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Several posts ago I wrote about my experience with psychotic mania (‘My Manic Summer’) and now I want to write about when I was psychotically depressed. I said in ‘My Manic Summer’ that I have only experienced psychosis once and that was when I was manic, but I was wrong. Recently my counsellor told me that during the winter of 2014 I had become psychotically depressed. I had forgotten about this either because of ECT or because when I become severely unwell I find it difficult to remember the episode afterwards. Either way, I pushed my counsellor to tell me about the psychosis I had experienced. It didn’t take long for everything to come flooding back in so much clarity and when it did, I immediately regretted convincing my counsellor to remind me. The memories that returned made me feel physically sick.
That episode of depression was the worst I had experienced and it felt like it lasted forever. I knew it was inevitable after having experienced a manic episode weeks before. Its slow, insidious onslaught began and everything started to become hard. Getting up was hard, getting dressed was hard, looking in the mirror was hard, going to work was hard, studying was hard, social occasions became hard, until finally it was too hard to get out the door.
Not only was I physically tired (even though I slept well over 12 hours every night) but I was mentally drained too. My thoughts and reactions were slowed. I felt handicapped at work and in social situations. I couldn’t focus on the next hour let alone on my studies. Making decisions became impossible and it would take a huge amount of time to make up my mind until eventually I would give up. And then I gave up trying to do anything. It was all I could do to keep working and that was all I did for a while until I stopped doing that too.
My ‘what’s the point?’ mentality turned into ‘life’s not worth living’ and then that turned into ‘I don’t want to live.’ My world had turned grey, nothing had colour and nothing had a spark. Suddenly, like someone had turned off my lights, my grey world turned black. It was like someone had put an uncomfortable heavy sack over my head that muffled my senses, suffocated me and made me blind. I felt that I had a dead weight on my chest, restricting my breathing and weighing me down, making every movement heavy and forced. I was hopeless and thought I was helpless. I couldn’t get out of bed and the inner voices screamed a constant barrage of self-hate.
I had experienced these depressions quite a few times before but my desire not to live was much stronger and I think my severe lack of motivation to do anything (even rolling over in bed was too much of an effort) saved my life. The paranoia and hallucinations also set this depression apart.
Slowly I started to become paranoid about people. I thought people were following me in my car, or when I was walking. I believed they wanted to lock me up and suspected they were working for my psychiatrist. I felt like I couldn’t trust anyone, everyone was working against me. Eventually I started to believe that people could hear my thoughts. I was so paranoid that I never told anyone because I worried if they found out that I knew their plan, then I would be taken away.
The day the hallucinations began I was walking around our botanical gardens at dawn. As I was walking, I noticed something in a tree ahead. As I got closer I could make out a clear, immobile, transparent object in the tree. It looked like a ghost was hanging from the tree. I was shocked, scared and panicked and ran a small distance from the figure. When I looked back it was no longer there. But these figures kept popping up in the trees around me. They were even in the trees on the side of the road as I drove home.
After months of unbearable numbness and longing to feel something, the disgust and terror I felt was so overpowering I would have given anything for the deadening apathy to return. When I got home I pulled the blinds down in my room so I couldn’t see out my window and took some sedatives to sleep. I so desperately wanted to escape.
They weren’t like the fleeting shadows you sometimes see out of the corner of your eye that turn out to be nothing. They didn’t disappear as soon as I focused on them, but stayed fixed in their position and were as real as if a person was standing in front of me. It wasn’t until later that I realised and accepted they were visual hallucinations.
I don’t really know how it happened, but I ended up in a covering psychiatrist’s office with her giving me the option of going to hospital as a voluntary patient and if I refused then she said she would hold me under the mental health act. So I agreed to be admitted into hospital for the third time.
In my next blog post ‘My Experience with Psychotic Depression: Part 2’ I’ll be writing about the turning point of my depression and how I recovered from that episode and regained normality.