I’ve been depressed for a long time. I think I first started to feel it when I was 12. But middle school is hard for everybody, isn’t it? I wasn’t bullied any more or any less than any other introverted, closeted gay kid was in seventh grade.
When I was 16, more severe symptoms started to take root. Paranoia became my overwhelming emotion. I could’ve sworn that someone had bugged my room. Maybe installed cameras, too. I was hooked on that idea. I couldn’t shake it. No matter how much I tried, I felt as though I was being monitored. By whom? I don’t know. But it had to be true. It had to be.
I’m 17 now. About a year after that incident, I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder with psychotic features. It differentiates from ordinary depression in the sense that those who suffer from it experience psychosis along with the symptoms the crisis counselor tells you about once or twice a year on the announcements.
I’ll break down psychosis for you, in case you aren’t familiar. I wouldn’t blame you if you weren’t. Psychosis is often confused with psychopathy — an entirely different disorder — which spurs confusion. Psychotic symptoms are characterized by the presence of hallucinations, delusions or both. I’ve never personally struggled with hallucinations, so I can’t provide a firsthand account, but the most common example presented is that of hearing voices. However, all five senses are susceptible; patients report feeling nonexistent bugs crawling on them and seeing people who aren’t truly there. Have you ever sworn you’ve heard your parents shouting your name when in fact, no one said anything? Multiply that feeling by a thousand and you’ve got an idea of the confusion those who suffer from hallucinations experience.
The other form of psychosis is delusions; I struggle a lot with these. Delusions are defined as false beliefs that the sufferer accepts as fact. Some people have delusions that they are Jesus or the President. Others have delusions that they’re constantly being followed for some convoluted, nefarious scheme. The latter has been a struggle for me since my symptoms first started appearing, and only got worse with time.
I think my lowest points came from last December to this past February. I was knee-deep in delusion at any given point in the day. When I was driving home and someone started to follow me for too long, my heart would start to race because I felt that the second I stopped, they’d hop out, put a gun to my window and let my brains splatter. Or something worse, if you can imagine it. The human mind is very creative, and we don’t give it enough credit.
Untethered is a good word. Did you ever play tetherball when you were a kid? Imagine a game of tetherball. You’re hitting that ball as hard as you can, it’s swinging around on its rope, everyone’s having a good time.
Until the tether breaks.
Maybe the ball rolls down a hill, and someone has to run and get it. Maybe the ball hits someone in the face, knocks out a tooth or something. Maybe you can’t tie the ball back to the pole, and the fun is over for everybody.
Sometimes, I was rolling down hills. Speeding down mountains, really. Every day I would wake up and feel worse than I did the day before. Whether it was my depression or my psychosis, I could never get a freebie. I couldn’t focus on any work for any of my classes — including the paper you’re reading, of which I’m the co-editor-in-chief — because I either lacked the motivation, couldn’t focus long enough to get anything done or got sidetracked by an intrusive, psychotic thought. It got, correction, it still gets, incredibly difficult to power through my symptoms sometimes. I have to run and get myself.
Sometimes, I hit people in the face. Not literally, I don’t think I’d admit to it if I literally just socked someone. But sometimes, I’d get agitated. I’d be deep in thought trying to figure out how to unfurl the conspiracy being plotted against me, and someone would pull me out of it, right as I was making some progress, and I’d snap. It’s a very unique and esoteric frustration, I understand. But have you ever been woken up from a great dream? It’s the dark universe version of that.
And in my darkest moments, I wasn’t sure I’d manage to tie myself back to reality. I thought my tether was broken, and that was it. I was gone. Which is a scary feeling, because that means that not only am I falling apart, everything else is too. My friends — my social life — are gone, my academics fall through the floor, my passions become distractions. I can only think about how absolutely terrified I am.
The fun is over for everybody.
So, if all of this scares you, good! It scares me too. As I said earlier, after a year or so of this, I decided I didn’t want to feel like this anymore and made appointments with a therapist and a psychiatrist. Now, I understand that you might wonder: “Did you not consider asking for help at around, I dunno, month two?”
Well, I wanted to. But it’s kind of overwhelming to approach your parents, or your doctors, to tell them you’ve lost contact with reality. For one thing, I didn’t even realize I was delusional for awhile. Everything felt hauntingly real. Once I pinned down that I was, I didn’t want to talk about it because of the severe, intense stigma that comes with the word “psychotic.” There is a societal misunderstanding of what that word means and what its sufferers are — and aren’t — capable of. We have 20th century serial killers and Alfred Hitchcock to thank for that. Obviously, I know I’m not an unhinged maniac with a thirst for blood, but I was deathly afraid of being branded as one because of what I would be diagnosed with.
So it took awhile for me to step up, to admit I had a problem and work to solve it. But I did it. I’ve been working through therapy and trying to adjust to my medications. My antipsychotics make me gain weight, and I don’t think my antidepressants are working as well as I want them to. And sometimes I really, really don’t want to go to the strenuous task that is therapy, but these things take time. Rome wasn’t built in a day, etc., and things, overall, are better. Better than they’ve been in a long time.
And when it comes to mental illness, better is the best I can ask for. I’m looking forward to the day when I can say I’m doing good, and mean it with my entire heart, but for now, I’m better. That’ll do for now.