Over the past month, I’ve been declining.
The other night, my husband made a minor comment that made me feel bad, and I fell into a thought spiral on the thought “It’s not supposed to be this hard.” I started crying. I sank deeper into dark ideas, feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness and meaninglessness. When the sadness became too great for my brain, it turned to pure fear instead. My mind’s solution to fear is often to ascribe meaning to it that isn’t there, just because it needs to have a reason to be afraid. This time, my mind picked ghosts. The room around me was full of ghosts. They all stood still, with their hands at their sides, all silent, all staring at me. There must have been at least 30 of them. There was not enough space between any of them for me to leave the room or even get off the couch.
I called out to my husband to help me and told him about the ghosts. He tried to help me fact-check by telling me that there couldn’t be ghosts because ghosts are not real. That didn’t work this time. I could see them. I could feel them looking at me. My husband is a creative problem-solver when I’m in crisis, so he was on top of the situation. He told me that there were no ghosts in the bedroom, so we could go in there and be safe. He made a path through the ghosts with his body so that I could follow behind him without touching them. It worked. The ghosts stayed out of the bedroom, so I stayed in it. I moved on to other troubling beliefs, but none as bad as the audience of 30 translucent spirits in the living room.
Those ghosts were a psychotic symptom, somewhere in a mix between hallucination, delusion, and paranoia. Mental illness symptoms are rarely simple or plain. Everything is a mixture of gradients. It’s been a long time since I’ve had such a striking and problematic psychotic episode.
I also had a night when I put together many pieces of “evidence” that my husband was cheating on me. It was full-fledged paranoia. I was seeing meaning and clues in everything. I spent the afternoon in a perpetual fit of trembling as I waited for him to come home so I could sneak a look at his phone. He wasn’t cheating, by the way. And most of the time I believe with 100% conviction that he would never do that to me. He happily let me examine his phone, for which I’m incredibly grateful. The belief that he was cheating was deep and felt true. Luckily, my faithful husband has had some dealings with mental illnesses himself. He has also seen me at my worst many times, and still, somehow, he stays. He understood that the paranoia was no one’s fault. It is my responsibility, just like all of my feelings, but not my fault. We laughed it off, but I was deeply unsettled by the return of paranoia, a symptom I haven’t had in several years.
My illness is starting to interfere with my life significantly. Hallucinations, paranoia, delusions, near-constant dissociation, cognitive decline, and oversleeping are causing daily problems. I’ve had a good last year, but I may be headed for a bad new one. I have an appointment with my psychiatrist in three days. I emailed him my symptoms, and he asked me to come in for a full examination.
Depression and anxiety are at least common enough for most people to have experienced themselves at some point. Psychosis and dissociation, my main problems these days, are not nearly as relatable. Lately, I’ve had dissociation to the point where I cannot go through the process of taking my pills if I have to open the pill-case and a bottle of water and then close both again. It’s too confusing. I forget what’s in each hand, and spill either the pills or the water. Sometimes I can’t operate the coffeemaker or figure out what steps are necessary during a shower. I used to shut down in the grocery store from anxiety and go into a dissociated state. Now I just stay in the car: there’s just no way to survive going in.
This is what my disability looks like.
I am incredibly fearful of the return of these severe symptoms. I don’t want to be in pain, and I don’t want to upset the lives of my loved ones. I am using all of my tools, and still, sometimes I feel like I am failing at life. I’m measuring myself more and more by whether or not I’m living my values, but sometimes I forget about values and let myself compare my fucked-up insides to an ideal person who does not exist. Comparing my sick self to my healthy self is an even more insidious beast. Why can’t my sick self just be like my healthy self again?
The bottom line is that I don’t get to choose whether I’m sick or healthy. I can choose to do everything in my power to become and stay healthy, but that is not a guarantee that I will get the thing I’m working so desperately for. Staying alive is work, no matter who you are. Some work is harder than others. Some days are harder than others. Some brains are harder than others. We don’t get to choose our work, our days, or our brains. I don’t get to choose my health or my illness.
I do my work, and life keeps going. My illness keeps going. My persistence keeps going. Honestly, right now I’m terrified. I don’t know why my brain is shorting out so badly, and I’m kind of afraid to find out why.
I guess I just keep going.