Oh My God, That’s So Crazy!
My life after a psychotic break
After the first two hits I was fine, but after the third one I started feeling a little weird. There was a voice in the back of my mind telling me not to take another one, but I did anyway. After the fourth hit, I was really fucked up. I felt pretty stupid. Who gets this fucked up after four hits?
We walked back to my friend’s place and that’s where things got really bad. I began to forget things that had just happened. But not completely. I remembered them just enough to question if they had actually happened or not.
After that, I started to feel like I was in a dream. I felt separated from the other people there even though I was in the room with them. Eventually, I got the courage to speak up: “I feel like I’m in a dream right now, guys. Is this actually happening?” They laughed and assured me that this was actually happening, and we all went on with the night.
But then the two things combined. I started to feel like I was in a dream again and I couldn’t remember if I had already asked them about it. I thought I had, but I couldn’t be sure, and it fucking freaked me out. Bad. Eventually, I got the courage to speak up: “I feel like I’m in a dream right now, guys. Is this actually happening?” They laughed and assured me that this was actually happening, and we all went on with the night. But then it happened again. And again. And again. Until I was convinced that I was stuck in a loop. That everything I was experiencing was a computer simulation that would continue to repeat for eternity.
I just went crazy, I thought. My heart sank like an anchor. I had just ruined my entire life. You’re a fucking moron, I thought. Why did you have to smoke pot tonight? I felt like the dumbest person to ever walk on the planet. I mean, seriously, who causes themselves to go crazy?
Eventually, I made it home and went to sleep. I immediately had a nightmare in which everything was repeating and I was stuck in an eternal loop. I bolted up out of bed. Jesus fucking Christ, I thought. It was just a dream. I looked around slowly and realized where I was. Everything felt OK. Like I was part of the normal reality I was used to, so I went back to sleep. Another nightmare. Another eternal loop. And then I woke up, realized where I was and that everything was OK, and went back to sleep. Then it happened again. And again. And again, until I finally woke up for the day.
In the weeks following my psychotic break I tried to live my life normally, and for the most part it worked. Yeah, I thought about the incident, but it was in the back of my mind. Life wasn’t really that bad at all. And then I had a psychotic episode. And the floodgates opened. I couldn’t handle it. I was stuck in a loop. Forever. I knew it. I was convinced that I had to kill myself in order to escape. And I knew I would kill myself. Not thought I would. I knew I would.
I was so scared. Scared that I was trapped and would never get out. Scared to go to sleep. Scared of being awake. But I was also scared of dying. Scared of leaving behind everything and everyone that I loved. Scared of giving up. So I didn’t. I made the decision that I would fight. That I would give it every single thing that I had, and once I ultimately failed (which I was convinced I would), then and only then would I kill myself.
“So, why do you want to kill yourself?” the mental health professional asked. That’s the wrong question, I thought in an absolute panic. That’s the wrong question. That’s not what it’s about. Why would he ask a question that has so little to do with what’s actually wrong with me? He doesn’t understand. Why doesn’t he understand? Why is the fucking door closed? He must be part of the simulation. Everything’s part of the simulation. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuuuuuuuuck. I can’t do this I can’t do this I can’t do this.
“I can’t do this,” I said. I quickly opened the door and walked out of the room. The mental health professional followed me back to the lobby. I stood in front of my mom with fear etched all over my face. She looked up at me and then at the mental health professional. “Should I come back there with you?” she asked. “Would that be alright?” the mental health professional asked me. I nodded my head yes.
With the door open and my mom in the room with me I was able to continue with the interview and it wasn’t much longer till I was admitted as a patient at the mental health facility.
“Time to wake up, guys. It’s 7. Breakfast in 15 minutes,” the tech said. This time was for real. I was somewhat confident. That night I had already had three or four false awakenings in which I got woken up in a very similar way in each one, so it was pretty damn tough to tell. Groggy and extremely confused, I got out of bed, put on my flip-flops and walked to the common room. Fucked up thought after fucked up thought attacked me and wave after wave of anxiety washed over me as I waited. Slowly, the other patients, along with their illnesses, began to enter the common room. Schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, depression, social anxiety disorder, psychosis, addiction. Each of us had our own demons to battle, and I didn’t envy any of them as I’m sure they didn’t envy me.
It was another typical day in the mental health facility for me: Eat breakfast at an uncomfortably early time. Fail at taking a nap. Take meds. Therapy. Confusion. Fear. Do the crossword. Loneliness. Pain. Lunch. Meet with doctor. Fear. Regret. Activity therapy. Psychotic episode. Write in journal. Dinner. Group Therapy. Watch TV. Do the crossword. Take meds. Cry. Go to sleep. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
After I was no longer deemed a threat to myself or others I was released. My psychiatrist decided to put me on Zoloft. Shortly after I took it I started to get anxious. Then I got more anxious. And more anxious. It can’t be just a coincidence that the medicine that’s supposed to be helping me is actually making things worse, I thought. This has to be part of the simulation. I must still be in it. Thinking like that only exacerbated the problem, but I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t believe how anxious I was and I also couldn’t believe that it wouldn’t stop. “I don’t want to do this anymore! I don’t want to do this anymore!” I said to my mom while bawling on her shoulder. “Aww, I know,” she cooed softly. “I know.”
I woke up the next day and decided to take another Zoloft because I’m a fucking genius. As expected, the anxiety returned and my day was off and running. Thirteen hours of torture later I was able to fall asleep. When I woke up, I finally decided I would never take Zoloft again. I was all about trusting my doctors but Zoloft took it way too far.
After a few days of recovery from the Zoloft incident, I finally felt like I could return to work. It wasn’t too bad at first. It felt good to be back and pretending like I was fine. But that’s all I was doing. Pretending. I wasn’t fine. Work stressed me out. My dad asking me to pay rent (which was completely reasonable) stressed me out. “OK, yeah,” I said in the most genuine tone I could muster. But on the inside I was losing it. He wants me to pay rent? I thought. Holy. Fucking. Shit. I can barely get through the goddamn day! And once my stress levels started causing my psychotic episodes to start happening more frequently, I had relapsed completely. I needed help bad. Again.
Author’s Musings Part I:
I had locked this all away. Everything that happened to me in the first three months after my psychotic break. I made it so tough for myself to find. And as I write this, I remember why: Because it hurts. It hurts so fucking bad to remember what those psychotic episodes did to me. “Oh, you’ve actually been doing relatively OK for three weeks and think you’re finally making progress? Wrong! Here’s a psychotic episode to convince you that the past three weeks were actually part of the simulation. Hahahahaha! You’ve been stuck in it the whole time! I can’t believe you actually thought you could ever get better! You’ll never get better! Enjoy an eternity of torture!” Absolutely devastating. Every time.
It also hurt to be admitted to a mental health facility. I never thought that was gonna be me. No one ever thinks that will happen to them. But shit, I was so fucked up. So incredibly broken and sick. I needed to be there and I couldn’t deny that fact and that cut deep. I mean, when you wake up and you’re in a mental health facility, yeah, that’s a huge kick in the nuts.
But, being in a mental health facility was the best thing for me and I wouldn’t have been there if it wasn’t for my Mom. Because we already had a such a close relationship, I felt comfortable telling her that I was suicidal. She quickly worked to get me the help I needed. And when I was freaking out during my admittance interview she was there to calm me down and help me through it. I would be dead if it wasn’t for her. She’s the best. Thank you so much Mom! Love you! *Hug*
Knowing my Mom was behind me one hundred percent, I chose to fight. Which brings me to one of the things I’ve learned from these experiences: Every day, wake up and fight. Even if you have nothing to fight for, fight anyway. Because, one day, you will have something to fight for, and you’ll be so, so grateful that you didn’t give up.
My second visit to the mental health facility wasn’t terribly different from the first: I still had to eat breakfast way too early. Still had lots of therapy. Still met with my doctor. Still did the crossword a lot. Still wrote in my journal. Still felt a ridiculous amount of pain, confusion, loneliness, and fear. Still cried way more than the average human does.
However, there was one main difference: Diane. Diane, from my best guess, was in her mid-40s. She was petite and walked with a slight limp and she was awesome. So funny. So witty. So smart. And she had an amazing warmth that I was instantly drawn to. It wasn’t long until we were sitting together during group therapy sessions and doing crosswords together during our free time.
After just a few days, Diane and I had formed a true friendship. That made the realities of the situation even tougher for me to deal with. One moment she’d be fine and the next moment she’d be bawling her eyes out because of what was happening in her brain. It hurt me every time I saw it, but one instance in particular will always stay with me: Diane and I sat next to each other in the middle of the room as we waited for our group therapy session to start. As the session got under way, Diane burst into tears. “Can I rub your back?” I asked, in an effort to comfort her. She nodded her head yes, so I slowly began to rub my hand up and down her back as she sobbed uncontrollably. “Is there anything you need that I can get you?” the mental health tech asked. “A new brain!” Diane shouted through tears. “Well, I can’t do anything about that,” the tech said helplessly.
I looked over at Diane as she sat there, getting mercilessly attacked by her own brain and my heart was breaking. I didn’t care about what I was dealing with at that moment. I just wanted to help her. To be able to do more than just rub her back. To make all of her pain go away. But I couldn’t. I just had to sit there and watch her cry. And she just had to sit there and endure another round of torture.
Two days later, it was time for me to go home. Diane and I were sitting together working on a book of crosswords that she had. As we were finsihing up one of the crosswords she looked over at me and said “I just want you to know that whenever I do crosswords I’ll think of you.” “Awww,” was all that I was able to muster. I was overwhelmed. That was one of the sweetest things anyone had ever said to me.
A few hours later I was released, and as Diane and I said our final goodbyes I wished there was more to that moment. But there wasn’t. Diane and I said goodbye and I turned and left the room, never to see her again.
Author’s Musings Part II:
I think a lot about that moment with Diane during group therapy. Most moments in life come as quickly as they go, and the only thing that can be learned from them happened during the moments themselves. But some moments are heavier than others. Some moments are so full of emotion and meaning that we have to keep revisiting them in order to understand all that they have to teach us. That moment with Diane is one of those heavy moments. I visit it often and every time I do I leave with a better understanding of how to empathize. A better understanding of the true nature of mental illness. Of its cruelty. Because no one should have to get their ass kicked day in and day out by their mind with no hope in sight. No one should have to beg for a new brain.
Damn, man, I think about Diane a lot. Is she happy? Has she found medicine that works? Is she even alive? I don’t know the answers to those questions and that hurts. ‘Cause I miss her a lot. Like, way more than I ever thought I could miss someone I only knew for six days. I wish I could see her again. I wish I could tell her how much she means to me. Tell her how she continues to inspire me. Tell her that I love her. And, of course, tell her that whenever I do crosswords, I think of her.
After I got out of the mental health facility the second time, it probably looked like I was incredibly lazy. I mean, pretty much all I did was watch movies and TV, play video games, and surf the internet. But honestly, I had never worked harder. It took all I had to keep from getting lost inside my mind. I’d have hundreds of thoughts a day related to my psychotic break and the “simulation,” and every single one of those thoughts had the chance of causing a psychotic episode.
So I’d distract myself. I’d watch TV until it stopped distracting me. Play video games until they stopped distracting me. Surf the internet until it stoppped distracting me. I’d struggle each day to find enough things to distract me. Man, I really need to find a movie I can watch that will distract me for two hours straight. That would be amazing, I thought. I started to look through my family’s movie collection. Bill and Ted? I thought. Fucking great movies but no. Remember the Titans? No. That Thing You Do!? No. Finding Nemo? Ooh, that might work. I put on Finding Nemo and did nothing but watch it. No bad thoughts. No psychosis. No “simulation.” I found it, I thought. My go-to distraction.
“Why are you calling tonight?” the operator asked. Fucking seriously? I thought. This is a suicide prevention hotline. Why the fuck do you think I called? How about you do your job and prevent me from committing suicide. “Um, I want to kill myself,” I said. “OK, why do you want to kill yourself?” she asked. Ugh, I fucking hate that question, I thought. If I actually told you why I want to kill myself you’d think I’m the craziest person alive. “Um, I think my entire reality is a computer simulation whose purpose is to answer the ultimate question and the only way for me to escape the simulation is to kill myself.” Is that what you wanted to hear? “Um, well, I have problems knowing what’s real and what isn’t and the only way I can make it stop is to kill myself,” I said.
We talked for another minute or two before she brought up potential coping strategies. “What’s your favorite movie?” she asked. “Finding Nemo. Have you seen that?” I asked. “I love that movie! Who’s your favorite character?” she asked. “Dory,” I said. “Yeah, I like her too,” she said. “She’s funny. Why don’t you put that movie on?” Fucking really? I thought. That’s what I always do when I’m freaking out and it always works. Why’d I even call if I already knew what to do? “Yeah, I guess I could. That’ll probably help.”
I put on Finding Nemo and by the time Dory and Marlin had just kept swimming, swimming, swimming I had calmed down significantly. And since I was absolutely exhausted I decided to go to sleep.
Each day was hard work and I had no idea why I was doing it, but I continued to press on. And after more than six months of ass-kickings I finally felt like I was ready to start working again.
“So, why did you leave your last job?” the interviewer asked. Completely unprepared for that question I decided on the spot to answer it truthfully. “I had some mental health issues but now I’m dong much better,” I said. He looked down at my application quietly for a few seconds before he plainly said “OK. I’m gonna go ahead and hire you.” Holy shit, I thought, how did that work? And just like that I was back in the American workforce.
The job was pretty cool. I liked my store manager a lot and I liked my coworkers as well. Also, I was getting 25 hours a week so it was a great way to get back on my feet. After working there for about five months I was actually getting bored. Seriously, my life was too easy. I hadn’t experienced that feeling since before I had my psychotic break. I was starting to feel that I needed to move out of my parents’ place and move on from Columbus.
That feeling was confirmed one day at work. My coworker Brian was talking to me about a couple cute, pregnant cashiers that had recently started working with us. “Man I love pregnant chicks,” he said. I had a pretty good idea where he was going with that, but I felt compelled to dig deeper into what I was sure was unquestionable wisdom. “Why is that?” I asked. “Can’t knock ‘em up,” he replied. “You know you can just use a condom, right?” I answered. “Doesn’t feel as good,” he said. I have to get out of this town, I thought. Now. About a month later I was back in Bloomington, ready to begin a new chapter in my life.
Author’s Musings Part III:
The first few months after I got out of the mental health facility the second time were so incredibly challenging for me. I was constantly being attacked by the thoughts in my brain and it took everything I had to get through each day. That’s why finding a movie like Finding Nemo was so fortunate for me. Two hours where I don’t have to worry about my fucked up thoughts? You can’t put a price on that.
Since watching Finding Nemo was such an effective coping strategy for me you’d think that I would always remember to use it when I needed to. But sometimes the illness gets the better of you and, in the moment, you forget all of your coping strategies. So, thank you to the hotline operator for reminding me about my best coping strategy. It’s absolutely hilarious to me now, but at the time I was totally mad at her when I called and she seemed more interested in small talk then preventing me from committing suicide, but she helped save my life, so, a tip of the hat to you, m’lady.
My first few months in Bloomington were very challenging. I had a tough time dealing with being away from my parents’ place. Living there was my safety net. Without that safety net my thoughts were tougher to control. I also had to walk an hour to work during one of the worst winters I had ever experienced. I had such a bad attitude about that. I hated it. Waking up at 5:30 and walking through the cold and the snow just in order to stock shelves for minimum wage was not appealing to me.
I considered suicide during those winter months. Not super seriously or anything like that, but those thoughts were definitely there. Thankfully it eventually warmed up and things became easier for me in general. I still had my dark moments though.
At work, I had started doing overnights. I was struggling with adjusting my sleep schedule and I was beyond exhausted when I showed up for work one night. When I’m tired is when my thoughts are the toughest for me to control, so I was in for a fun night. Nearly every second of my shift I was being attacked by ridiculous thoughts that I couldn’t seem to distract myself from. I couldn’t wait for the shift to end. I hadn’t experienced anything like that in about a year and I had almost forgotten what it felt like. Holy shit, I thought. I can’t believe I used to deal with that every day of my life.
Despite having tough times like that I also made some amazing strides after I came back to Bloomington. I road-tripped to Michigan for a weekend, which at the time was a massive achievement that put me way out of my comfort zone. I drove to Buffalo with my Mom to watch the Buffalo Bills play (lose at) football. Unfortunately, I had a psychotic episode the day after I came back because I was too damn tired from the whole trip, but I bounced back by playing in an Ultimate Frisbee tournament the next weekend and having an amazing time.
I also am currently working full time, playing on an Ultimate Frisbee team, learning a new language, and learning how to sing while doing my best to maintain healthy social relationships. It’s incredibly challenging for me to take on all of those things at once but I’m incredibly proud that I’ve been able to do it.
Author’s Final Musings:
It’s been approximately 1,000 days since I had a psychotic break. On approximately 50 of them I seriously considered committing suicide. On approximately 150 of them I cried. On approximately 250 of them I needed to do deep breathing for 30 minutes in order to calm me down enough that I could go to sleep. On approximately 700 of them, the very first thing I thought about when I woke up pertained to my psychosis. And on all of them I had at least one thought about my psychosis.
On approximately 950 of them, however, I didn’t seriously consider committing suicide. On approximately 850 of them I didn’t cry. On approximately 750 of them I didn’t need to do deep breathing in order to get to sleep. On approximately 300 of them I didn’t think about my psychosis right when I woke up. And I plan in the future on having days when I don’t think about my psychosis at all.
It’s so easy sometimes to focus on the bad things in my life. To forget about all I’ve overcome and how much progresss I’ve made over these 1,000 days. But I have made a ridiculous amount of progress. All the pain that I feel is very slowly but very surely fading away and I’m closer than ever to becoming whole again.
However, despite all my progress I still feel like I’m just another person in the endless line of lost souls shouting into the void, waiting for a response that will never come. But that won’t stop me from shouting. I won’t stop searching for meaning and I won’t stop trying to define and find true happiness.
And in that quest there are four things that I know I must try to do every day: Forgive myself. Forgive others. Love myself. Love others. If I can do those four things every day then happiness can’t be far behind, right?
My name is Pat Zen Ruffinen and this is my life after a psychotic break.