At twenty-eight, I was living in Bremerton Washington, a ferry ride from Seattle. One afternoon as I was walking across a bridge that led from downtown to my neighborhood, I saw two men in black suits walking on the calm surface of the Puget Sound. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was my first experience with a hallucination.
Over the next two weeks, my thoughts deteriorated, and I believed I had received a cocaine-laced letter from a man I knew who was in prison. I called the police to deal with the letter. When the officer arrived, I told him about a judge in town who was out to get me. I told him it was all a setup. I had moved from a single hallucination into a full blown state of paranoia. I was psychotic.
It took a few days for my aunt and my mom to get me checked into a psychiatric unit. During that time, I tried to barricade my mother into a room, and I had plans to jump out of a second-story window. I thought everything was poison and that everyone was out to get me. I couldn’t sleep; my mind raced, and I was unable to stay seated for more than a minute or two at a time.
Once in the hospital, and on medication, the psychosis started to subside slowly. After my release, I stayed on my medication for a couple of months and suffered many side effects like an inability to read or write or do any tasks that required fine motor skills. The shaking of my hands caused me shame, and I felt like everyone who saw it was reading my medical history. The fact that I couldn’t read or write was almost unbearable because I had just started publishing a few poems in some well-known journals. I couldn’t accept this new life or my limitations.
The farther my psychotic episode was behind me, the more I began to believe that it had all been a mistake. I told myself I didn’t need medication, that what I had experienced was a nervous breakdown. I convinced myself that I didn’t have a mental illness but a reaction to stress. I started to skip doses of my prescribed pills, and eventually stopped taking my medication completely.
I spent the next few years moving in and out of psychotic episodes, but what I didn’t know then that I do know now, is that with each episode the possibility of a full recovery becomes less likely.
At the age of thirty-two, I started to hear voices for the first time, and I attempted suicide twice. After being so close to losing my life, I began taking my medication and overall treatment seriously. I knew for certain that I had a mental illness and that I would need to treat it like any chronic illness if I was going to have any hope at a productive life or future.
My psychiatrist at the time tried new medications that had side effects like high cholesterol, high blood sugar, and weight gain but I was able to control a part of those with diet and exercise. My hands no longer shook, and I could read and write.
I took a winding and rough road to accepting my diagnosis, not unlike many other people, but if asked now, I would say, my medication is like food; I wouldn’t feel comfortable or be healthy without it. Medication, side effects and all, is a lifesaver, and I wouldn’t be alive if I didn’t have access to the pills that keep the voices from overwhelming me.