Today, I spoke to a nurse at the Central Access Point. We talked about how I have been (which isn’t great) and then he asked me, given the medication I am on, whether I have ever experienced psychosis. I said, not really, but I’ve been paranoid. And he asked me to describe my experiences.
I described two.
1) When I lived in Kent, I once went into my bedroom. I felt anxious and shaky. I saw something vibrating in the corner of my eye and when I looked, I realised it was my red suitcase. I unwillingly opened the suitcase, and maggots spilled out. I raced from the room, only to realise minutes later that the maggots did not exist. I had an utter conviction at that point that if I told people certain things, someone dear to me would be killed. Quetiapine and a night at the university’s nursing station were the suggested remedies for this.
2) At 23, living in Edinburgh, I worked as a cleaner at Murrayfield stadium. One day, feeling a little distressed and unsteady, I went into work. I was cleaning offices that day and I felt as I walked in that everyone had been talking about me. I didn’t even know these people. I was frightened. In the next office, I felt certain that the people in the first office had been communicating with those in the second, either telepathically or on the phone (I couldn’t be certain which). Their smiles made me afraid.
The nurse I was speaking to paused for a moment. “What you’re describing, ” he told me, “are real psychotic experiences.”
This, in turn, gave me pause. Throughout my life I have had brief experiences like these. Unwilling to appear dramatic, or to make mountains out of molehills, or to compare my own experiences to those of people I considered much worse off, I had never termed them psychotic experiences. I always shrug them off as nothing. Though I was put on the Quetiapine and subsequently aripiprazole, I had convinced myself that these were prescribed to me purely for their mood stabilising properties.
Yet, I can’t say truthfully that I am surprised. His words, which, surprisingly, nobody had ever used on me before, resonated. They made sense of something I have avoided. I have heard voices. I have held strange beliefs. I have known the earthy taste of fear. Those experiences were what they were.
I write this because, like many people, I feel frustrated by the popular, sanitised narrative of mental illness. The kind characterised by the slightest aberrations or diversions from “Normal”. The kind in which a person recovers fully. The kind in which We Are Not Scary… because the thing with scary people is that they are usually scared people. When the world stops making sense to you, it is terrifying. This is why psychosis is one of the parts of mental illness that frightens people most- we assume we have such a tight grip on our own solid realities that any loosening of that grip seems a terrible thing.
What I mean to say, is that I have endured some really scary things. I want people to know that it happens. That The Scary People can wear “Normal” faces too. I do. That if you are looking (but really looking) The Scary People are not Scary People. At all. I know, because I am one.