My Psychological Breakdown

“Sarah? Sarah?” My father’s voice sounded frightened.

“What is it?” I clutched the cellphone, fearful of what he would say next.

“When you picked up, I heard voices babbling in a strange language, something Middle-Eastern sounding,” my father informed me.

Terror gripped me. I had known that demons were involved, that I was giving in to their control. This proved it. My father had heard them when he tried to call me.

I was huddled in my dorm room at college at night with all the lights on. It was my fourth semester, and the senseless horror which was to be my life for the next few years was well under way.

I did reasonably well during my first year at college, despite my mental turmoil. I made friends, got good grades, and managed to make a couple of trips out of the country. Life was difficult, but I was handling it as well as could be expected.

But, by my third semester, my obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) began to intensify. I started struggling to get my homework done and spent valuable time trying to pray fruitless prayers of salvation or battling thoughts about demons instead. My grades started dropping as my misery and utter torment increased.

I did not want to go back to school my fourth semester. I went simply because that was the only path I had been trained to follow. Academic success was the shining beacon of my future. Strange how ill prepared I was in every other practical way to use that success in a career or to pursue academics as a healthy, well-rounded individual.

That semester was my undoing. I could not complete any of my homework. Life became a cyclical nightmare of hellish, fear-tormented darkness followed by days that brought no relief. I prayed again and again for salvation. I lingered in my room for hours, missing class, skipping meals, and forgoing assignments. If I could just pray for five more minutes, I knew I could get saved this time.

And then there were the demons, or rather my fear of them. I lived in utter panic, believing every moment that I was giving myself to Satan and already under his control.

I wasted away in every sense. People began to stare at me as I walked across campus. I was a pale, skeletal girl with tangled hair and clothes that literally threatened to fall off of her frail body. I remember the embarrassment I felt at my inability to care for myself. Often, I wore my winter coat to cover the mismatching outfits and unshowered odors that made me feel so awkward and unattractive.

The school authorities began to take notice of my strange behavior and to become increasingly concerned. My RD started talking to me, trying to get me to start making healthier decisions. What no one seemed to grasp was that I was well beyond the point when I could start making healthy decisions for myself. I was suffering a psychological breakdown.

I was encouraged to see the school counselor, but even this proved useless. I was too far gone for that kind of help. Even worse, the psychologist told me that I was under attack. He may have meant this as a psychological statement rather than a spiritual one, but, to my sick mind, I heard only the reference to Satan’s power in my life.

In the midst of my worst suffering, my father called me one night and informed me that he had heard demons speaking over the phone when he tried to talk to me. It was the night before I was to meet with the Dean of Students. The next day, I would learn that I was being sent home and given withdrawal status on all of my classes.

Do any of you have insights on how we as a society can learn to acknowledge the existence and extent of mental illness in our own lives and those of others? How do you think the delicate balance of respecting the voices and rights of those suffering mental illness and ensuring that they receive the treatment they need can be struck? I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this topic. This discussion is near and dear to my heart, so be prepared to see it resurface in later posts. Join in the conversation.

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5 responses to “My Psychological Breakdown”

  1. skinnyhobbit says :

    Compassion would help and…awareness of the advantage a majority has.

    Compassion & empathy aid in de-stigmatization. People who are compassionate tend to want to understand why someone they find “odd” or “strange” behaves the way they do. Eg, people who know someone who is LGBT tend to be more empathetic of LGBT people.

    Awareness of majority privilege because it’s too easy for a careless word to alienate sometimes. Eg “Do you have a boyfriend?” to a woman alienates non heterosexuals and coming from a psychiatrist sends a subtle message of “You can’t open up about you possibly being non-straight.” That awareness also comes from empathy, I believe.

    Respecting voices would be not silencing, really listening and not making assumptions.

    Respecting rights with regards to receiving treatment, I do not know but I think it all boils down to compassion and empathy once again.

    • thepathwaymaker says :

      Thank you for your thoughts. I agree that compassion and awareness of privilege are essential in dealing with the mentally ill. I find that much of the mistreatment which such individuals suffer probably comes from a lack of caring and understanding. Much of my suffering was caused by a strange combination of people’s failure to grasp the nature and severity of my illness and by their fear of my condition and its imagined causes.

      I think there may be a place for intervening in an individual’s life against their will, when they are harming themselves or others. However, I believe such intervention should be practiced with the utmost respect to the individual’s rights and privacy and with every effort to allow the individual as much choice as possible. I will share more on my own experiences with forced intervention in our mental healthcare system in later posts.

      • skinnyhobbit says :

        I think that fundamentalist Christianity (namely those which take the Bible as inerrant) end to stigmatize mental illness heavily.

        Verses like “By his stripes, we are healed” foster a cultural mindset of “If you’re faithful enough…”. Such a mindset taken to it’s literal extreme conclusion can only lead to abuses in my opinion.

        Outside of a religious bubble, things don’t feel much different — people fear and make assumptions of something they don’t understand and few people are compassionate and curious enough to question their biases/assumptions.

        I’m not from the US but I am aware of circumstances that can lead to forced psychiatric hospitalization in my Asian country.

        I think hospitals tend to dehumanize patients in general and the fear of involuntary admission scares people away from seeking help. Of course there are times where doing so is for the good of the individual and/or others — it seems like a very grey line!

        Looking forward to your future blog posts on the subject. 🙂

  2. thepathwaymaker says :

    Thank you again. I think your observations are spot on. I have personally experienced many of the phenomena to which you referred, both within fundamental Christianity and the US mental healthcare system.

    I was just discussing the need for personal growth in our understanding of others with one of my closest friends the other day. Her conclusion, similar to yours, was that all of us need to be progressing in this area. I find it encouraging to realize that none of us is ever completely arrived, but each of us can and should steadily work to improve ourselves in this area.

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