Monday, June 25, 2007

Psychosis & your loved ones.

Last week I wrote a post on psychosis

WillbeFine left the following comment:

In these manic/psychotic moments how many of your friends stood by you? What efect on your family? What about the strain on your marriage?

Good questions. Here's my attempt at an answer. I've divided the answer into 3 sections, corresponding with the 3 occasions on which I did experience full-blown psychosis. (because each occasion was totally different in terms of loved ones)

I was 19 years old and in the South African Defence Force at the time (which was compulsory at that point) The psychosis hit on a Friday night at my parents home ( I had a weekend pass). I'd gone to a party, smoked a couple joints and just kinda "stayed stoned", but like a "bad trip" stoned. Got home about 1am. Saturday morning I dived into an old Bible and started quoting passages out of it to my Mom & Dad. I went into my sisters room and "cast the demons out".

Parents response at that stage: puzzled. Not surprising - I had everything going for me at that point. I was super confident, super fit and had an endless supply of friends (and girlfriends). I was very, very happy (only now can I see that I was way too happy). Also - I was nowhere near a Christian - drugz, sex & rock 'n roll was my scene. So sudden bible brandishing , and preaching that Satan was nigh was indeed puzzling.

Come Monday morning a friend and I drove into the army camp together and when we got there I said to him, I'm not coming to army today. Again: total puzzlement.

But it was an hour or two later, after I went to see an old drug counsellor that I'd previously seen that I was "committed".

Responses: Parents shattered - "nervous breakdowns" weren't even on the family's radar at that point. It had come like a bolt from the purple. The ensuing 3 months were probably the most stressful months of their lives. What made it so difficult was it was too early then to make a diagnosis. No matter how many anti-psychotics the doctors threw at me, my delusions of grandeur just got worse and worse. There was a very real chance that I might never have snapped out of the psychosis and ended up spending the rest of my days in an asylum. (if it weren't for the shock treatment maybe I would've.)

Even when I emerged from the psychosis and was discharged from further military duty, the doctors told my parents that I'd never be able to hold down a real job and that they better budget on looking after me for a "long, long time".

So to say that it totally and irreversably threw my whole family is, if anything, an understatement.

But I gotta say that some good came of it too. In my teenage years there was a major chasm between my parents and I. Plenty hate all round. My father and I continually came to blows (occasionally physical) and when he used to go away on business trips I used to look him in the eye and tell him I hoped he would never come back. At 17 he kicked me off the property and I went and worked as a barman in another town.

This hospitalisation episode suddenly bought the whole family extremely close. For the first time, I, the rebellious and independent teenager knew that I actually wasn't such a James Dean hero, and that I really needed them. And I think they saw me in a different light for the first time too - not just a stubborn brat, hell-bent on overthrowing any authority in my path, but somebody who was sensitive and vunerable too.

As to my friends at the time - they greeted the news of my hospitalisation with total disbelief. At first they all thought that I was putting the whole thing on in order to get discharged from army. A lot of guys used to do that in those days. They were anti-apartheid and wanted to have nothing to do with the regime's military machine, trapped in this situation only by the fact that if they didn't do the compulsory 2 years, they'd have to do 4 years in some weird kind of "correctional" facility. The fact that I was one of these Anti-apartheid dudes made it even more likely that my "breakdown"was a sham. To this day there are some of my old friends that think I pulled it off.

Whether my friends "stood by me" is not something I can give a straight answer too. After one week in hospital I was transferred to a psychiatric ward in Pretoria. And after I returned home I refused to see or speak to any of my old friends for months. I felt like a total failure, and the fact that I had sunk into a major depression by that stage didn't help. Besides which, most of my friends pre-hospitalisation were heavily into weed and other substances, something I didn't partake again in for many years. So there was a natural "parting of ways". The closer friendships stuck though, and some of them are still going (even if only by email).


By now you'll probably see that there's no way I can fit all 3 of my psychotic episodes in one post, so you'll just have to stay tooned for scenes form our next episode...


  1. Thanks for sharing your experiences on the matter C. Your posts in particular have helped me deal with my own experiences retrospectively, and I'm not as fearful anymore because I understand them better.

    Never took LSD, but I imagine it must be a lot like this. Some experiences were really terrifying, others can only be described as "deliriously joyful." Every time I was either lucky enough to turn to people who though I really was having a religious experience and supported me accordingly, or I just kept it to myself, only to realize later that I was "just me being nuts again."

    I'm not particularly thrilled about the possibility of getting stuck in one of those trips forever, but then again this is something that can happen to anyone and a risk that I just have to live with.

  2. Anonymous26 June, 2007

    Looking forward to the rest of this real life drama. So far so good.

  3. its interesting to me how many psychotic trips have a religious bent to them. I have a freind who goes manic and everytime goes about "bashing people over the head with his bible" figuratively of course.....but a great many seem to go religious in psychosis, I wonder why......


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