Around twelve years ago I thought the end of times was near. Those in power had decided that mankind had exploited, consumed and exhausted planet earth to such an extend that they saw no other option than to destroy it. Therefore they were going to drop atomic bombs on both the North- and South-pole to induce floods and earthquakes that would wipe out all life as we know it. As some kind of domestic violence on a global scale. Furthermore, I thought my father was not my father.
Logically I was admitted to a closed psychiatric ward not much later. My existing life as banker was over, I could feel that on the spot. Also, my girlfriend left me and not long after that I got confronted with stone cold stigma. Somebody I’ve always known quickly took off with child when I coincidentally walked by. And during a job interview I was told: “you still pose a risk, and we can’t take that. These potentially devastating responses to mental vulnerabilities are based on hard and unjust principles that our society should reconsider, and eventually change. But society is not the first connection in the link to this change.
Because the lack of sympathy or disproportionate prejudices that come with mental vulnerabilities were not blocking my recovery in the early phase. In fact, contrary to what I assumed, it were caregivers that initially put me on the wrong track. Don’t get me wrong, caregivers do their work motivated, dedicated and devoted even. By rule, I’m fully convinced of that.
But exactly this conviction made that I had no single reason to doubt what my psychiatrist told me: that a severe illness of the brain had emerged in me. An illness that disrupts the dopamine-supply in my brain to be more specific. This can cause me to speak delusional, or to get convinced of random, incorrect thoughts for example. Moreover, this medical analysis from an expert got reaffirmed by public “wisdom” from society: according to this I was mad, insane, dangerous, a psycho or to put it mildly, ill in the head.
Experience tells otherwise
My, ignorant, old employer quickly wrote off my talents and capacity, and basically maneuvered me out. But then, as a discarded banker, I was lucky enough to get a chance to work as an expert by experience. Lucky I say, because in this field personal experience with mental vulnerabilities is a pro, instead of a con. And that’s how I met who I now call: the mother of all Dutch experts by experience. Truly, I almost fell off my chair when Wilma Boevink told me that she not only had a more severe label from the DSM than I received, but she was also a mom, working more hours than me and busy obtaining her PhD. Something I considered to be quite undoable in this context, not to say impossible
Wilma told me that she was -diplomatically put- not really convinced of the dominantly medical analysis; that she suffered from a severe brain disease. Because while diagnosing, Wilma’s doctors never asked for – or looked at the unimaginable injustice and damage she got confronted with during her youth. And precisely these things led to the psychiatric symptoms later in her life.
To go short, I understood from Wilma’s story that trauma was the cause of her symptoms, and not an illness of the brain. And although that sounded pretty logical in my ears, I couldn’t understand how it was possible that Psychiatry had so little attention for Wilma’s trauma. Moreover, I even thought it was very strange that the doctors were so ignorant on the trauma-side and so firm and sure about the medical side, at the same time. It’s like diagnosing someone that was starved by others with an eating disorder.
My strange feeling transformed into shock when I later found out that the cornerstone of each treatment in Dutch Psychiatry does not consist of real science either. No, the DSM, described by some as the Psychiatrist’s Bible, is no infallible manual about demonstrable illnesses and common effective treatments against it. Actually, the DSM is simply put a collection of pseudo-science and opinions from a bunch experienced psychiatrists. Together they determine whether to classify someone as schizophrenic of schizophreniform. Further along the road I even learned that there’s also (virtually) no genetic proof for the existence of mental illnesses, like there is for cancer or other demonstrable illnesses. That’s why I can safely say that Psychiatry is truly an example of unmeasurable science.
But the lack of (scientific) proof for the existence of brain-diseases was not my last shock. Due to the doubt I had about my father, whom I didn’t grew up with, I decided to ask him for a sit-down and a DNA-test. All to prevent myself in future psychotic episodes from thinking that he wasn’t my father. To everybody’s and my own surprise: my psychotic fear turned out to be right. The DNA-test told us that my father was indeed not my father.
With the knowledge of today, that was by no means a miracle. Because contrary to what my caregivers told me about my brain-disease, my psychotic episode turned out to be something extremely relevant and therefore also healthy, in a strange way. Quite logically, my second psychotic episode was again colored by thoughts and emotions concerning the identity of my real father. Unfortunately, I had no more leads to find him.
A shift in perspective
Shortly after my second psychotic episode I met somebody else that made me shift perspective on Psychiatry. Because while doing research for a new documentary filmmaker Ingrid Kamerling asked me if I withdrew meaning and creativity from my psychotic experiences.
This question came across more weird than it was. The search for my father was indeed a meaning I withdrew from my psychotic experiences, but also writing about my process and recovery brought me a lot of healing. And during the shooting of Kamerling’s documentary Blue Monday, in which my story features, it happened. After 37 years I found my biological father and the truth in the message of this film.
Through the conversations with my father I started to understand more about what my psychotic episodes told me. And I got a more thorough understanding of my psychotic vulnerability, caused by trauma. A trauma I don’t have recollections of, but which is still present and represented by the domestic violence-metaphor from my first episode mentioned at the start of this article
All in all, I cannot conclude anything else that my psychotic episodes are not the result of a brain-disease. No, for me psychotic symptoms are born out of hypersensitivity for insecurity, due to trauma. When this sensitivity gets heavily tested, a change of state can follow. This new state that we call psychotic is best compared with a super-nightmare while awake. Just like with regular nightmares, psychosis is intended to process traumatic and repressed experiences, and manifests itself by seemingly mad images and words. Of course, these psychotic words and images can’t be interpreted literally, which is why they are broadly considered delusional or mad. But viewed as a metaphor, psychotic speech is understood much better. In a similar way like analyzing dreams.
Psychosis: not a flat and random illness
Again I raise the question: how can Psychiatry feign so much expertise and science, while blindly muddling through with the medical book that is the DSM as a holy reference? Why is it so unbelievably pretentious?
Because the expertise and science that Psychiatry feigns so unjustified gives patients a seemingly certain -but too often inaccurate- explanation for their symptoms, which is why their recovery starts off on the wrong track. With this approach the true cause of illness, namely trauma, stays covered and unaddressed.
That’s how Psychiatry keeps dodging the most relevant matter for her patients, only to salve them with completely over-lobbied pharmaceuticals that do nothing more than relieve symptoms and charging toll. Insanely enough it’s an continual approach that consists of giving aspirin, without really feeling the need to have a look at the cause of the headache. Mainly because it has been like this for decades. Imagine the outrage if we had to say the same thing about treating cancer.
More reason to tell another story about psychosis. And that’s exactly what Blue Monday does. Psychosis is not a flat and randomly striking disease. It’s a symptom of a damaged body and/or mind, that not only costs a lot, but also tells and brings something. Like relevant stories and creativity.
And this really makes sense: aware of our vulnerabilities we get forced us to get creative, in order to face the challenges our vulnerabilities present us with. It reminds me of a quote from (I was told) Orson Welles: The enemy of art is the absence of limitations. A quote that is underlined by great artists as Van Gogh and Kahlo for example.
About time that everything and everybody that is Psychiatry reconsiders whether they have sufficient knowledge and perspective when they rule “Schizophrenia” and take away all their patients’ hope in the same motion. Because only after that our societies will also start to reconsider their prejudices and stigmatizing principles. Until then, society will keep undermining the recovery of their fellow citizens by excluding them and thus further damaging them. All while Psychiatry keeps asking itself why their workload keeps growing and growing.