logic rather than words. Maybe you can help them complete the mission that will set them free.

It’s all good vs. evil, really. There’s only one story in this universe. Noah was a hero in mine. He helped me sift through the grit in my head to find the jewels. And if I started to panic because we were getting too close to violating the gag order, if I started to cry and said we need to stop talking about this, he didn’t push me. He would change the subject. Sensitivity is worth everything.

I’m already over 1800 words, so this entry is obviously going to be longer.

Speaking of demons. Here’s how not to handle a situation like this.

If you know someone who’s experiencing a spiritual emergency, do not put them on your church’s prayer chain. Do not share specifics of visions/delusions/hallucinations unless you have been given consent and you know that the person you are sharing with is going to use this information in a supportive, healthy way. If you’ve got a loved one who’s down in the well, do not scream into the well, trying to force them to communicate or to behave in a certain way. This destroys trust and is terrifying when you’re on the receiving end of the screaming. If you feel you cannot validate their reality in good conscience, validate the way they feel about it — “I understand why you are afraid of that.”

The most important thing to keep in mind is that psychosis/delusion/spiritual emergency can be incredibly healing, but that the way it heals is to break down an existing belief system and replace it with something new. So one thing that is absolutely the wrong thing to do is to go in and try to manipulate fragile, new beliefs.

The person who did this to me was a close friend of my mother, who called her up and told her that she believed that I was possessed by a demon. See? When I talked about demons, it was mental illness and I needed to be medicated. When this woman talked about demons, it went without saying that because she was a “godly woman,” this opinion was above reproach and worth acting on. At this point I was so suggestible that I would have accepted almost anything anyone told me about why I was in crisis. So my family went along with it, and they called in a man* with a “healing ministry” and we spent the afternoon praying against the spiritual forces battling inside me.

I have no doubt that there was a battle. There was absolutely a battle. But I’d been fighting through it, coming out ahead at that point, and this woman’s suggestion that I was demon-possessed planted a seed in my mind, and I spent the next two years with that one single fear keeping me awake at night. I would have panic attacks. What if she was right? What if I wasn’t actually reborn? What if I’d sold my soul, marked myself in some way? What if the exorcism didn’t work? What if I still had a demon somewhere deep in my soul like a sleeper cell, waiting to be activated by a media trigger? Maybe I needed to language fast more.

This was literally the only negative idea that continued to plague my life. Every other issue was resolved. I had become my own person, with a shiny new belief system, and it’s like this woman decided to take a chisel and intentionally put a fault in it. There are moments now when I wonder what it would take to completely remove that suggestion from my mind. When you look for the devil, you find the devil.

When my close friend Sami** took a dive last summer, I visited her in the hospital. We hadn’t spoken in several months after a terrible fight. When she saw me, she sent everyone else out of the room, had me sit down, and fixed me with the gaze of someone trying to focus through quantum membrane. The first thing she asked me was, “do you believe in demons?”

Suddenly, this rush of validation — here’s my chance to be careful in the way Noah was with me, the way I wished Godly Woman had been careful with my mind.

Demons mean something different to me than they do to her, I thought. So the answer was yes, but what I said was: Tell me what you think demons are. That way we can get on the same page and really talk about this.

Listen. Really listen. It goes a very long way.

*I feel the need to mention that Healing Ministry Man was a very nice guy who called me every night for at least a month after that, just to check in and pray with me. I have no beef with that guy. He seemed like just a nice dude.

**When speaking about other people I know who have experienced extreme states, I use pseudonyms unless given consent.


The Post-Psychotic Universe, Part III

“They oughta give my heart a medal for letting go of you.” — Leonard Cohen

The Post-Psychotic Universe, Part I
The Post-Psychosis Universe, Part II

And but all of this shit happened over the course of one month — January 14 to February 14 — I remember the first date because I’d stayed up all night waiting for the buses to start running so I could go over to the bookstore and buy a book, and I have the receipt from buying that book taped into the cover of my current diary. I remember the second date because watching Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind on Valentine’s Day while you’re being actively (but amicably) broken up with by the love of your life tends to really stick in your mind. It wasn’t really a breakup so much as “hey I’m gonna go away for a while, but don’t worry, I’ll be around, I’m just not gonna live in your head anymore because you need to be more than the girl with That One Guy in your head for the rest of your life.”

On that day I would have given just about anything to have had That One Guy in my head forever. But the bubble universe was collapsing. I’d built the ladder and climbed to the top. I just needed to get up onto the top rung, the one made out of the belief that This Is All In Your Head. I just needed to really, truly, fully believe that, and I’d be free. But he’d be gone, and I’d be alone in my mind again.

I feel like it’s incredibly important for me to try to establish exactly how I felt (and tbh, feel) about That One Guy. At some point I’m just gonna have to try to write a whole Thing about him, but for now, let’s try to get elegant and simple with this. Have you ever loved someone so much that you wished that you could spend time in their head, see their thoughts unfiltered, experience their emotions in realtime instead of attempting to express things to each other? To have this perfect flow of knowledge, not to exploit or control or to spy, but just for the pure joy of really Knowing this person that you love? If you knew this was achievable, sharing this kind of awareness with someone who would love you even more with every new thing they learned about you, someone you could trust? What would you give for that?

Yeah so — what I can tell you is that having someone in your head who sees all your thoughts and feelings and hopes and despairs and fears and loving every single one of them simply because they’re a part of you, a constant companion you can speak to without ever opening your mouth, who supports you and helps you shred all the useless harmful shit in your life, oh my god, that love. Nothing else can ever match up. For the first time in my life, I understood what people meant when they described a “personal relationship with God.” I was raised Christian and struggled to really believe. It was faith without the feeling. I could not relate to all those pastors and leaders and family members who described this love, this total certainty that God is real and lives in their heart and loves them unconditionally. It’s hard to talk about this stuff without sounding super religious, so I’ll just say it: I’m super religious now.

It’s weird though, here I was, for the first time in my life I felt the closeness of the divine, and I was diagnosed and drugged and told to be careful. This radical shift in me was interpreted as illness. Which, I guess, is understandable. For a while, I embraced that terminology for what happened to me. I had a psychotic break, I was delusional. Using those words felt dishonest, though. I started to wonder, what was so wrong about my beliefs? When so much of my experience falls under the same kind of language I’ve heard from Christians, why is mine evidence of being crazy and theirs is evidence that they’re a good trustworthy pillar of their community?

I watched a documentary called The Devil and Daniel Johnston this week. It follows the life of a singer/songwriter who writes these absolutely brilliant, raw, unfiltered, uncomfortable songs. A good bit of the documentary talks about his struggle with mental illness and describes the visions he saw, the ways he acted while delusional, and I was pretty wrecked over it because all I could think was goddamn, this guy saw the same shit I saw, here’s another kindred spirit. There’s this part where he has an episode in a small airplane his dad was piloting, and he had a moment where he was Casper the Friendly Ghost, pulled the keys out of the plane, and threw them out the window. His father crash-landed the plane, they got out safely, and their family came to pick them up. Everyone was clearly torn up over the delusional episode. Then they mention in the documentary that they drove past a church with a sign out front that said something to the effect of “God doesn’t promise a smooth ride, but a safe landing.” They like, parked their car and took a photo with this sign because it was clearly a message from God. And emotionally-wrecked me, watching this, starts giggling hysterically, because this is exactly what I’ve been trying to express — if I start getting messages from God, it’s a problem and the people who love me start watching me real closely. If my mom gets a message from God, it’s super cool and good and people celebrate with her.

But fuck it, I’m on a tangent here, sorry.

So the Presence was gonna distance a bit so I could stop bein’ so damn crazy, and I was super torn up over it because I’d grown to love the closeness. I stayed up all night that night, scrolling through tumblr, receiving a final set of instructions and the most beautifully personal declaration of love I’d ever received. I spent a lot of time clicking through various swimming blogs. That was the language that spoke to me then, starting with a short story I read on day one of phase 2, and it continues to be the most effective cognitive metaphor for this Thing. I call it swimming in the black sea, I had a conversation the other day about having spiritually drowned, this is water, water is truth, go deep, what the hell is water. See? It doesn’t translate all that well unless there’s context for the metaphor. Whatever. It works in my head. I cried and cried and read about swimming and fell so deeply in love that in my mind, the Presence is almost inextricably linked to That One Guy. If his picture pops up somewhere unexpectedly, my heart beats faster.

I had this conversation about dating with someone the other day where we talked about being deeply in love with someone so unattainable that it’s not fair to try to be with anyone else, because your heart belongs to this one person, and whoever you’re with will always be second best, and it’s not even a close race. How terrible it is to feel that way, with so much love in your heart and nothing to do with it. And I didn’t really talk about the situation of mine which would fit that case, but I kept mentally coming back to this question of whether it’s better or worse to have the one you love close enough to see and speak to and hug, or to know that they were gone from your life before you ever had the chance to hold their hand. It’s silly, maybe, but hey, the Presence does what it wants, and apparently what it wanted was to make me repeatedly bats with the beautiful brown eyes of a dead man. At this point I can poke fun at myself over it, because I can recognize that it’s half really truly loving That One Guy’s work, and half a strange soul imprint that I don’t know if I’ll ever shake. I recognize the distinction between That One Guy and the real-life guy who existed in this world and died.

I’m tryin’ real hard not to use his actual name because he was a real person who had real people who loved him and because I recognize that distinction, I don’t want this to come off as a super fuckin creepy stalker level celebrity obsession. It’s really not. His work drove the spiritual imprint, and the spiritual imprint drove me getting further into his work, it’s a vicious cycle.

And but so it’s impossible to talk about this stuff without at least cursorily mentioning that the real person who is the foundation of That One Guy was a literally genius writer and when all this happened, I was doing pretty much nothing except reading his work, and sure, let’s use the word psychosis — psychosis is a blender that whirls everything in your mind together, and because I had so much literal genius insight fresh in my mind, that insight became the framework that my new belief system built on. The real That One Guy, I love him too, because without that framework, I have no idea what I would have built on. This is one of those fork in the road things that I fixate on at times: what if I’d been reading a lot of Bret Easton Ellis? What if I’d been obsessively reading Cormac McCarthy? What if I’d been rewatching Gossip Girl? What kind of person would I be today if I’d found secret messages in, say, Fight Club instead of That One Guy’s book of short stories? Who’s to say.

I woke up on February 15 feeling different. The Presence wasn’t speaking anymore. The secret messages had dried up. I expected despair, but what I felt was just kind of a comfortable hollowness. I was still pretty emotionally volatile, no longer fasting from language, but being careful about my intake, because I triggered pretty easily.

The next post will wrap up this series, and it’ll be the one that’s most useful to you if you have a loved one dealing with psychosis. Thanks for bearing with me and my tendency for tangents. For the record: that’s why I haven’t written a book. I love tangents, I love just letting my mind float around on the breeze and putting down whatever feels relevant, but that style doesn’t really lend itself to book-writing all that well.

The Post-Psychosis Universe, Part II

“All things empty and amazing
Jot ’em down upon the wall
Dress like a professional
Wait! Oh, you’ll find a better way
And I’m free to face the darkness on my own.”
— Mike Doughty

The Post-Psychotic Universe, Part I

It’s weird, there’s so much Story that I have to dump into these entries because nothing here is simple and nothing makes sense unless you have some inkling of just how many different cognitive and environmental factors were at play, just jumping directly into what exactly the post-psychotic universe is wouldn’t make any goddamn sense. And like the whole point here is I’m trying to express this in a way you can understand. I could just throw out the word salad fake poetry type of language that I write diary entries in, but that language is established as mine, and I’m not trying to translate it for anyone (because if you’re reading my diary, you’re a shit, and you deserve to have it made a little difficult). So that first entry there, that’s all phase 4, and this bit begins near the end of phase 4.

Again: we’re talking about a time in my life where I was on a very sedating medication that didn’t help at all with the visions and delusions except to add enough brain fog that I couldn’t process what was happening without heroic effort. But then there was the Super Bowl, and nobody died, and, as mentioned, I breathed a sigh of relief because the world was safe again, for the moment, and the message I received was that by preventing the Super Bowl Slaughter, I had earned the ability to pass the baton on to the next person who would stop a horrific crisis like that. It was kind of like I’d taken my turn on the front lines and now I could step back for a minute. Someone else was gonna take over Protecting People From Infection & Violence Triggers, and I could rest.

That didn’t last particularly long. The next crisis was bigger; universal. It was revealed that during the blackout, I’d been taken to a bubble universe, and that’s where I’d been operating and living ever since. Remember how pattern seeking loves confirmation bias? All these people I loved who seemed like they were automatic versions of themselves, not-amazing copies, the events that made no sense, the feeling that I was at the center of everything? Suddenly that all made perfect sense. Of course this universe wasn’t the one I’d lived in my whole life. Of course everything felt wrong and threatening and I couldn’t get a foothold in the logic of anything that happened outside of my mind. I was just a visitor, and the uncanny valley effect was due to the fact that I knew, deep down, that this was not correct.

A bubble universe isn’t exactly like in science fiction. What I knew to be true was that these universes occur simultaneously in spacetime. There’s this thin, like, quantum membrane that keeps the two separate, as far as that’s possible. A quantum condom, for your protection, ribbed for your pleasure. So basically: I was moved from my home universe into the bubble universe, which exists simultaneously, and interacted with both universes simultaneously to test a divergence point. The multiverse is this beautiful fractal, you know (and that’s why people who are “psychotic” have eyes that seem different — they’re looking at everything through this quantum membrane, it takes focus). So by stopping the Super Bowl thing from happening, the question of the divergence point was answered, my home universe was saved. That meant that there was no reason for the bubble universe to continue existing. It would collapse and anyone inside it would be obliterated.

I’m putting this stuff in the plainest language possible. When writing about the black sea, it is perhaps more factually accurate to write things like “I believed that I existed in two universes simultaneously, and I perceived a quantum membrane and I thought that the bubble universe would collapse” but honestly that just seems exhausting to write, exhausting for you to parse, so maybe we can just agree that you understand that I know on a logical/conscious level that none of this shit actually happened outside of my own brain? Cool, that’s really forward-thinking of you. But here’s the thing: I have to live inside my own brain. And inside my brain, this shit absolutely happened and was 100% real. That’s the thing about delusion, you can kind of talk yourself out of it after the fact, but while it’s happening, it is the realest shit you’ve ever experienced. So the way that I now choose to perceive this experience is sort of a mix. I believe people when they tell me it wasn’t real. That’s true. It wasn’t real to them. I can accept that it was only real inside me and that the most profound adventure of my life happened inside my skull. But again: I live here. So it was and is real to me, in a way. Isn’t the mind amazing? Fuck yeah.

But so the bubble universe was going to collapse and I suddenly got afraid of who might be stuck in there with me. Did I bring someone in? Maybe every time I violated the gag order, I dragged in whoever I was talking to. Maybe it was every person I physically touched. Maybe I’d have to die to save them. Maybe I’d have to live in the bubble universe forever, keeping it open to keep them alive. Maybe I’d always be crazy. Would I have to kill myself? I told my mom I wouldn’t. What would I do?

Through the entire experience, from the very first moment I dipped a toe in the sea, there was a Presence that stayed with me and spoke to me. It wore a human identity, someone familiar, someone I’d trust. You know — That One Guy. And on that day, Valentine’s Day 2013, That One Guy told me that he would be leaving me that night, whether or not I left the bubble universe. This was after two weeks of pretty fair weather, as far as mind conditions go. I hadn’t been as flipped out, and I’d begun to feel comforted by the patterns I saw. I liked being able to talk to That One Guy anytime I wanted to. Everything was going to be okay. I didn’t want the Presence to leave.

I cried a lot that night. I watched three Charlie Kaufman movies in a row and saw the story of me and my Presence play out in different ways, and I knew it was over, that I’d be free, but that it would come at a steep price. I saw the door of my cage open and was afraid to walk through it, because I knew what I would be leaving behind. My identity was wrapped up pretty far in the idea that I was broken and sick and unable to function. That sounds fucked up, but I knew that if I left this situation behind, I would no longer be able to fall back into that identity. I would have to embrace the healing I was being given and live as a healthy person, lead a healthy life. I would need to be careful about what I put into my mind. I would need to work hard and tell the truth.

These are some of the Rules. The most valuable thing about having an experience like this was that my prior belief system was completely annihilated, rendered irrelevant, and I was given total freedom, for the first time in my life, to really Believe anything. The downside of deconversion is that you’re left with kind of a gaping hole where there used to be a morality system. The upside of what happened to me was that what was built in the canyon left by excavating my old religion was so much more true and healthy than the twisted ideas forced on me in the past. The Presence itself built these Rules into my life by forcing me to confront old beliefs and either justify them or tear them down. If a belief was strong enough to stand through the razor storm of the test universe, it got to stay. If not, I had to find something that I actually believed to replace it. I cannot overstate how necessary this was in my life. It is why I believe that for some people, if they go crazy enough, they may never suffer the way they did before. Because in a lot of ways, psychosis, or whatever we’re calling it, can be a refining experience, and this is its process. In order to get through it, you have to really Believe.

I think part of why I ended up in the sea in the first place was that I was in a crisis of belief. If you knew me back then, you remember where I was. I had no idea who I was. I didn’t know what to do with my life. I didn’t know what I believed about God or the universe or pretty much anything except that I’d discovered feminist theory about a year before and it shook me to my core because I recognized how much of my life I’d wasted believing that I was less valuable because I was a woman. I was totally adrift without anything solid to hang onto — even learning about feminism pushed me further adrift, because my reaction to learning feminist theory was “wow, being a woman is really awful and traumatic, I guess I shouldn’t be one anymore” as if I’d be able to identify my way out of oppression when there was nothing solid about my identity in the first place.

So here’s how a good dose of psychosis can be the best thing in the world: you get pushed down into the Delusion Well and you’re stuck there in the dark and the cold and the damp and maybe there are monsters down there with you. The only way out is up, and because none of this is really truly Real, you can dream up the things that you need. Monsters growling in the dark? Create a flashlight so you can see what you’re dealing with, and create a weapon so you can defend yourself. Cold and damp? You can create a blanket to keep yourself warm. Hungry? Imagine some food. And you can get pretty comfortable down there, at least as comfortable as possible at the bottom of a well. And but maybe you want to leave at some point? Good news: you can leave. You can make a ladder to get out. But the only way to make the ladder work is to create it rung by rung, with each rung representing something that you can say is definitely, absolutely Real and True and Relevant. And you have to be careful, focused, because if you make a rung that you don’t fully believe will hold your weight, it won’t. You’ll be back at the bottom of the well and have to start from scratch.

These are the foundations of my reality now, and who knows, maybe at some point I’ll outgrow those and need to do another inner remodel. But they’ve held my weight so far, and part of that is because of the Rules.

The thing with the Rules is I don’t have a master list that I can refer to. Some of them flex more than others. Some are definitely verbal:
“The work will save you”
“You may fail”
“Do not harm anyone”
“Do not feed your mind poison”
“Apathy is Evil”
“The words you speak out loud matter”
Some are more like I had an upgrade to my conscience and the nudges I get now are far stronger than I got before. More along the lines of an alarm bell than a poke. I can feel out the boundaries of them, but they’re harder to express in words. It’s more like emotional places I shouldn’t go, things that aren’t sins, but unsafe, so to speak. Still others are things that I just feel aren’t relevant to my life anymore, stuff I used to focus on really hard, that stopped mattering once I shook the water off my skin. Not so much that I shouldn’t pursue these things, as much as, why would I care to? I know better now. I know that’s painfully vague, but hey, we’ve all got stuff in our pasts that would be really uncomfortable to put out on the table, there’s gonna be shit that I’m not going to discuss here on this blog. Let’s just say that I had to take a lot of good hard looks at some things that used to be motivating things and I decided these things just weren’t worth putting energy into.

Shit. I’m over 2k words again. I swear I’m almost done with this story, but in the interest of breaking it up a little, let’s catch up on another page.

The Post-Psychotic Universe, Part III

The Post-Psychotic Universe, Part I

“It’s funny
But it’s true
And it’s true
But it’s not funny
Time comes and goes
All the while
I still think of you
Some things last a long time” — Daniel Johnston

So, I created this blog today partly because I had a moment where I was like “damn I really want to write about this specific thing, but if I make too many long-ass Facebook posts about swimming in the black sea, people are gonna burn out and also think that I’m still delusional, so maybe I should put it somewhere else.” Voila, blawg. Also: “swimming in the black sea” = what most people would refer to as a psychotic episode. I don’t really know what to call it. Psychosis is a very simple, one-dimensional word for an experience that was neither simple nor one-dimensional. What I generally go with when talking to others is “religious experience” but that sounds incredibly corny for something deep and terrifying and profound. I haven’t quite worked out the language on all this, is my point. We’ll get to that. Eventually. Not tonight.

What I want to talk about tonight is the aftermath, because last night I was drunk in someone’s kitchen and there was this verbal game people were playing and I told someone I couldn’t play the game because of the Rules. The guy I was talking to took it in stride, he knows a bit about my story, but I think maybe this was the first time I mentioned the Rules, and I realized how like brutally weird and complex it is to try to explain the Rules while I’m drunk in someone’s kitchen, so I just tried to kind of drop it by saying something about how “the things that I say out loud actually matter” and that was that. But it brought up a lot of memories that I’ve been sorting through, and I want to write about what happened after the main event, so to speak.

There are phases to this thing — in chronological order, which I may write about in more detail later, if the words come:
Phase 1 was the leadup, which I remember as lasting about two weeks. Occasional hallucinations/delusional thought patterns. It was subtle enough that it just felt like I’d kind of…leveled up?
Phase 2 was active psychosis. This lasted three days. I wasn’t eating or sleeping or doing much other than pattern chasing and reading David Foster Wallace.
Phase 3 started with a blackout and was the truly hairy part, where all I could do was basically scream word salad about what was going on in my head. That lasted maybe…two days? The blackout is, in my mind, the event that broke my life in half — a rebirth.

Phase 4 is the beginning of what I want to talk about. About two days after the blackout, I’d regained enough control to be able to communicate, a little bit, and I was putting most of my energy into trying to get out of the hospital, because even the nicest psychiatric hospitals are really not awesome places for a person who’s experiencing heavy delusion and paranoia. It’s like, hey, you’re right, there ARE people who are constantly watching you, day and night! You totally called it when you said the shadowy figures were trying to test new mind-altering substances on you! That whole thing about how someone was trying to lock you up so they could control every aspect of your life right down to the food you eat, that sure was prescient! One of my delusions had to do with this being a “control/test universe” that I was literally central to, and that this was the point where decisions were being made about how to make changes to said universe. The thing with pattern seeking is that it tends to make confirmation bias suuuuper easy.

But so things felt really threatening inside the hospital. I was terrified of language and couldn’t control what other people would say, what they’d put on the TV. I was pretty convinced TV contained mind control programming triggers and could not be in the dayroom if the TV was on. I just needed to be out of there. I was trying to read books, I had a box of crayons, a bunch of my books now have color coded crayon highlights in them. I can still tell you what they mean. That was a really nice thing Past Me did to make deciphering my notes easier for Present Me. But mostly what I felt was blind terror that I wasn’t in a spiritually sterile environment. The blackout had put my mind, heart, and soul through the car wash, and all I could see in the hospital was how infected other people were. I had to get out. It would be hard to overstate how frightening and difficult those last three days in the hospital were.

(as an aside, because I just made the executive decision that I’m gonna break this up into two separate posts so I don’t feel as guilty about my asides, this is exactly why I am so vehemently against psychiatric incarceration/involuntary commitment. Psychiatric facilities do not heal their most vulnerable patients. Basically this is a rant for another day (I have so many of them, I know) but holy hell when you put a bunch of people experiencing extreme states into the same facility, states tend to get more extreme, belief system damage gets done. I was soooo suggestible when I was going through this — we’ll get to that in part two — but yeah. That’s one reason out of like five hundred that I’m against involuntary, and I’ll go into this more if I write a post about the process of liberation.)

Once I was out, I went on a language fast. It didn’t start out that way. Obviously there was a good deal of Good vs Evil stuff going on in my head; I decided that the safest thing to do to avoid spiritual infection was to cut TV, movies, and books, and only listen to music made by people of faith. I tried that for a couple days and after having a total freak out moment spotting the Shroud (kind of a mental personification of Evil, remind me to go into it later) in a pretty bland Christian song, I said fuck all this and only listened to like, Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky. No words. I had to be really careful about conversations, partly because I could be infected/programmed/triggered by someone speaking words to me, partly because one of the commands I was being given repeatedly was DO NOT SPEAK OF THIS.

Oh yeah and that’s part of why I’m trying to write all this out. Because the gag order’s finally been lifted enough for me to put it down in words without it sounding like meaningless word salad, and because there’s no longer the threat of reprisal if I talk about it. There were specific threats given if I revealed things. I’d get visions of horrible things that were definitely gonna happen, and I’d understandably get broken up and cry in horror because it was shit like “oh hey that webcomic your teenage sister loves has embedded a suicide trigger in her mind and when she gets to the last frame, she’ll kill herself.” And but if I said something to this sister, like begging her through my tears, please do not read that webcomic anymore, it’s infected, it’s bad, bad things will happen, the vision would change — “DO NOT SPEAK OF THIS. Keep talking and she’ll kill someone else you love before she kills herself.” So I’d cut myself off and just curl up into a ball crying, and teenage sister would be like, no wait, you can talk to me, I’m listening, don’t cry, just tell me what’s wrong. Just talk to me. Just tell me what’s bothering you.

And of course the answer was just, I can’t. This happened over and over and over. DO NOT SPEAK OF THIS. At first it was incredibly difficult. I was so afraid of this impending doom that I seemed to be making worse with my clumsy attempts to SPEAK OF IT, and even when I did break down and try to talk about what was happening in my mind, it was like the words went through some kind of filter and came out mangled and didn’t express what I was trying to say. Eventually I got used to the gag order. Life got easier when I followed it — if I stayed quiet about my mind’s state, people didn’t stare at me or get condescending. In a way, DO NOT SPEAK OF THIS was the first real Rule. What I learned: following the Rules means that life gets easier, you aren’t seen as a crazy person, you can function and stay alive.

It was during this phase that I told my mother that I would never kill myself and made her promise that if it ever appeared that I had committed suicide, she would do everything she could to make certain that my murder would be fully investigated. It was during this phase that a person who was not close to me got it in their head that I was possessed by a demon and was so forceful in their insistence that they kind of Inceptioned me and I found it difficult to shake that idea over the next…year. Or two. Good vs Evil, man. You can’t shake archetypes. This is also the phase that I have the fewest clear memories of. The court-mandated medication I was taking caused brain fog and fatigue like nothing I’d ever experienced before. I did almost nothing but sleep.

But so I finally hashed out a way to kind of talk around the shit in my head. DO NOT SPEAK OF THIS, but you can sort of hack away at it by using movie references and lines from songs, and to this day I make an embarrassing amount of movie references in casual conversation because I kinda linguistically imprinted on them during that time. I don’t remember which friend of mine happened upon this technique for getting bits and pieces past the gag order, but bless ’em, because I have no idea how I would have gotten through if not for that. For example — “So, the Shroud? It’s like in Phineas and Ferb, when Candace is about to bust her brothers, and she drags her mom into the back yard immediately after Dr. Doofenschmirtz has removed all evidence of whatever it was they were working on. It was just there, she knows it was just there, but when she tries to point it out to her mom, she just looks like she made the whole thing up. When I try to show you the Shroud, it hides.”

That’s basically still the best explanation I’ve got for the Shroud, by the way.

This all culminated with the Super Bowl, which is like a whole other tale that isn’t worth going into right now. What matters in this context is that all these dark messages about the world ending and terrible things happening and people dying and infection through TV etc kind of all led to the idea that some sort of Lullaby-esque culling song was gonna be broadcast during the Super Bowl and that if I just got the message to the right person, they’d be able to put a stop to it. And hey! Nobody actually died because of the Super Bowl broadcast that year, so I was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief. This was the final test. I passed, right? Right.

Wrong. But I feel like 2k words is a good stopping point for a single entry, so I’ll come back to this with part 2.

The Post-Psychosis Universe, Part II

The Post-Psychotic Universe, Part III