In the past ten years, I’ve read only three books. All of these I’ve read in the past three months. Seroquel made it impossible for me to absorb and process more than a few pages of a book at a time (nevermind reading a whole book cover to cover). The last book I finished before that long literary void in my life was, as I recall, Siddartha by Herman Hesse. That was in 2002.
I remember a part in the story where Siddartha comes across an enlightened ferryman. He is so impacted by this man that he decides to drop his worldly travels and become a ferryman himself. He essentially becomes the wise ferryman’s disciple and assists him in his work, ferrying people across the river. Siddartha settles into this lifestyle, and eventually comes to the conclusion that the river contains and encompasses the fundamental truth that lies at the heart of reality. But finally, at some point, the ferryman says to Siddartha something like, “Siddartha, it is good that you’ve come to see the nature of reality reflected in the nature of the river, but the river is just one facet of a much greater reality. I’m an old man, this river is all I’ve ever known, and I’m content with the simple life I’ve lived. But you are young, and there is a complex and beautiful world of truth beyond this river which you must explore if you wish to continue on your path of spiritual enlightenment. You must leave now, and continue on your journey.” And so, with that, Siddartha ends his stint as a ferryman, having gained a great deal of wisdom from the ferryman and the river, and continues on his life journey.
I read that book in 2002. That was the year I suffered a “drug-induced manic episode with psychotic features”- or perhaps it was a drug-infused religious experience. One of my supposedly “psychotic features” involved me sharing with others how I’d come to see the true nature of reality- that we are all divine beings (“We’re all manifestations of the Buddha-Christ!”), and that the Universe was at its core an orderly, loving and benevolent place. While I had, in a sense, developed some sort of a Christ complex (or in my case a Buddha-Christ complex), my thinking and behavior differed from the classical presentation of that term as I believed that ALL people are inherently divine beings, something I enthusiastically attempted to explain to a number of people (some with greater success than others). Unlike the traditional Judeo-Christian notion of god though, my understanding was not of an all-powerful sentient being creating and controlling all things- but rather it was a belief that we are all, at the core of our being, divine beings (not unlike Jesus, or Buddha). I understood this to be an inherent truth that most people were blind to. I wanted people to understand how special they are, and how special this world is. I felt I had somehow tapped into the true nature of reality, and that it was a benevolent and magnificent reality. And yes, at times I truly thought I had become an enlightened being.
While I feel there was a great deal of substance and value to this experience, the fact was that I was not actually ready for it- that I was not grounded. I was caught between reality and a mystical world I felt had opened its doors to me. Most of the time I was in a constant state of elation. I felt the Universe was feeding me revelation after revelation. It seemed to me that the esoteric mysteries of the Universe were revealing themselves to me one after the other. I couldn’t stop thinking, and I often could not stop speaking. I was not sleeping at all. I’d stay up all night consumed by a powerful drive to explore and document my thoughts, pondering the nature of the Universe; I was obsessed with exploring the meaning of symbols and deconstructing Einstein’s Theory of Relativity as I understood it (as being a spiritual equation).
Though I felt I had tapped into the divine nature of reality, there was also a part of me that was actually going through a serious existential crisis- my very being was coming apart at the seams. There were a number occasions where I displayed anger, even rage, towards other people (particularly my father), who I perceived to be devalidating my experience and my very being.
As I mentioned, I was not grounded. I was in a state of mental and emotional disarray. I was existentially lonely and desperate. I was dysfunctionally processing years of pain, alienation, rejection and disappointment- I was hurting on a very deep level. On display were my greatest apsirations for myself and all of humanity, but also very obvious at times was my deep sadness, anger, confusion and disappointment with myself, my fellow human beings, and our society.
After more than two weeks of escalating mania, which was preceded by and involved the recreational use of ecstasy and marijuana, as well as the prescribed use of the antidepressant Effexor, I was admittted to the psychiatric ward, where I remained for about three weeks. I stabilized within a matter of days after arrival, and after a week or so was given certain privileges allowing me to walk on the hospital grounds, and eventually to return home for periods of time during the day.
My psychiatrist prescribed me Olanzapine as a long term maintenance medication after I left the hospital. In the context of the presence of both recreational and pharmaceutical drugs preceding my episode, and the absence of a clinical diagnosis, this was heinous negligence on the part of the psychiatrists overseeing my case at the time. This treatment was apparently an effort to aid in my “normalization”. Unfortunately, in the eyes of the pseudo-doctors involved in my care I was in all likelihood not inherently normal (in the sense that a “healthy” individual would be deemed normal). Indeed, in their eyes it was highly likely that I was “damaged goods”, that I could never be fully repaired. And so the notion of normalization as conceived through the lens of their psychiatric paradigm was in fact a process of adaptation to a lower of form of existence.
There would be no inquiry into or acknowledgement of my twenty years of experience as a human being, and no acknowledgement of the situational, environmental, and social factors that had so deeply affected me as an individual up to that point in my life. Whether or not that particular event in my life was an outward expression of unresolved personal issues that deserved compassion and understanding, and not just some injection of man-made neurotoxins, was certainly beyond the scope of knowledge of these psychiatrists, but more importantly (and more disturbingly) it was beyond the scope of their care (as in, they really didn’t care about me as a person). Certainly one of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made was trusting these people, and respecting them- believing them to be doctors specializing in the mechanisms of the human brain, and knowledgeable authorities on the human condition. One might hope they would have at least as much insight into these things as the average person does, although I believe they often have much less. I believe many psychiatrists have essentially been indoctrinated by the corporate interests funding their profession, one component of this indoctrination being an attack on the validity of psychological explanations for mental and emotional problems.
Within the year that followed, despite no evidence of mania or relapse, and no diagnosis of Bipolar or Schizophrenia, my psychiatrist would switch me to the antipsychotic drug called Seroquel as a long term maintenance drug. He continued my Effexor prescription. After abruptly stopping my medication for a few days while I was visiting relatives in Nashville, I experienced a hypomanic episode. I had become very hyper, and was preoccupied with the injustice of the war in Iraq. This episode was almost certainly the result of dopamine supersensitivity caused by the Seroquel. Put simply, the dopamine neurotransmission that was being hindered by the medication is suddenly freed up upon rapid withdrawal, often resulting in mania or psychosis. This is a well documented phenomenon, even in people that have no previous psychiatric diagnosis, that is actually occuring to people all the time (and then they are told it’s a result of a biological illness).
Following that episode, in direct disregard for the criteria of Bipolar diagnosis as stated in the DSM-IV, I was diagnosed as having a Bipolar Type 1 mood disorder (“mood disorder” being the current psychiatric euphymism for “mental illness”). I was prescribed Lithium and Seroquel, both which severely impaired my mental and emotional processes, destroyed my self-esteem and self-confidence, and greatly diminished my capacity to enjoy life and engage in a healthy lifestyle.
I would spend much of the next nine years sleeping the days away- or sitting outside, smoking cigarettes and staring at the sky, the trees, the birds. Despite the chemical restraints imposed on my mind and my emotions by the drugs I was taking, I still felt there was something deeply spiritual about the world. Like Siddartha gazing at the river, I could sense the divine substance of the world I was observing- but unlike Siddartha, I felt I was no longer a part of it, and never could be again. This was the source of a great deal of sadness, anger and despair for me.
Just as antipsychotic medication eventually leads to atrophy of the prefontal cortex, my spirit had atrophied. I was a damaged person. There was no closure to the past traumas of my childhood and teen years. I was under the influence of drugs that were literally hindering the communication between the various spheres in my brain. Perhaps the worst part of the whole experience was the fact that I had swallowed the toxic psychiatric lie- I had come to believe I was inherently damaged (mentally ill). As the years passed and the drugs took a progressive toll on my brain and body, I mostly attributed my deterioration to the natural evolution of my supposed mental illness. It can be extremely hard for a person to love and respect themselves when they have been led to believe that they are mentally deficient- when they believe that their experience as a human being, and the person they’ve become as a result of it, is simply the byproduct of an inborn biological defect.
Despite various changes in medications and very difficult times over the past nine years, I haven’t experienced a single episode of mania since 2003. Over the past four years, I’ve been re-evaluating my situation. Psychiatrists I’ve been working with recently have stated in my records that I was misdiagnosed as Bipolar, and should never have been given antipsychotic medications for more than a few months, if at all. I’ve now successfully withdrawn from the Seroquel (though I have enduring sleep difficulties), and I’m in the process of freeing myself from the chains of psychiatric treatment. I started exploring alternative therapies, and doing some research on psychiatry, neurology, and psychology. I’m rediscovering the spiritual nature of reality that I had prematurely tapped into ten years ago. I think this is an essential component for recovery from most emotional trauma- finding a deeper connection to the world around you. The spiritual component of my breakdown had its roots planted long before it occurred, and even though I came close to losing that connection at the hands of the misguided psychiatrists, I never completely let go.
Now I can look at the river, look at the sky, the birds- and the beauty, the peace and the love that I see permeating these things, I’m coming to feel that they permeate my being as well. I still have a long road ahead me, but at least I feel that I have started on some sort of a journey, possibly towards a greater truth, a bigger world, and a better life.