“It is sometimes an appropriate response to reality to go insane.”
– Philip K. Dick.
In 2016 I was sectioned and admitted to Clock View Hospital after suffering a severe psychotic breakdown. See, after enduring several years of debilitating anxiety and depression, something snapped. My fear suddenly vanished and my sadness gave way to a sense of elation that I’d never dreamed I could attain.
So intense were these feelings of well-being that I believed it to be a spiritual awakening. I began to feel the Universe around me and started to commune with it in my mind. It gave me a mission: to help as many people as I could, starting with my family.
And help them I did. Or at least I tried to. But my actions were extreme. To give an example, I once locked my mother inside my house and forced her to write a list of ten things that would make her happy. She resisted. She resisted so much that one point she actually bit me. But I wouldn’t let her leave until she had written that list. And in the moments after she finally did, the smile on her face was one of pure, unfettered joy. I’ll never forget it. I mean, just look…
Now you could argue that the joy she felt was connected to the fact that I was finally going to let her leave. But I would like to think that actually, I forced her to connect with something long thought dormant in her: the pursuit of her own happiness. The actions I took during my breakdown were, as I said, extreme. But they came from a place of absolute love.
But these actions began to concern my family and eventually I took it too far. They staged an intervention. And after I refused to seek professional help, the police were called. So enraged was I at the thought of my new state of mind being forcibly taken from me that I proceeded to trash my own home. When the police arrived, I was summarily arrested and spent the next thirty-six hours in a holding cell while I awaited my bed at Clock View.
Sounds horrific, right? Like pure trauma; a memory that would fill me with regret and shame. Far from it. That psychotic breakdown, that seemingly horrendous mark on my already chequered past, was in fact my first spurt of real emotional and spiritual growth. I learned a lot about life through psychosis. Many of the ideas that drove me through this experience (unconditional love for the self and for others; the desire to help those in need; the realisation that now is the only moment that matters) are universal truths that one can find in spiritual texts from throughout history.
In many ways, I was mentally ill, sure. I believed my favourite band ‘The Dear Hunter’ were sending me messages through their music. I believed I was communicating with God (I called it the Universe, but the concept is much the same). I believed I could read minds through a supernatural sense of empathy. I basically believed I was a “Jesus” of the modern age. These are all beliefs that one would associate with madness. And yet, in many other ways, in my desperation for relief, in my yearning to escape my fear and sadness, I was forcibly switched on to the hidden world beneath the corporeal. And it’s a world that, once it appears to you, can’t be unseen.
Madness isn’t as bad as you think it is. There’s a sweet comfort in its embrace. Madness can often lift the veil, so to speak. It can show you the truth of things, even as it claims your mind. I was shown two universal truths by my psychosis. The first is that we only exist in the present. Past and future are illusions and the only reality is now. In realising that, I was able to finally begin freeing myself from the tyranny of the ego. And the second is Love. Love for the self and love for the other. And only through presence and love can we ever achieve harmony and true peace.
I’m not fully there yet. There are times when presence and love fill me like the very air that I breathe. And there are times that I forget; the past and the future worm their way back in and my ego convinces me that they’re reality. But they’re not. The only reality is this moment. Now. So embrace it. Stay in it. And love.
Madness claimed me. But it also freed me. You should try it, you just might like it.