Interview Eight: Psychedelic Psychosis
“I took a remote control with me for whatever reason… I was pressing buttons on it, and that was helping me. I was having all of these olfactory hallucinations. I was smelling bad breath, rosemary and ginger, mangoes… I ended up getting 302’d to the psych ward. I remember my first day in there, I was licking electricity sockets, because I couldn’t move unless I had electricity in me. I would literally sit still if I couldn’t reach the outlet in enough time.”
[Content Warning: Heavy Illegal Drug Use, Psychotic Symptoms, Involuntary Commitment]
Reading Time – 10 minutes
The First Emergence of Symptoms
With schizophrenia, if you use recreational drugs such as marijuana, it can exacerbate your symptoms. So I had been at work… and it’s really bad… but on my break I smoked pot with a coworker. I went back into work, and all these things started popping up in my mind, like text words. It was like I was telepathically communicating with him. I could visually see the words, like if it was a PowerPoint. After the high went away, the symptoms went away… I guess that was the first emergence of symptoms, but it wasn’t my full-blown psychotic break. That’s when the symptoms were heavy, and they didn’t actually go away…
I would lay in bed at night, and I would notice that I couldn’t stop moving my feet. I would hear these little things in my head, like voices. I couldn’t stop moving… it was like when you take an antipsychotic, and you get akathisia. It was similar to that… but I couldn’t stop moving when I heard the voices. They were prodromal symptoms, and they were all spirituality based. I thought I could listen to angels and hear angels talking to me. But as my symptoms intensified, the voices became more sexually-oriented… and unwanted. Very creepy…
The Beginning of Problems at Work
I started to drink more alcohol. I was confused, and I didn’t know where the voices were coming from… so I just tried to suppress it. I thought that the more I drank, the more things might level out. There was a time when I was on my way to go get alcohol. There was a person in front of me, and I was saying to myself, “Don’t turn around! Don’t turn around!” He actually turned around and looked at me… and that really freaked me out! Like, “Oh God! Can he really hear my thoughts?! Are my thoughts projecting?”
One day I went into work at my second job, and I drank a little beforehand. There was a coworker who I thought was bothering me. In my mind, he was provoking me to get agitated… just by like… touching his nose or moving his hands… or the things that he was saying. I flipped out on him and just called him an explicit name… My boss was standing right there, and I got fired on the spot. I used language I shouldn’t have… and it’s not like I meant any of it… I was just so agitated, and I had no idea what was going on.
The Family Begins to Worry
Drugs provoked most of my symptoms, I want to say… because if I hadn’t been using any drugs, I think there would be a big chance that I might not have lapsed into schizophrenia just yet… I mean, I think it still would have happened, but not so early. Things started getting progressively worse. I got another job, but I lost it within a week because I couldn’t count the money drawer correctly. I thought coworkers were bothering me, or I would yell at coworkers… I don’t know… My parents knew something was up, and my dad has a big temper, and he would yell at me. He was like, “You don’t really know what’s going on with yourself! You don’t know who you are! We don’t know why you’re acting this way!”
It wasn’t until one day when my parents and I were sitting down at the kitchen table. They were trying to talk to me about my bank account… just my expenses and what was going on. Out of the blue I just started laughing uncontrollably. My mom had previously told my dad, “I think there’s something going on with our daughter… I don’t know what it is, but something’s definitely up.” It wasn’t until that moment that my dad also knew something was going on.
One night when my dad was away, I decided to go on an entire house cleanse. I got all this sage that I was burning, and I went to every room in my house to get rid of the demons that were lurking around. I visually saw them… My mom had a lot of demons for some reason, and I was trying to get rid of those for her. She had gotten me this little jade elephant at a garage sale, and for some reason it was super negative… I brought it to her like, “Throw this out.” I watched her walk to the trash can and throw it out.
She called my dad, not knowing what to do. I talked to him, and I thought he understood what I was trying to do… I was doing a house cleanse… I just needed to get rid of some things and make the vibe better. Later, my mom told me she wished she would have brought me to the hospital that night, but she didn’t have the guts to do it alone.
Delusions and Command Voices
My symptoms continued to progress, and I started isolating myself. I was going on long walks with a close friend, because at the time I don’t think she saw anything wrong with me. Things would just continue normally with her, but all these things were going on in my head. She would become someone else, or she would be channeled by someone else. That’s where my delusion of grandeur would come in, because I thought there was a famous music artist who was in love with me, and he was channeling himself through me. I saw him live, and that’s when we conjoined.
I continued to use more drugs, and everything continued to intensify. I was compelled to use them, and actually I heard voices that told me to use them. One of the strongest voices I heard kept telling me to smoke meth… and thankfully I never did. All the hallucinations would revolve around smoking meth… I would have these uncontrollable sighs where I would go (deep sigh) and I couldn’t do anything about it… I thought a person who was in love with me was smoking meth, and somehow I was exhaling the hits he was taking… I don’t really know what that means, but… it’s all pretty confusing.
The First Psychotic Episode
Later on I went to a music festival with some friends. I took LSD and methylone… and I had a complete outrage. I was yelling, screaming… and no one understood what was going on. The friends I went with were like, “We don’t know what you’re talking about right now! We can’t help you!” They just kept suggesting that I smoke more pot… so, I was getting unlimited amounts of pot while I was psychotic… (laughs) Recipe for disaster. After I got home from the music festival, I wasn’t talking. I was just sitting at the kitchen table with my laptop, and my parents would ask me questions, and I would just glare at them. My mom was like, “You’re going to the hospital!”
I didn’t fight them or anything, because deep down I knew something was wrong. I took a remote control with me for whatever reason… I was pressing buttons on it, and that was helping me. I was having all of these olfactory hallucinations. I was smelling bad breath, rosemary and ginger, mangoes… When I got to the hospital I fixated on a religion called Santo Daime. I thought I was under the influence of ayahuasca, a meditative and spiritual drug. So, I ended up getting 302’d to the psych ward… I remember my first day in there, I was licking electricity sockets, because I couldn’t move unless I had electricity in me. I would literally sit still if I couldn’t reach the outlet in enough time.
Journey to Find the Right Medication
The doctors started me out on Risperdal, and that did bring me back into this world, but it had horrible side effects. I gained 50 pounds in a matter of months! I became pretty sedentary, even though I was pretty active before that. I am grateful for that medication, because it did bring me back, but it wasn’t the right medication for me. I’m on my fifth medication right now, which works pretty well… Latuda. I’ve been on Risperdal, Geodon, Abilify, I feel like there was one more… Zyprexa, which made me gain five pounds in a week. No thank you! Abilify would probably come in second, but it always made me feel edgy.
I ended up going off medications for about six months after the Zyprexa, which was kind of the last straw for me. I was sick of it. I told my psychiatrist that I had stopped taking my medication for about a week at the time. He said that if my symptoms were to reemerge, it would have already happened… so I got off medications. I went on and lived my life for about six months without symptoms, and during that time I got a job, made more friends… well, like two (laughs), and felt more socially inclined to do things. I got a lot more insight on how I was on medication versus how I was off medication. I didn’t know truly how I felt, because I had been on medication since I went psychotic. I was genuinely curious on how I would act without the medication.
Getting Back on Medication
I did good up until the point… my boyfriend, who suffers from severe depression, cycled into a downward spiral and started to get really bad… to a point where he couldn’t even form sentences or talk. I actually ended up having to admit him to the psych ward. I started getting really stressed out, and his family started stressing me out about it, so I had to go back on medication. I felt myself going back down to that hole, and I couldn’t have that. I couldn’t be psychotic again! I tried to tell myself, “It’s okay, you got this!” …but deep down, I knew I didn’t have it… (laughs)
I had leftover medication… and I started taking Abilify again, though I didn’t know what I was doing. I just started taking it at a low dose, and I ended up going to the emergency room. I had set up an appointment with a psychiatrist, but it wasn’t for another three weeks… and I couldn’t wait! I went to the emergency room, and the on-call doctor called my psychiatrist, asking if it was okay to give me a larger dose of medication. My psychiatrist wouldn’t write the prescription, because he hadn’t seen me… so I had to wait and somehow made it through the next three weeks. I finally saw him then, which is when I started Latuda. It’s like a godsend medication… though I’m not religious. I’m really thankful it’s out there.
Reflections on Psychosis
Looking back, the symptoms feel familiar. I can’t blame myself or anyone else for their actions or mine, because I was in a state where I couldn’t control myself. I don’t look back and ask, “What was I doing?” …because something so powerful took me over, which is honestly just my own mind. It’s amazing your mind is capable of doing such things. I know it’s still me, but it didn’t seem like I was controlling myself. There were these command voices… they weren’t in my personal voice, but they were still a part of me. The voices didn’t sound like my own internal voice. It’s kind of like an out-of-body experience that you get inside your mind. But you don’t want to have it, ‘cause it’s a scary one…
I still have residual symptoms… like if I get anxiety or depression they will pop up… but other than that I’m pretty good. A typical work day, I won’t have any symptoms, because I’m not stressed there. I just started a new full-time job, and I’m happy to finally get serious about work.
I keep my diagnosis to myself. I don’t have any urges to say, “I’M SCHIZOPHRENIC!” I don’t think it would make anything easier. I think that if my coworkers found out, there definitely would be some stigma, especially working at a hospital. My one coworker already said… he grabbed some sort of anti-psychotic medication, and he was like, “I call these the kooky pills!” (laughs) You know, it could be worse… but it’s still stigma.
Like, I’m a vegan, and they just started making vegan Ben & Jerry’s. I had my dad try it, and he was like, “Wow, this is great! What kind is it?” And I said, “Oh, it’s this and this! And it’s vegan!” He was like, “Oh, it’s vegan…? I thought there was something off about it…” So it’s kind of like that… if I told coworkers that I have schizophrenia, they would be like, “Oh… I noticed this and this about you…” Their minds might create things to notice, just because they can’t accept that I’m such a “normal” schizophrenic person.
Advice for Others with Schizophrenia
Stay on your medication until you feel 100% right again. Don’t let the slow pace of your life get you down, because it won’t always be that way. You have to take everything step-by-step, one day at a time. Even the most minuscule things are still progress.
And, if you start hearing any voices or suspect that you might be schizophrenic, please do not take any recreational drugs! (laughs) I don’t take any drugs now, and I passed my drug test for my new job with flying colors! I was so pumped!
Advice for the General Population
Being psychotic is a scary thing, and you do feel like some other entity is taking you over. I understand why when things like mass shootings happen, people always play the mental illness card… but, it’s more so like… the person next to you in line at the coffee shop might have a mental illness you don’t know about, and they look completely average. You would never expect it. It’s still a super touchy subject, but I think that if everyone took the time to understand mental illness… that it’s just part of being human for some people… it could make things a lot better.
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