Psychotic depression is not something I’ve talked about on my blog before. It’s a subject I’ve wanted to talk about openly for a while, but I’ve always put it off. This is not just a fear of the reception it may receive or the look of horror on a person’s face when the word ‘psychosis’ is spoken. It is the uncertainty of delving back into the dark depths of my mind and confront the bully that made me suffer.
It started during a dark time in my life a few years ago when everything familiar to me was changing – a period I can only describe as a complete breakdown of my mentality. So much had happened all at once. My heart was broken for the first time, I had just finished my GCSEs and left school; with the obscure challenge of college looming. My Nan was ill and my mental health was rapidly declining. All of this at that frustrating age where you’re expected to act like an adult whilst still being treated like a child.
I spiralled into a deep, overwhelming depression and I was consumed by a black cloud. I shut myself away from the outside world, rejecting my friends and worrying my family. My weight dropped massively and I regularly hurt myself because quite frankly, I had lost the will to live.
I remember waking up one morning after another restless night, consumed by the familiar feeling of hopelessness and fatigue. However, on this morning something was different and it wasn’t until I forced myself to sit up did I realise what it was. There was a girl sat on the end of my bed, watching me. Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever woken up to find a stranger in your bedroom, but it scared the hell out of me. Was I dreaming? I allowed myself to stare back at her. It was then I realised she wasn’t a stranger; she was me.
What I was seeing is what I now describe as a physical embodiment of my mental health. Her eyes were bloodshot and menacing; outlined by heavy eyeliner and mascara that ran down her pale cheeks. My usual smooth big hair was wild and unkempt on her and her mouth curved into a snarl, sneering at me. Her clothes were dirty and ripped; all black of course. It was her skin that alarmed me the most. She was covered in slashed cuts and blood, which I’m sure I saw drip onto my duvet.
“Who are you?” I recall whispering. I 100% believed this was a real person.
“I’m you,” she snapped. “And you’re not going to get rid of me.”
My literal shadow followed me everywhere for the next couple of weeks. I can’t remember how long exactly. That time of my life is quite a blur. I could not understand why no one else could see or hear her like I could, but she warned me that something awful would happen if I told anyone.
She would disappear sometimes; even the devil needs its sleep right? However she would always wake up when my anxiety levels grew. Her intrusion haunted me, her voice screaming at me that I was worthless and pathetic and I would live my miserable life alone. She told me everyone would be better off without me, and for a while I believed her. She was a constant, exhausting enigma, who persuaded me to do bad things. I was too scared to refuse.
Sometimes she would convince me she was my friend. “I’m your only friend,” she said. “The only person you can trust.” She would sit with me in my CBT sessions and dismiss everything my therapist would tell me. She would call her a liar and warned me that she was out to get me. I was conflicted. She was the devil on my shoulder. I’d curl up and close my eyes and hold my hands over my ears, telling her to shut up and leave me alone. She just laughed as I cried, and rejoiced in the fact she grew stronger as I became weaker.
Mental illness is like fighting a war where the enemy’s strategy is to convince you that the war isn’t actually happening. That’s what she did. She made me believe that all the horrible things she said about me were not fiction created by my poorly mind, but it was just who I was.
One day, I told her in my head she wasn’t real and I wouldn’t be listening to her anymore. She laughed and pushed me in front of a car.
It’s a hazy memory. It was one of the first times I’d left the house in a while and I remember stopping to cross a road. All of a sudden I felt like I had been shoved in my back, and I found myself in the middle of the road. I turned around and saw her cackling on the pavement. Luckily, the car changed direction at the last moment and I was terrified about the feeling of disappointment that seeped through me. I didn’t want to feel like this. That moment changed everything.
Conveniently, shortly after this event I had a psychiatric assessment. When the doctor asked me why I was transfixed on the empty chair in the corner of the room, I told him it wasn’t empty. She was sat in it. Everything poured out of me like an erupting volcano and I braced myself for disaster. I barely acknowledged the slight look of shock he tried to hide; my mind was on fire. He explained how he thought I was experiencing psychotic hallucinations as a subtype to severe depression. It is only now I can reflect on that day and feel extremely proud of myself. The ‘well’ me that has been locked in a cage for so long somewhere inside me by her evil twin had begun to stir.
I started taking the medication I still take now four years later, and slowly she faded away. Everything felt so quiet without her. I am worried I will have to rely on my medication for the rest of my life to enable me to be me and to prevent her resurrection. She isn’t gone completely. I still feel her presence sometimes. You know that feeling when you feel like you’re being watched or followed? If I forget to take my tablets for a few days I may catch a glimpse of her. I did try antipsychotics, but they didn’t agree with me.
Last year, I found myself at rock bottom again and she was there waiting, ready for revenge. I had just been out for dinner with a friend, and when I came home and walked into my room my heart stopped. She was there, on my bed like the first time I saw her. I won’t go into the details of the war I tried to fight against that night, but long story short, I took an overdose. Why? Because she told me too. She laughed as I swallowed each antidepressant – her idea of a sick joke. She liked the irony. Her presence was with me in the ambulance and she sat at the end of my hospital bed. I’ve never been so terrified.
After I left hospital and I began to recover, she began to disappear. She made me do the worse possible thing, yet I still survived. I still worry everyday that she’s going to be around the next corner. Maybe she’s the voice of my anxiety, and it’s her that is behind the steering wheel of my OCD. She still very much exists. However, with the right mixture of medication and psychotherapy, I will grow stronger and she will weaken.
I wanted to tell this story because I know psychosis has such a taboo attached to it, and psychotic depression is rarely talked about publicly. I’m not a ‘psycho’ or an ‘insane freak.’ I am ill, and I will get better. During each battle I have beat her and I’ll beat her every time.