“Something something something Psychosis something something…” he trailed off as he dialed the phone number for the prescription authority people. I swallowed hard and my stomach flipped the way it would on a rapid elevator descent down 20 stories. A sudden sense of dread ran through my veins. Did he just say I was psychotic? I felt like I was going to be sick all over his plush grey carpet. Over the years, I’d grown accustomed to diagnostic labels. I was 18 when a Psychiatrist first used the words Depression and Anxiety to describe my symptoms. Not long after came Panic Disorder. Then it was Agoraphobia. Admittedly, that one was harder to describe to people who weren’t in the know. They figured it meant a fear of large spaces like open fields or teeming crowds of people, when in reality, it meant a fear of anywhere that wasn’t home. Sometimes home came in the shape of my safe spaces, like my house and my parents house or my best friends car. Other times it shrank to be as small as my 6×4 bedroom.
As I approached 30, the professionals threw in OCD. Not in the charmingly fastidious ‘I like my desk tidied a certain way’ anal retentive sense, either. Instead, the kind that leaves you unable to touch your genitals unless you’re wearing rubber gloves because you’re obsessively worried about contamination, frequent flyer at the Psychiatric Hospital kinda way. It was quirky but it wasn’t frightening to others. This time was different. This time it was the kind of diagnosis that doesn’t get days of awareness or an empathetic animal mascot. It was instead the pretense for a Criminal Minds villain.
He filled in the script with my details and handed it to me gently. “Your pharmacist might have to order this medication in…it’s an old school drug that doesn’t get used very often…Actually, I think they stopped producing it for a while…” he said, as he furrowed his brows, deep in thought.
“Anyway, it should be fine. Start with one tablet in the morning for a week, then increase to 2 the following week, okay?” he instructed casually. I nodded as I tucked the prescription into my handbag and thanked him for his time. In the space of 75 minutes, I’d escalated from idiosyncratically crazy to frightfully, legit crazy. I didn’t feel any crazier, but I did feel scared and overwhelmed and slightly confused. How could I be diagnosed as being detached from reality when I feel so immersed in the very tangible mundane existence that is my life. Or am I too sick to realise that I’m not actually as sane as I thought I was? Psychiatrists always insisted I had ‘great insight’ into my issues, but this new diagnosis makes me question whether I have any comprehension of my current reality.
It’s been a week since my diagnosis now, and it’s had some time to settle in. I’m still frightened by the unknown complexities of an illness I never thought I’d deal with. I was never this scared by any of my previous diagnoses. I guess I knew more about those illnesses, and they weren’t so foreign to me, but this is something I know very little about. I decided to go and speak to my GP about it. My Psychiatrist had written her a letter to give her an idea of how our first session went, so she was clued into what was going on. She confirmed that yes, his opinion was that I have ‘severe treatment resistant OCD’ and displayed signs of Psychosis. To be honest, it wasn’t any easier to hear a second time. I asked her if she thought I had lost touch with reality and she reassured me that I seemed to be pretty grounded, but yes she agreed that some of the thoughts I’d previously shared with her were indicative of the diagnosis. She explained that currently, she can see I’m able to rationalize things pretty quickly when I have a delusional thought, but the issue is that they’re there at all. If left untreated it could get worse. I explained to her how terrified I am by the notion that I could lose my mind and break with reality at some point. I’ve literally been so scared that for the last week it’s all I’ve been able to think about. She said taking the new medication will lessen the likelihood of that happening. She also mentioned that given that I’m in regular contact with her, my Psychiatrist and my Psychologist, one of them would likely pick up the early signs that I was in trouble. I suppose not unlike they have now.
Until now, I’ve only shared this diagnosis with my mother and the 3 friends I believed would help give me insight and understanding or at least an empathetic shoulder to lean on. I’ve considered myself an advocate for mental health from the time I was 18, and been mostly unafraid to admit that I am affected by mental illness. But this has challenged me. It’s made me feel ashamed and I’ve had to really do some thinking about why that is. I think a large part of it is due to the social stigma of mental illness outside the scope of Depression and Anxiety. Yes, those illnesses are still stigmatized and scoffed at by some, but by and large, the public at large generally show a fair degree of empathy and tolerance toward those who suffer them. It’s taken a long time, but most people now have at least some understanding of those illnesses and how they affect the individuals diagnosed with them. But Psychosis? Schizophrenia? They’re labels that a lot of people still fear and misunderstand. I would be lying if I said that I hadn’t believed those things in a small way too in the past. It truly wasn’t until I went into a Psychiatric Hospital last year, and actually met individuals with these diagnoses, that these labels were humanized to me. Three separate admissions allowed me to get to know a lot of really amazing people and most of them were very frank and honest about their illness and how it affected them. It gave me a lot of insight into these illnesses that I’d previously misunderstood or hadn’t taken the time to learn about. These people were in no way more their diagnosis than I was my own. We queued in the medication line together, we ‘mindfully’ coloured in Mandalas together and we ate together. They were funny, kind, regular folks that I laughed with over shitty instant coffee and cigarettes. I imagine if everyone spent a few weeks in a Psych Hospital, they’d probably find the same thing I did. That yes, it can be a scary illness, but the individuals who have these illnesses aren’t scary. There’s a big difference. But unfortunately, not everyone will ever see the inside of a Psych Hospital or have those positive experiences I did, and most of the assumptions they’ll make about people with those disorders will be based on what we see on television and movies and pop culture media, and damn, don’t they do a good job at demonizing them.
I’ll admit it here. I’m scared to post this. I’m scared that I will lose the few friends I have. I’m scared of the judgements people are going to make about me. I’m scared I’ll never be able to return to the field I worked in. I’m scared it will prevent me from renting a house if the Real Estate find out. I’m scared of what my family will say.
I’m scared that they’ll be scared.
This is all without even taking into account the fear I have of the illness itself and how it will affect me if the medications don’t work as well as they should. So to say that I was shitting myself would probably be a fairly good assessment of the situation right now.