Disclaimer: This article contains sensitive topics that may be unsuitable for some readers.
In December of 2015, after a couple of sleepless and drug-laden weeks of cramming for finals, I was involuntarily committed to a psych ward. I remember pacing in circles in the isolation ward, riddled with delusions and hallucinations that are too embarrassing to recount. At the time, I was simply terrified. I wanted someone to tell me that everything would be okay, but the nurses and orderlies simply watched me through a little window in my door in stoic silence.
At one point, I’d had it. I tried to bust through the door, which I discovered wasn’t locked. They kept pushing me back inside. I tried again. I’m a small girl, but it eventually took three or four strong men to push me back onto the bed and shoot me up with a Haldol and Thorazine injection us asylum patients often call “booty juice.”
That was almost five years ago. The fallout from my psychotic episode had been severe. Before it, I believed I was invincible, untouchable.
November of 2015: I was a student at the University of California, Irvine. I had no less than ten books checked out of the University library at any time. The books never bore any relationship to my major, cognitive science. No university had a major in the field I dedicated my spare time to researching: the occult. To fit all of that research and my course load into my daily routine, it seemed only natural to stop sleeping. I downed fistfuls of Adderall at a time, both extended-release capsules and the normal blue pressed pills. On any given day, you could find me on the floor of my apartment room, five books splayed out in neat rows, while I scribbled handwritten notes furiously in my journal (I believed that handwritten notes make a bigger impression neurologically). Alternatively, I might be perched catlike on my office chair, musing over metaphysical ideas on a conspiracy forum with a dubious history and even more dubious user base.
I balanced everything, albeit extremely precariously. I got decent grades without studying and stayed awake until eventually the Adderall stopped working and my body collapsed upon my bed. I’d only emerge from a dreamless comatose sleep days later, unsure of when or where I was. In a fantastical sense, I compared myself to Alice in Wonderland, traversing the fringes of sanity and emerging unscathed. In retrospect, the psychotic breakdown doesn’t seem so surprising. But I couldn’t accept what had happened to me, that my mind had betrayed me. I was agonized, broken for years.
When they released me from the psych ward at the beginning of January 2016, I tried to return to UCI, although I’d been offered a leave of absence. This was a mistake. I was still “coming down” from my psychosis, still very much insane. In my apartment, I would take clothes out of the living room, believing they were gifts from a mysterious stranger, but of course they were left there by one of my roommates. I bought a year-long World of Warcraft subscription for $180 using my FAFSA money. I don’t think I played the game for more than five minutes. I donated $500 to a charity solicitor on the university campus. My professor’s lectures swarmed around my head, words like buzzing flies that couldn’t penetrate my brain. I was even aware of what I called my “fractal psychosis”, but I still couldn’t distinguish what was real from the delusions my brain conjured.
It wasn’t even two weeks before I’d used my entire 3-month allotment of FAFSA money, and I had nothing left to cover rent. So when the same charity solicitor approached me on campus and offered me a “modeling job”, I couldn’t believe my luck. I couldn’t see the obvious warning signs of the situation. I was credulous, like a child. The man picked me up from campus in his SUV late one chilly evening and when he approached a dingy hotel I knew there was something wrong. He raped me.
I dropped out of college not long after that. Back at my mom’s house, the crushing weight of reality was almost too much to bear. Withdrawing in the middle of a semester meant that my transcripts were put on hold and I couldn’t return until I’d paid UCI’s penalty fee. I’d humiliated myself in front of my friends in December when I lost my mind, many of whom would never talk to me again. It seemed my life was over. I drank myself into a stupor night after night and stole Xanax from my mother until she started willingly giving me pills, desperate to help me emerge from my state of deep depression.
When I was 18-years-old, many years before, I’d moved out of my mother’s house. I sustained myself independently for years, leasing an apartment with my friends and working as a manager at Blockbuster. I considered myself an autonomous, independent human. College was supposed to be my bid to secure my future. After the psychosis, the person I used to be was gone. The capable and independent girl was wrestled away by the insanity and humiliation, medical bills I’d never be able to pay and a credit card I’d maxed out in my delusional fog.
A virulent manifestation of my periodic Anorexia emerged after that. On top of the pills and the alcohol, it was a way for me to regain control of my existence, an objective way to calculate my worth with a bathroom scale. I entered a revolving door of eating disorder treatment centers, making progress in residential care and immediately starving myself and losing weight when insurance dropped me to outpatient. Bouncing between levels of care in this manner became my life for the next three years. Sickness became the only identity I desired. I had no hope, believing I’d ruined my future and my life. The eating disorder was all that remained to hold onto. But eventually, my insurance deemed me “untreatable”. Procuring treatment became more and more of a battle. Eventually, I decided nothing was helping. In September of 2018, I left Center for Discovery’s Partial Hospitalization Program and turned to drug binges to console myself. If all of these professionals could not help me, I began to believe that perhaps nobody could.
I became increasingly agoraphobic. I only left my room to get Adderall and Xanax from my psychiatrist. I spent all day in the dark on my PlayStation, and my only human contact was with fellow gamers on the PlayStation network. Tensions between my mother and I were at a constant boil. Neither of us could talk to each other without a screaming match erupting. I subsisted off of federal disability money, which I’d been awarded for severe mental illness. The idea of working again was foreign and terrifying. But I didn’t even realize how miserable I was until on August 5th of 2019, I reached for every bottle of psych meds I had in my shoebox and downed them all at the same time.
Mostly what I recall is the ICU, spasming severely, my mom sitting by my bed in cold stricken terror for thirty-six straight hours. But I survived. I’d contact Beit T’Shuvah several weeks prior, but my misery was so complete that instead of holding out for my follow-up interview, I’d attempted suicide instead. I spent the next ten days in a psych ward, and upon my release, my mom drove me down to meet with Dr. Friedman, Beit T’Shuvah’s lead psychiatrist. They accepted me immediately, which seemed like a miracle. I checked in the next day.
Over the past six months of being here, I have rediscovered what happiness is to me. An agoraphobic loner in the past, the community here has become a rock and a source of support I never knew I needed. Work therapy at Creative Matters has given me confidence and a sense of purpose and structure. I’ve joined Beit T’Shuvah’s original musical, Freedom Song, which reminds me of the carefree child I used to be in elementary school, one that used to love to act and sing. I’ve joined the choir. I’ve joined Beit T’Shuvah’s budding film department. And no, it’s not by any means perfect. But I’m taking an active hand in creating my life now. Maybe I’ll never recover the person I used to be before my psychosis. But I truly believe in the person I am becoming.