Friday, August 23, 2013

My story of coming to terms with a diagnosis

As I mentioned in one of my earliest posts, the film A Beautiful Mind spoke powerfully to me about my own experience of having a mental illness featuring psychosis. Part of the reason for this was the power of seeing John Nash (played by Russell Crowe) come to terms with his diagnosis.

The clip at the foot of this post takes place soon after Nash is admitted to psychiatric hospital and I share it because it has much that parallels with my own experience of comprehending my situation.

Coming to grips with a psychotic condition doesn’t quite work like flicking a switch. For me it was more like an oscillation between a fully delusional state and one where I could see my illness for what it was.

Much of that first week was spent up the fully delusional end of the spectrum, which manifested itself as a strong conviction that I was a fraud. I wrote a note to one of the nurses to this effect, too ashamed to tell him in person. I basically said in the note that I had orchestrated my admission so I could prey on other weak inpatients, fully expecting to be taken away and locked up, never to see my family or friends again.

After playing a friendly game of pool with another inpatient I withdrew to my room deeply remorseful that I had acted in such a friendly manner that in some inverted way was intended to cause him spiritual harm.

I recall my eldest brother Matthew giving me a call to see how I was doing and that I was able to speak coherently with him. Shortly after the call I asked my dad to ask him not to call again because I believed I could harm him and his wife and newborn baby simply by speaking to him over the phone.

In a scene much like the one below I shared with my dad that I was a fraud and not really ill. I recall him gently acknowledging my point of view several times during that conversation (I was very insistent) and saying that for now hospital was the best place for me to be.

Within a week of my admission to hospital my doctor put the pieces together and discerned I had been suffering from psychosis, and she made a provisional diagnosis of bipolar disorder type 1. I don’t remember what my initial reaction to the news was, but a day or two later I was reading a pamphlet in the hospital’s lounge area titled “what is bipolar disorder?” It was like looking in a mirror. I began to understand the past three years of my life in an entirely new light.

That evening my brother Henry came to visit and we chewed over the diagnosis of bipolar and I shared with him about reading the pamphlet. He said he also had been doing some reading and had wondered whether there had been something going awry with how my brain had been interacting with my conscience.

As is often the case in life, it took a relational moment like this one to cement in my own mind that I had indeed been suffering quite severely from a mental illness. After Henry left I had a strong feeling of gratitude and knelt and prayed with a clear mind for the first time in months, knowing that my recovery was now underway.