By Pankaj Suneja:
I am 27 years old. I live with my father. I am a person with psychosis.
My mother, a patient of breast cancer, passed away when I was 7. I grew up with a single parent and my elder brother. While growing up, I found myself relying on friends in school and in my neighbourhood. Most of my career decisions were influenced by my friend’s choices. Once I finished my school, I separated myself from these friends and it was much later that I found a new friend. However, after some time, I distanced myself from this friend also. In the days to follow, I did not join any group, social organisation or institution, like a university.
I felt disconnected from all my friends. I wanted to feel genuine and real and to find my own way. For two years, I wandered with a sense of chaos within me in a hope to find what I have to do. Then I was introduced to Ayn Rand’s philosophy and it seemed, for the first time, that I found some validation for what I was trying to be as an individual. I read “Fountain Head” during that time.
I tried hard to understand my emotions in isolation, began visiting a library, and read about philosophy and psychology. My father was occupied with his business and my brother spent most of his time at work. I hardly had any communication with them. I used to be alone at home and was pushed constantly by my father to go out and do something. There were days when I was even afraid to go out, fearing that people will hurt me. In the library, I behaved timidly and tried to find space where there was no one around.
In my journey to find myself, I hardly had any support. I was traumatized by my father’s constant disapproval of my life choices and no space for existence of my being and individuality. I began to believe that the mobile network towers, that were present mostly everywhere, were actually devices placed by the government to control our minds. The Delhi Municipal garbage van that came every morning used a particular jingle. I thought that it was another way to control our minds. I lived as vigilantly as possible but could not maintain that intensity for very long. After some time, I felt an immense amount of guilt for not being able to keep up or resist and I began to collapse.
I then went to a psychiatric OPD in a hospital for the first time, completely on my own, without telling my family. I told the psychiatrist that I am going crazy. When he asked me to elaborate I shared – “I do not make healthy relationships. I am co-dependent on others. I am not able to decide about my career and feel emotionally unstable”. The psychiatrist listened to me and wrote whatever I expressed on my form. Then he gave it back to me along with a prescription for medicines. I was advised by the doctor to visit him anytime if I feel the need to talk. I was given medicines for social anxiety and psychosis. I took these medicine for a week and then stopped the treatment since I could not afford it. I did not disclose it to my father or any member of my family because there was always an absence of a dialogue about my problems at home. I felt I would be mocked if I tell them I have a problem. I was worried they might misunderstand, or never understand me.
Later, in the same year, my brother got married and moved away from home. Probably I felt a sense of freedom. Inspired by Plato’s ‘Allegory of the Cave’ and with the help of the presence of my cousin, I made an effort to get out of this isolation and join a university. But I had trouble in forming relationships there too. I felt fake about myself around people, experienced difficulty in sharing and had similar problems as before. While I finished the first year at the university successfully, I deteriorated in social, emotional and psychological domains without any support from my family. I distanced myself from my cousin as well.
In the months to follow, during my second year, I had various delusions. I felt that the whole class was against me and was trying to hurt me. I began to hate my father and I left home to live in a rented room. This was the most difficult time. With no one around me, I became afraid of people and grew lonelier. After a month, I returned home because I realized I was falling. I withdrew from the university without informing anyone. It felt like I wanted to lock myself up. I was afraid of everyone, or probably any emotional exchange because it could have meant to be a disaster. I recorded many phone calls and listened to them again and again to find proof that people are against me and are trying to hurt me intentionally. There was a difference in the way my father responded. He did not push me that insensitively but he pushed me for a routine. I felt very tired after doing even a small amount of work and going out was very difficult for me. One night, my cousin brother stayed back with us. That night I hit him with an iron lamp on his ass. (When I hit him, I felt like flowing after long time. I felt rage and it felt everything will be okay now. I can live now. Living meant to feel emotions.)
Once, I got out of home and walked not knowing where I was going. I thought I will keep on walking until I find my own way. I only had a 10 rupee note in my pocket. I walked around 20 kilometers away from home constantly trying to push myself to walk on uncertain roads. But I feared collapsing and not having enough energy to go ahead. After 20 kilometers I could walk no further and I took a bus back home. The foot walk was inspired from one of the stories in Paulo Coehlo’s book.
During this time, a neighbour advised my father to visit a psychiatrist for me, so we went to a private clinic. Within 2 hours, the psychiatrist might have seen nearly 100 patients. The label of mental illness gave me the license to rest, without pressure from the society to be functional. At first, this was the meaning of mental illness for me.
Though I was on medication, I struggled everyday to take care of my sleep and diet. For me, nothing can be worst than those days. I was very much dependent on my father who supported me in my day to day routine. He brought hope. On one of those nights, I could not sleep. I closed my eyes and I had no imagination of what lies outside. That night, I remember, I was dying. I could see lights going away and darkness filling me. My father sat next to me and said “what are you doing?” I told him, “I am dying”. He began to shake my body. I felt I had a choice, right at that moment, to end it all and to give up. I do not know how long it took for me to come back. The moment was so intense, like a near death experience, that it has mysteriously stayed with me till now. For me, it is a rare spiritual experience I had.
I was later diagnosed with dysthymia by the psychiatrist who advised me to take healthy diet and read good books like “The Secret”. I began visiting his clinic regularly. Initially, I met him every 15 days, and later, every 30 days. These meetings were always quick. Every time I visited, I was interviewed by a counsellor first. There was always a new face; I began to open up and speak honestly. I told the psychiatrist “I could hear voices and I feel everyone can hear what is going on inside me and I can also hear what is going on in someone’s head sometimes. I believe that it is possible because we all are connected.” It is then I was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
I began to feel better with rest, the support of my father, and medication. I think rest allowed space for mourning too. My father cooked food and managed the household work along with his business. He took care of me, food to me, washed my clothes. I began to have a positive attitude toward life. It restored some health and after 6 months, I began working in an MNC. (The experience of being able to rise again from ashes led me to believe in this journey. I began writing.) I did not feel those emotions as intensely as before and hence I could live them, survive them and be constructive.
Six months later, with the support of a teacher, I resumed studies. The same year I began receiving psychodynamic psychotherapy at university clinic called ‘Ehsaas’. I was still feeling overwhelmed with my illness and wished to engage with it in my master’s thesis at Ambedkar University. In my thesis, I put forward a subjective model about the movement from illness to health using autoethnography. During the thesis work, I began to believe that I could live without medicines. I tried to leave all of them to feel the wholesomeness of my experiences, so that I can engage with it in therapy and survive it. But I went into relapse instead. I experienced hallucinations about a person and it held me for some time. I became delusional and had doubts about what is real and what is not. This was so intense that it affected me very strongly and I knew I will not be able to function.
I once went to the market to purchase eggs. The salesman replied “white potato”. It shook me and I felt that he was trying to hurt me. He said white potato as a code word for eggs to be used in the presence of vegetarian customers. I became mindless and it took great strength for me to come back. This doubt had such intensity that it shook me. I began taking medicines again. During this time, my therapy was the most effective. I completely collapsed and my therapist took care of me. My teachers also became aware of my experiences and supported me. My thesis supervisor also supported me by meeting every week for the thesis work.
It is during psychotherapy that I really began to work on my trust issues. The primary task was to trust the therapist. I think, not feeling judged and really listening brought that trust towards the therapist and the therapeutic space. The psychotherapist became a good enough mother who held my disintegrated parts and led me towards integration. Once the trust in therapy was restored, it affected my everyday life outside the therapy room as well. This was the idea of psychotherapy, that whatever I would receive and learn would actually be slowly visible in everyday life too. The decision to take psychotherapy was one of my life changing events and I found a place to be comfortable with myself and talk about my illness. With the support of psychotherapy, I managed to cross many milestones in social and emotional areas. Firstly, the purpose of therapy was to support me to live with my illness. But very often I dissociated the fact that I have an illness. There were moments when I felt “I am schizophrenic” and there are times when I say “schizophrenia is an aspect of identity”. Therapy has been a dialogue as it happens in collaborative language therapy. We constructed meaning through a dialogue about experiences that I shared. The therapeutic space has always been about me. The idea of therapy suggested that one takes small doses of illness and carries on with health.
I began to feel that for my psychiatrist, I am just Amisulpride, a variable in his research and consumer of his business. This is okay, but there is no human element. I disagree with him, when he says that most authentic experience of my illness is because of dopamine. Presently I have shifted to another humanistic psychiatrist who gives me time and really listens to me. I take psychodynamic psychotherapy twice a week. My therapist appreciates my existence and helps me in reaching insight in everyday struggles alongside working on the parts which are still unresolved. I live with my father and I have begin to see the ways he has been supporting me with his constant presence. He is the strongest pillar in my life. Without him, I would have drowned forever and be lost. My brother visits us, with his family, once a year for a month. I share a good relationship with gim. He supports and loves me. I can openly discuss my illness with him but not with my father. My cousin still supports me too and we share a good friendship. I also have few friends from the university with whom I feel comfortable.
I think the loss of my mother early in my childhood, led to the feelings of distrust, hopelessness and abandonment in me. I probably experienced a disconnection between my true self and the outer self (primarily my mother and other relationships) after losing her. This might have resulted in immature relationship patterns during my growing up years and fragile defences to cope with traumatic events. I think psychodynamic psychotherapy with medication is helpful for psychosis. I think everyone suffering from illness should have space where they can create their own subjective model and understanding of their association with illness and health.
Note: Republished with permission from the author Pankaj Suneja. The article was originally published in the Journal of Psychosocial Rehabilitation and Mental Health, 2015. Springer, India – Search of Self Amidst Chaos