There are not so many people who have lived experience psychosis. But I can vividly recall it when I had it came to me. It was October 2003: I went into the toilet and everything seemed normal; some work-related anxiety, but nothing new there. As I was in the shower, with the water running, I realised that I had a purpose. I was sent to Earth for a reason. What was that reason? I knew, knew beyond a shadow of a doubt. I was on Earth to explain this to everyone else. They needed to know, and I was there to tell them, even if they weren’t interested.
I was on a delusional state, I thought I was a prophet. One with a strange message to share to the world, but I completely believed in my purpose.
I got out of the shower, dried off, and went to the living room to tell my (now ex) wife all about it. She didn’t understand a word I was saying and looked scared. I was frustrated because I had all this information to share, and the first person I decided to share it with wasn’t interested. I then I picked up a cast-iron motorcycle statue that was sitting on the stairs in the living room. I started to explain everything about it, and there was a lot to tell. Part way through, she got really scared and locked herself in the bedroom.
My suicide attempt
I’m not sure what happened next, but I remember being at work, trying similar explanations to people there – anyone I could corner. It didn’t go well and even scared people.
I don’t’ remember what happened the next day. Two days later I sent an email to some friends at work. I don’t remember the exact words I said, but it was dark and negative. It hinted at suicide and then I went to a server room and locked the door behind me. I wanted to kill myself, but that’s scary even when you realise that you have no purpose in life and no reason to live. When you know that everyone would be better off without you.
I had decided to cut my throat. I had the knife out and was trying to work up the courage to use it. Again, scared. But it was the only thing that could be done, the only thing that made sense. If there had been even a glimmer of hope, then maybe I could hold on. But there was no hope, no purpose, no reason to care about life. Everyone had rejected me.
Then it happened. A friend who’d received an email I sent found me. He came into the server room and asked how I was, telling me that he’d read the email, and was worried. He asked me to put down the knife, to give it to him. I didn’t want to.
There was now a glimmer of hope, but it was faint. Someone cared, but what could he do? He asked if he could call our employee assistance director. I said: ‘Sure, you can do that.’ He called, and explained what was happening, and asked me if I’d take the phone and talk, if I’d put the knife down and talk. I talked but didn’t put the knife down. What I heard made sense, but it still seemed so hopeless. He asked if he could talk to my friend some more, and when they were done, I got the phone back for instructions. He laid it out quite simply: I’d put the knife away, we’d go to the hospital where we’d go to a room I’d never been to before and that I’d sign anything they put in front of me and do whatever they said.
I’m not stupid, it was obvious that he wanted me to go inpatient at the psych ward. That possibility had scared me before, but how sacred? It wasn’t as scary as holding a knife to my throat, and it was more than a glimpse of hope, it was some real hope. Why hadn’t I thought of this myself? Why hadn’t I gone to my psychiatrist and asked to go inpatient? My ex-wife suggested it during rough periods before, but I had always resisted.
So off to the hospital we went, and it wasn’t too bad at all. When I was signing myself in, I was still depressed, but not as bad. That changed, and not for the worse. By the time I was handing my possessions over to be stored, I was excited and talking a mile a minute. I was manic. Strong hypomania at the least. Later when I talked to the psychiatrist and he went over the notes the technicians had made, and what I had told them, he told me that I’d been, and actually still was, in a mixed state, where I was manic and depressed at the same time.
I made it through 12 days in the hospital, and when I left, the depression was gone and I was left with a mania that lasted for months, slowly tapering off. I said and did many things during this mania that embarrass me to this day. I doubt I ever write about some of them. I went on disability then, short-term for a few months. I went back to work after this, but it was never the same and a bit more than a year later, I went on permanent disability. Today life is good, I have six adopted kids and a wonderful wife. I’m not free of mental illness symptoms, but no there’s more psychosis.
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Jim Buchanan is a mental health advocate and a volunteer with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). You can follow him on Twitter @jbuchana. He shares his mental health story to help address the stigma about mental health. Jim firmly believes that mental health is important, so important that we should all do our part in helping to destigmatise mental health concerns.