An Illness or an Experience?

“You failed, it’s your fault.” “You need to fix things.” “You can’t talk to people. No talking. You can’t trust them.” “Don’t trust anyone but yourself.” “Trust only in us, we know the truth that others can’t see.”

These were the words that rang loud in my head repeatedly the day after the Paris attacks in November, 2015. Trusting these comments, I decided that I would stop talking to my friends, stop eating, and shut myself in my room, for fear that they would interfere with my task of “fixing things”.

To put things into context, I had been becoming increasingly confused about my experiences throughout the previous weeks. Earlier that year in March, I had been sent to hospital by my psychiatrist. I didn’t know what was going on; I didn’t understand why he was concerned and why I was in hospital. All I had wanted to do was become a plant, become one with nature and ultimately omnipresent. “Be one with nature, be one with all…” kept playing in a loop in my head. Lots of other jumbled thoughts about nature and the universe intruded my usually organized stream of consciousness. I felt extremely connected to my surroundings, the trees and birds were calling me, and colours and sounds were more vivid as if on full HD. I stopped consuming human food, surviving only on a plant diet of sunlight and water. I had finally unlocked the answer to the universe. I saw a diagram on a whiteboard that essentially read: the answer to life is death. After a few questions from my psychiatrist, I found myself in the Psychiatric Assessment Unit (PAU) of Vancouver General Hospital for the first time in my life, certified by two doctors, unable to leave. The 11 days in hospital went by in a blur, I met with doctors, residents, nurses and was put on medication. I was told that I had a reaction to a stressful event (I almost lost my mom to an autoimmune disorder), and that my thoughts of becoming a plant and omnipresent were not based in reality. Then right back into life I went, finishing up my school term and final exams despite a deep sense of loss of my sense of self, and ability to trust myself. I white-knuckled through the depression that followed my first hospital stay, but it didn’t last long. I would soon later be hospitalized for a suicide attempt in May, and once more in October for very low mood that wouldn’t lift and audible thoughts.

Coming out of my 3rd hospitalization, within a month, audible thoughts pierced through my head again, telling me that I was responsible for the bloodshed during the Paris attacks. I believed that I needed to purify my body, and sacrifice myself to stop human self-destruction. I ended up in hospital again, this time at St. Paul’s, and they confirmed that is was psychosis. I have since been put on long-acting injectable antipsychotic medication. Now, two and a half years since I first wanted to become a plant, and a total of 7 hospitalizations, I’m still questioning my experiences, the doctors, the labels and uncertain what to trust as real.

My question is this: Is my experience really the result of an illness? Or is it just a unique human experience? I don’t really agree with the fact that doctors can simply label my experience as an illness. How can they medicate my experiences and understanding of the universe away? What if they aren’t “symptoms” and they aren’t supposed to be suppressed?

Of course it’s happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”~ Albus Dumbledore

 

Is a delusion really a delusion? Is a hallucination just that, a hallucination? When we encounter experiences that are foreign to us, that aren’t shared, we back away from them, unsure of how to evaluate the situation, and we write them off as unreal. These experiences may be unusual, atypical, or even abnormal, but who is to say that it is not real? Who has the authority and expertise to disregard someone else’s unique experience, and label them as anything other than real? Psychiatrists? Counsellors? Psychologists? Just because they have a fancy degree in mental health? I don’t necessarily see those as qualifications allowing them to judge someone else’s experience.

We are the only people that understand our own experiences and perceptions of the world around us. We are the experts in our own realities.

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