A Psychospiritual Emergency
An intimate look at the inside of psychosis
by Stephanie Pakrul
My first psychotic episode was in July 2012. I passed through it rocking, babbling, and naked. It was the best feeling of my life, like a drug that lasted three days of white hot manic bliss. I watched the cat sleep all night. We were communicating. I didn’t eat.
I came out of that experience feeling unscathed, but I was still delusional. I hadn’t come down yet.
By the second half of August, I couldn’t sleep much and was becoming utterly exhausted. I went on an online shopping spree, scrubbed the grime-caked bathroom until it sparkled, hid from evil gasses outside while stockpiling food, and was increasingly living in a world far from reality. In the past few days I had been taking huge amounts of herbal supplements (valerian root, melatonin) to try and sleep — fine — and higher and higher doses of OTC sleep medication — less fine.
On the last day or two before my hospitalization, I knew that the apocalyptic end was imminent. The zombies were coming. Jon Stewart explained the impending attack to me on TV, and The XX’s viral album release was my soundtrack as the curse began to envelop the globe.
Don’t mind if I do!
Now a physical pain inside me was gradually becoming unbearable, like a knot growing in my lower abdomen. I had undergone surgery when my appendix nearly burst just a month earlier, and I was very sensitive to this area.
So I went into the bathroom, found the string, and pulled my IUD out of my uterus.
I brought pliers in with me in case they were necessary (they weren’t, thankfully). I immediately felt relief from the pain. In hindsight, it was likely mis-inserted.
I then physically forced myself onto my husband in some kind of crazed terror, because I understood I was sent to save the world. Getting pregnant seemed like the thing to try and do if you believe you’re God.
Now I knew I absolutely needed to sleep. My plan was to take the very small dose of Adderall needed to protect us from the zombies, then put myself into a coma of some sort through the most vicious of the attacks. At the time, Adderall symbolized the Silicon Valley brainiacs who were going to save the world, and their drug of choice was my antidote. I was too scared to fight them myself — this wasn’t some ass-kicking-Steph-in-a-latex-catsuit movie. Psychosis logic is like dream logic: it makes complete sense at the time, but attempting to describe it falls desperately short.
So I took eight sleeping pills. Then maybe four. Then another eight or so. I felt like I didn’t really care if I died at this point, because it would be better than being devoured alive.
But something woke up in me, and a few minutes later I wandered into the bedroom where my husband Chris was and said “I took a lot of pills and I think we need to go to the hospital.” I was absolutely terrified, not from the pills, but because this meant braving the worst of the impending attacks outside.
I am fuzzy on the details, but I remember putting some crushed up Adderall into a bottle of water so I could try and convince Chris to take some of the antidote too, in case the hospital had already been taken over.
When we got to the hospital parking lot, I had hidden a quarter tablet under my tongue and demanded a kiss, where I pushed it into his mouth so he could survive if I died. He noticed and spat it out, but I knew it would only take a small amount in his bloodstream, so we were safe.
I sighed with relief.
We get into SF General and my initial vitals are taken by a very, very slow and unconcerned seeming pair of intake nurses. I’m seeing cops and starting to get even more paranoid as Chris is describing what I took and I’m slurring answers as best I can.
The world is speeding up and up and up. Everyone is taking forever. I want to jump out of my skin.
They determine that things are serious, but not immediately life-threatening. Most of what follows in the actual physical world has to be filled in for me when I interviewed Chris later. I can only personally speak to the swirling alternate reality that happened in my head.
”There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.” “I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen.
“Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible in us be found.” — Pema Chödrön
I change into a hospital gown in the admissions room and am moved to another room. They’re giving me the standard doses of sedating and anti-psychotic medications. There’s activity around me. I jerk up in the bed and let out a deafeningly piercing shriek. And I shriek. And more shrieking. Chris’s guess is a straight 15 seconds.
Everyone holds still in stunned silence. He casually looks over at the staff and adds:
“She’s a singer.”
And the room bursts out into laughter.
Suddenly I bolt, running down the main ER hallway, ass flapping in the air. Chris runs after me and screams for the staff. He eventually gets me in a bear grab from behind. Cops are involved. They take me back. I promise not to run.
They give me another dose.
I yell out streams of consciousness… “I know what you’re doing!” “I’m having an orgasm!” “This is a test!”
They give me another dose.
It takes a substantial amount of drugs to sedate me. I remember the straps. I flip out at being strapped down. Memories of childhood hospital visits. I’m in a small, dark room but I know there’s a bright light. Machines all around.
I eventually start to calm down. I stop panting and moving around.
What seems like hours is probably minutes, as they run tests.
As I enter the room on a gurney, I know that life is changing. I’ve entered a chamber on an alien world, created on another plane of the universe, created by God. I don’t know. Cinematically, it’s like the way experiments in alien abductions are portrayed. I know this is the test. Life or death. I may not make it out of this room.
Upon entering the room, I get a feeling that becomes words.
(((Listen to the quietest voice)))
The gravity of this phrase tells me that this is my key to get out alive.
Now I am bombarded by phrases. Some of it is the actual words of the nurses and doctors, but sped up and completely overlapping, like ten radio stations turned on at once, each with a different auditory quality to it. Some just comes from my head.
My eyes widen. I am River Tam of Firefly, channelling every bit of acutely engineered psychic energy to solve this puzzle. I concentrate like my life depends on it.
Well she’s… I don’t know what to…FLASH. light..We need another-HAPPY BIRTHDAY..hahah.CRASHcan you hear me?-LOUDER LOUDER LOUWHOISTHAT
I ask timidly within my head.
The correct answer. I flip open my eyes and the nurse smiles. I have passed the first level and I exhale.
i don’t see how…here’s another..More..CAN YOUCAN’Tcan THINKyouCAN’TcheckCACOPHONYherOFlevelsVOICES…BUT I DON’T KNOW HOW.(WHERE)ITHINKWESHOULD(WHICHONEOHMYGODI’MGOINGTODIE)
think Think THINK STEPH TIME’S UP!!!
LEVELS, the quietest! I scream inside my head.
can. you. check. her. levels!
I jerk my head back at the nurse and doctor over my left shoulder who had just been speaking very quietly about verifying the result of my tests to make sure there was no Tylenol in my system. They smile sympathetically at me.
This was now the last level. There were perhaps twenty or so puzzles of increasing difficulty between these, which I had now passed.
There was only one more level. And I got to make a decision this time.
Did I want to stay and be God, and for Chris to be God, and maybe even all of us to be God… or did I want to go to that place of pure white hot bliss from July on my own forever and be God in my own world, without any pain ever again?
It was at this moment that I felt the entire nature of the universe make sense, and I saw clearly that we were all God. Dying would be selfish when I had so much to give to the world.
I chose to stay. No more tests. Everything was lucid for a brief moment as I saw another room in the background that I was being moved to. Then everything was white and dark.
I’m moved to the psych ER and stay the night. I start to slowly regain consciousness. I’m noticing and reaching out at things. I want a computer keyboard so I can communicate with the world. I see a diagnostic machine with a screen and keyboard and demand that Chris bring me that computer, yes please I’m going to get on that computer now.
We’re waiting for me to be evaluated by a psychiatrist. They cut off the straps.
She arrives and asks me basic questions. I sit up, and put myself together all professional-like.
“Do you know why you’re here?”
“Yeah, I think I got a little overexcited.”
“What are you thinking?”
I give detailed, incoherent answers.
“Well, I can’t tell you sometimes, like it is and then you don’t know. Wow try another?”
At some point in the morning, a guy comes in for a urine sample. I saunter to the hallway… and BOLT!
Chris catches up, nearly tackles me, and stands there holding me while I’m screaming and struggling, yelling for a nurse or anyone to help.
They try to get me back into the room but I’m a splayed cat in the doorway.
More nurses and cops come running. They restrain me again. I scream obscenities and sexual references, and proposition the four cops involved for a gangbang.
I’m admitted to the psych ward of SF General. My time there is an empty page, since there is no visiting here.
The next thing I remember comes a day and a half later, in Ward 23 of St. Luke’s Hospital, where I would continue my descent out of mania and start on the long path of recovery.