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The Roller Coaster of a Life Touched by Psychosis

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Much of my life seemed like a roller coaster. Not necessarily the one you ride over and over again with your friends because it’s so much fun. But more like the old rickety one-seater that needs constant maintenance and you close your eyes and pray it is soon over.

Mental illness was the driving force of this ride. And it could have ended very badly. Could have is key here. I overcame fears. I had the support of others around me. And I made it through the days I hope I’ll never have to relive. Here is my story.

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Like many, I experienced the typical trauma of being picked on at a young age. From other kids throwing remarks because I was the chubby kid, to the not-so-funny videos my brother’s friends made of me during their drunken skip day — all contributing to my early-aged episodes of depression. Throw in the fact that I had open heart surgery at the age of 5, and my childhood was already looking far from glamorous. Call me a momma’s boy, but I won’t apologize for being pampered as the baby of the family. I’d say it definitely helped me get through the early years.

Heart surgery was just the beginning of my hospital days. When I was in the second grade, I broke my wrist on the growth plate. Five years later, I had to have three inches removed from another part of my arm, in hopes of balancing out the stunted growth in my wrist. This two-week stay in the hospital was not exactly a vacation.

Again, I pressed on. I worked up the courage to run for eighth grade student council president the next year, and I won. A victory, at last. My high school years didn’t have a bad start, either. I was a decent soccer player, and I wasn’t the worst in academics. Then, as a freshman, I tried alcohol for the first time.

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I remember the thrills alcohol brought, like the added enjoyment of my cousin’s wedding with all the girls dancing with me. And it didn’t take me long to have my first try at marijuana. By my junior year, the drinking and smoking had become an added recreation. It was every weekend. And somewhere in the high, by my senior year, I experienced my first, unwelcomed signs of mental illness.

I did risky, reckless and dangerous things. Driving under the influence. Throwing a brick through a car window. The things parents hope they only see in movies and stay up at night praying, “that’s not my kid.” That was me. Maybe these were signs of mental illness. Maybe I was just an asshole. Neither answer was probably wrong.

I remember my mom saying I wouldn’t live past 18 if I wouldn’t have had heart surgery as a kid, so I started worrying that my final destination would soon be catching up with me anyway. Paranoid about my heart, along with the internet telling me I may still die young, I went to a cardiologist. Turns out, I was fine and had an athlete’s heart. I graduated high school as a valedictorian and was stoked about college. I got into my state’s flagship campus and was ready for this next adventure.

– – –

College was a lot harder than high school. Classes didn’t go so well for me, and I struggled socially. My brother was in a fraternity, so I thought I would have a good chance of getting in as a legacy. I got drunk the final night of rush, acted bizarre and was blackballed. I got depressed and overwhelmed. I contemplated suicide. I spent most of my days in bed. But I didn’t want to give up. Before long, my brother pulled me out of bed, and out of school, but not quite out of my funk.

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Thankfully, my parents took me in. My dad helped me get a job on the military base near our home. It was during the Iraq war, and every day there was a headline about another market being attacked by a suicide bomber and many people being killed and injured. It got to my psyche. I stayed up late drinking beer and smoking weed, along with journaling every night. I would barely make it to work on time each morning.

I was in a precarious situation. I wanted to go back to school, but work was the only thing holding me together. After eight months, I took the risk and went back to school — this time at a different university. Just before the semester began, I took a family trip to Hawaii. It was then I started having delusional thoughts that would make no sense to others.

The day before we flew back home to Louisiana, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. Weeks later, Hurricane Rita hit my side of the state. Without the structure of work, and having the new stress of school, I began decompensating. My parents came to stay with me to help me with the transition. They didn’t have power in their town anyway.

Here comes an official, mental breakdown.

I had a biology teacher who was in the pits of despair because his daughter was in school in New Orleans. And people were saying New Orleans deserved what it got because of it being Sin City. Something snapped in me, the normally shy guy in the back. In front of a class of at least a hundred students, I yelled out, “Think positive!” Class was dismissed.

I left class and thought I was going to do something big, but I didn’t know what it was. I drove to a gas station, where I gave the lady working there a Ben Harper CD rather than payment for a pack of cigarettes. She told me she had to call the police as I left. I was arrested, taken to jail and I was fully delusional.

How delusional?

I thought a guy in my jail cell was the author of “Fight Club,” and I started rhyming to him. I was punching walls as if I was working out, along with random pushups. I also had thoughts developed about how to solve global warming.

– – –

I was in a crisis, and my mom bailed me out. My parents didn’t know what to do with me other than take me back home. One evening after dinner, I took an unannounced walk. My mom quickly became fearful, not knowing where I was, and she worried I was on drugs. So, she called the police.

The cops found me with a Q-beam shining on me. I was psychotic and I couldn’t see them. They tackled me, maced me and I thought they shot me. And I thought surely I was on my way to hell. They threw me in a jail cell, and I didn’t know what was going on. After not eating or drinking anything for four days. I was on the edge of death.

Then, my jail cell opened. It was my dad. I couldn’t recognize him. And as you can imagine, that shook him.

– – –

I was taken to a military hospital, then sent to a psychiatric hospital out of state. I was medicated and sent home after two weeks. I got a diagnosis of atypical psychosis. I was medicated for six months, and my psychiatrist wanted to see if I could function without medicine.

I managed for a while but became psychotic again. For the next four years, I went through 15-month cycles on and off medication. After an actual suicide attempt, another hospitalization and a diagnosis of manic depression with psychotic symptoms — I realized I needed to stay on medication. My only other option was the grave.

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Somehow along the way, I managed to finally graduate with an undergraduate degree. The military base I used to work at had a new contractor that hired people with disabilities. It was supportive work, which I needed. It got me outside with fresh air. The daily labor gave me exercise, which had its own healing effects. It gave me time to build up a work ethic and a routine. I’ve now worked there for almost 10 years.

– – –

Medicated, I’m free of positive symptoms, and my psychiatrist thinks I am in remission from schizophrenia. After six stable years in, I met my soulmate. I shared my entire history with her on date number two, and there was still a date number three. We were married in 2017, bought a home in the country and have a life filled with love.

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Not every story is happily ever after. Or — not every roller coaster ends with peace.

– – –

To my parents:

I couldn’t have recovered without them. My dad was always the calm to get me through the storm, and my mom always helped me build things back up and kept me focused on moving forward.

To those facing mental illness:

There can be better days. Don’t be afraid to reach out. Whether it is leaning on a friend or family member to overcome the feeling of loneliness or seeking medical help if things don’t seem right. Early intervention can save a lot of pain and heartache and can lead to better outcomes.

To those with loved ones facing mental illness:

We need you. And we know our struggles can make your life hard and uncomfortable. But the patience and support you show to us can literally be the difference in whether we have the courage to make it through and the resources to seek professional help when needed.

To those who are fortunate not to personally encounter mental illness:

I challenge you to join me as an advocate to break through the stigma and form acceptance. Our country needs more supported employment and structure for those with mental illness. And a little bit of simple kindness can go a long way when encountering those who are struggling.

– – –

I experienced many dreadful years, I did things I’m far from proud of, and I’ll forever fall into the classification of “treated for mental illness.” But I consider myself one of the lucky ones. I had the support system to get me through some of my toughest days. I got medical help at the right time. And I carry out a positive and productive life.

My story may sound shocking to those who know me, but never knew these details. Parts of my story may sound like just a “normal case” to someone dealing with mental illness. And to some, it may make you feel uncomfortable. But my hope is that my story may bring just a glimmer of light to those living in the darkest days.

Photo by Silviu Beniamin Tofan on Unsplashmy

Originally published: October 21, 2020
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