I was reading this little article today about the prodrome to psychosis. The years or months or weeks before one has a psychotic break and whether medical professionals might be able to predict from the vague symptoms that are a precursor to madness if one will indeed find their way to the other side of reality. And just how we know when the line has been crossed between the eccentric sane to the just becoming insane.
I remember so well when I walked that same line. How I wish that someone had picked up on the subtle and not so subtle clues that a young mind had begun to crack, that normal adolescent angst was becoming a teenager out of touch with reality. I wish how I could describe how I felt. Wish that anyone could spend a second inside my brain to understand and to feel the indescribable.
It’s a struggle to put into words things that never fit into words, things that are bigger than words, but I guess I can try. It starts with the small things. The fleeting visions from the corner of your eye. The deer on the side of the road that really isn’t there. And little things that you see. A cat darting off, a car coming at you, the snake that is really a stick, a shadow from nothing at all. The hearing things that aren’t really there. Your name in the wind, a whisper, a sigh, and an unkind word from a stranger you cannot quite see. The feeling things that aren’t quite real. Electric bolts in your toenails, skin crawling with tiny little ants or fuzzies that are barely perceptible but quite distracting. The things that don’t taste the same. The water that tastes dirty, the milk that tastes rotten, the chocolate that tastes like rusty nails. The food you can feel sliding down your throat and sitting in your stomach. The food you can feel being digested and moving along your guts. The smells that aren’t real. The smell of babies and peaches and fresh cut grass that your nose tells your brain is true, but none of these things are around.
The thoughts…the thoughts are maybe the worst of it all. The little things that first seem okay. That seem like you are smart and interesting and deep and introspective. You wonder about the meaning of life, of what you are doing here, of why any of this makes any sort of sense. Only it doesn’t make sense. Everything made up of all the tiny bits and pieces of life as we don’t know it.
The people who are talking about you. The whispers, and what are they saying, you are not good, you are not right, you are crazy, and you do not deserve what you have. The buzzing, the air conditioning, the ambient noise that somehow you can decode a message in. The noise that is not meaningful, but to you has meaning. The conversations, the sitting in the restaurants and being hyper aware of the three or four or eight or ten conversations going on around you. You can hear every one and somehow simultaneously listen to all of them at once. The hyperawareness and hyper acute senses, everything you taste and feel and touch is magnified by thousands.
Being fixated on a single idea, of church, of God, of religion, of being real, of being an illusion, having big, big ideas and not being able to express them. Your brain rotates to bipolar extremes. A dense fog. Your head and body are trapped inside of drying cement. There is an aching pain in every tiny muscle fiber. Thoughts pushed out like toothpaste too thick to flee the tube. Everything is so slow. Everything is dull and grey. There is no fight or flight. No sense of urgency. Nothing to be excited for. Devoid of emotion. You exist in a state that is not quite real. A state of disassociation and numbness. But even in this dulled state, reality is altered, but awareness is not. You are able to realize that something is wrong and begin to feel yourself slipping further from the world all those around you are experiencing.
The other side of the coin is the amplification of emotion. The angst, the anxiety. The pounding away of your heart and hearing every thump, thump, thump. The whooshing of your blood in time with your beating heart is perceivable as an ever present buzz in your ear. Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, and thump, thump, thump. The cold sweat on the back of your neck. The feeling of every goose bump pushing up through prickled flesh. Being aware of every small hair on your body. The whirring of the air conditioner, the ceiling fan, the ambient electrical noise that is blaring like a foghorn. And something embedded within the sound. A whisper, your name, a hello. The cold air is colder. Hot food is hotter. Energy abounds.
And here it is. The blurred line between reality and not. The place where the eccentric meets the psychotic. Where functionally abnormal becomes pathologic. The place where you could turn around and march out, well maybe not march, but be dragged out of with some effort against the place at the end of the rope, where being lost in your own mind is a torture all its own. Can you identify it? This place that if you have never been, you cannot describe or comprehend. Maybe, it would sure be interesting to find out. The aura of a psychotic break is so much more benign than the aftermath.