For some years I have harboured considerable resentment towards certain people for abandoning me when I needed them most.
When I was ill.
When I was psychotic.
Psychosis and I are old, old friends. I’ve had bipolar disorder my whole life. I was 25 before I was diagnosed and almost 29 before I started to get a handle on things.
In that time I experienced psychosis at different times and in different ways. Sometimes it was mercifully fleeting. Other times it didn’t seem to know how to end.
In fact, it got progressively worse until something broke.
Because of this I thought I knew about psychosis.I was never foolish enough to believe I could understand the psychotic mind.. I thought I understood what it was and what it meant.
I recently realised I was very much mistaken.
While I have ample experience of what it is like to be psychotic, I had never seen the view from the other side until recently. I didn’t know what it was like to deal with a person going through psychosis, and as such I couldn’t understand how so many people had so readily abandoned me throughout mine.
Some came back when I had recovered, most didn’t.
I am still very angry about that, I am still haunted by questions that have lingered for years:
How could they possibly not see that I was ill?
How could they leave me instead of getting me help?
Why didn’t they love me enough?
If anything, recent events have only reinforced my belief that it should have been blindingly obvious I was in deep, serious trouble.
That I was ill, rather than a bitch/slut/whore.
In hindsight, it’s obvious they something was seriously wrong. It’s obvious they should have something about it. But hindsight is remarkably clear-sighted, and there are two things I had never taken into consideration that simply over-ride all common sense when a loved one is psychotic:
Trying to look after someone who is in the midst of a psychotic break is utterly exhausting and, quite possibly one of the most heart breaking things I’ve ever experienced. Until recently, I’d never had to do it, not really. I knew people who, like me, had been psychotic in the past, I’d even spoken to them on occasion when they were suffering a relapse, but I’d never been in the thick of it.
I’d never been the person they talked it all through with, every detail, every fear, every anxiety, every panic, every delusion, every insane thought that popped into their head and suddenly became real.
I’ve been psychotic.
I’ve never seen psychosis.
Not until recently.
One day I became so frightened by the things I was hearing from a friend I was forced to call the police. I couldn’t get to her and I needed someone to check on her. Physically she was perfectly fine, but mentally she was in real trouble. I’m no psychiatrist, so I can’t diagnose her, but I recognise the symptoms of psychosis when I see them.
It scared the living shit out of me. I was terrified for my friend. I was also terrified for myself.
It was like staring into a mirror and having my past-self reflected back at me, dark and distorted.
I know psychosis, I’ve lived it. I know it’s terrifying to endure. I never before realised how horrendous it is to watch.
It’s soul destroying, it’s heart breaking, to see someone you love in that sort of state and be utterly powerless to help. It doesn’t matter what you say or what you do, their reality in no longer connected to your own. You can’t soothe their fears, you can’t convince them of the truth. They’re in another world, and the rules are different there. The rules are cruel and unjust and constantly changing.
Trying to understand the reality of another person’s psychosis is to court insanity yourself.
I’ve spent weeks attempting to understand my friend’s current state of mind and damn near lost my own mind in the process. I had to take a step back. I had to stop trying to unravel the ununravelable and have a breath. I had to resign myself to the fact I could listen, but I couldn’t enter that world. I couldn’t walk beside her and take her hand. I couldn’t throw my arms around her and hold her while she cried. I couldn’t kick the crap out of the demons coming after her.
Because she was in another world,.
And I couldn’t reach her.
No matter how hard I tried, and believe me, I tried, I couldn’t reach her.
She floated away from me, a cloud in the sky, boiling with thunder, and all I could do was watch her go and pray she came back down.
When she lands, I’ll catch her, I’ll be here.
Until then, all I can do is listen to the thunder.
And it’s deafening.
It makes me want to run as far and as fast as I can.
But I don’t run. I won’t run.
I will never run from her thunder.
I know what it is to be a storm cloud in the sky. I know what it is to have lost your tether, to be floating away, further and further away, from everyone and every thing you know and love.
I know what it’s like to gaze down at the world you used to know and find it foreign, completely unfathomable.
I know what it’s like to find everything about the world below impossible to comprehend except for one thing, and it’s the most important thing:
Everyone is leaving you.
You’re lost, and terrified, and all they can do is run.
What the fuck is wrong with them, how could they do this to you? Don’t they know what you’re going through? Don’t they understand?
Don’t they love you enough to just listen to the thunder?
I know what it’s like to watch them run. It drives you further into the sky. It makes the thunder louder. It sparks the lightning.
It is the very worst thing a person can do to you.
It’s selfish, it’s cruel, it’s a hateful, hateful thing to do.
It is also, I have realised, completely and utterly understandable.
I never realised how draining that thunder can be, how exhausting. I didn’t know that just standing there, facing down the storm, takes the most overwhelming amount of courage. You’re afraid, every second you stand there, you’re afraid that the person you knew isn’t coming back, that you’ve lost them forever, and if you’re really honest with yourself, you’re afraid you might float away with them.
That the madness is somehow contagious.
You don’t know what they’re going through. You don’t understand. Nobody does. Nobody can know what it is to be in that cloud, not even if you’ve been in a similar cloud yourself.
A psychotic reality is formed from the mindscape and experiences of the individual. Not only is it constantly changing and evolving, it is also utterly unique.
A psychotic may have some understanding of what it is like to be in the cloud, but they seldom understand how the cloud works. And if a person cannot figure out a reality built from their own mindscape and experiences, how the hell are they going to fathom one constructed from someone else’s?
Psychosis is incomprehensible.
I get it, I do, I know why you want to run.
But before you do, please take a minute to read about my cloud. It’s not the same anyone else’s, I’m not describing psychosis, not really. I’m describing my psychosis, my cloud. If you know someone in a cloud of their own, it will be different. If you have a cloud yourself, it will be different. But if you can get a glimpse of mine I think, perhaps, you might understand the thunder a little better.
You might find it easier to stay.
These things I say and do, that seem so foreign and strange to you are as real to me as everything you consider to be reality. If I told you reality was wrong, that your world wasn’t real, would you believe me? If I told you the person you’ve been talking to on the bus every day for the last year doesn’t exist, would you believe me? If you were chased home by a man with a knife trying to rape you, and all I said when you told me about it was, “Don’t be silly!” would you laugh?
Would you find it funny?
Would you get the joke?
It may be terrifying to watch someone go through psychosis, but it’s far worse to be the person enduring a psychotic break.
Listening to the thunder isn’t nearly as bad as being in the cloud.
In the cloud I know, with absolute certainty, what is real and what isn’t. But nobody agrees with you. Everyone tells me what I see is wrong. What I hear is wrong. I’m lying. I’m imaging things. I’m paranoid. I’m crazy.
What I see and hear and feel is real, but everyone acts like it isn’t. Everyone pretends the monsters aren’t there. Everyone laughs as hands close around my throat shake me until I die.
I KNOW I’m right, down to the very core of my being. If my depended on it, and it often does, I would stake my entire existence on the fact that what I know to be real is in fact reality.
Perception is reality.
If I see it, it’s there, if I feel it, it’s there, if I hear it, it’s there.
Whether you agree with me or not makes no difference – the cloud doesn’t change simply because the outside looks different to the inside.
My reality is as real as yours. But mine shifts and changes, moment to moment. There isn’t a single person in the world who knows what I know, sees what I see, believes what I believe, and I’m not really careful, all those people telling me I’m wrong fracture away from me.
Because it’s just not possible that EVERYONE in the world is ignorant or stupid enough to be blind to the truth. The truth that I see and hear and feel and touch. The truth they all deny.
Which means they are all lying.
Which means they’re all in it together.
Everyone is conspiring against me and, at the same time, reality bleeds from one nightmare to the next, your mind leaping around in time to show you the worst moments from you life again and again, to dredge up ancient pain and make it fresh, to catapult you far into the future, to the ultimate end of everything that could possibly go wrong.
And the ultimate end is always cataclysmic.
The world is conspiring against me, every pain, every trauma, every horror I’ve ever experienced, or feared, or imagined, is real and really happening, and it’s all really happening right now. All at once.
That is my cloud. That is my psychosis.
Can you imagine what that is like? Can you imagine how exhausting, how terrifying that is?
When you’re up there in the cloud you have no choice. You have to brave the storm.
So you people, down there, safe and sound in the real world, you people who think it’s too upsetting, too frightening, too annoying to listen to the thunder of your friend, your family member, your colleague. You people who think the clouds aren’t worth it, who can’t take it any more because you’re too tired, to angry, too afraid…
You’re not in it. You’re not in the cloud. The cloud is hell. You don’t have to endure hell. All you have to do is listen to the thunder. All you have to do is stand there. If you love your cloud, you will be there to catch her when finally falls from the sky.
Because she will fall.
And the fall could kill her.
I know it’s hard. I know it’s scary as hell. I really didn’t get it before, I only saw it from my perspective, only knew it from the view of the person left floating off into the night, alone, terrified, and stuck in the cloud. I didn’t know how hard it was to stay. I know now, and I’m sorry it’s so difficult. Truly I am. But clouds are devastatingly fragile.
They need you far more than you will ever understand.
I know you want to be anywhere else, dealing with anything else.
But if you love your cloud, you will stay.
If you love your cloud, you will listen.
I’m still not running.
I still won’t leave her.
And if I can stand here, and weather the storm, and be here when she falls, if I can evade my own cloud long enough to battle through and listen to someone else’s, you can.
You have to.
They don’t have a choice – they didn’t chose to float away.
You have a choice.
And if you chose wrong, you will lose them forever.
If you chose wrong, you will only be adding to the thunder.