On Psychosis and Global Events

TW: Suicide

M’s #MadCovidDiaries 27.4.20

Many of us can remember where we were and what we were doing as history’s most notable events unfolded. I can remember exactly where I stood the morning after Trump was elected. It was a normal morning before a day at university. From my kitchen in the UK, there wasn’t much I could do about Trump – and on top of Brexit, the Syrian refugee crisis, world hunger and climate change, I almost shrugged it off. The world wasn’t a fantastic place, but I had no idea how these events would unfold in my mind.

Fast forward two months and my brain had fried itself into a nightmarish solipsistic delusion; that I alone was entirely responsible for ALL of the wrong and suffering in the world. On January 17th, 2017, I spent the majority of an English grammar exam wondering if I could throw myself through the full length window and onto the main road several storeys below.

An explanation? There was nobody in charge of the universe but me. Everything was through my eyes and therefore not there at all. I patiently explained to anyone who would listen that history hadn’t happened; it was a figment of my imagination; that they too were only in my mind and not living! You are not real! I am not real! This was created by me – and EVERYTHING, every person, object and being was too good to be true and therefore non-existent. I created the robots around me. I knew I was capable of ending the entire world by killing myself.

I couldn’t trust anyone. Anything and everything was a sign. The only option I had was to throw myself in front of a train. I questioned whether I would become a martyr, and then told myself that any delay to my suicide plan prolonged the suffering of Syrian refugees and the havoc that Trump was wreaking on the USA.  

After the English exam my parents drove me to A&E, and I was assessed by the RAID team. Assessor no1 was a cheerful social worker. The next day I was taken back to the hospital to be seen by Assessor no2, a mental health nurse. She smiled and simpered at me for the better part of half an hour, and then asked “why are you so unhappy? You’re a very pretty girl!” I was sent home with diazepam and no end to the circling obsessions in my head. I couldn’t walk into Sainsbury’s with my mum because I found the colours on food packaging to be too overwhelming.

After more hours of explaining and arguing with my family, my parents took me (and my detailed diagrams and drawings of the world) back to see RAID Assessor no3. Another mental health nurse, but this time he let me explain. This was the first time anyone mentioned psychosis.

I had a brief recovery over the summer until the illness returned with a vengeance in October 2017, this time triggered by past world events instead of current ones. Whilst studying Expressionist art in a German history class I found myself engrossed by Edvard Munch’s depiction of depression in ‘The Scream’ to the extent that I could see extra figures in the painting moving around. The following week ‘The Cabinet of Dr Caligari’ sent me underwater and shortly after this, Franz Kafka moved into my house.

I am now in a fantastic, stable recovery, but I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said that the beginnings of the Covid-19 crisis felt surreal, particularly in the days leading up to lockdown. I am extremely lucky to have a family who can support me emotionally and financially, and I have anti-psychotic medication that is tolerable day-to-day. However, the catastrophic nature of this pandemic can easily cause anyone’s mental health to spiral – let alone those who were ill before it struck.

Psychosis is a vicious disease that preys on fear, isolation and uncertainty, and I say that as a well person with hindsight. It scares me to think of how Covid-19 could feed the delusions and paranoia so common in psychotic illnesses. It terrifies me even more to think of the number of people suffering alone or in psychiatric wards, under a health service so stretched that accountability and justice are easily lost. This crisis will last for years. Covid-19 has rightly taken centre stage in the media, but more must be done to support those already suffering.

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