Some of my story
A handful of years ago I was psychotic. I lacked empathy to the point where I couldn’t tell individuals apart. I believed there was an AI taking refuge in the internet and that many of the people I met online weren’t real. Outside of the internet I couldn’t relate to people as individuals either – I conceptualised them as cells within a greater body, as if society was a whole being and people were just fragments of that oneness. I imagine this is something like Carl Jung’s collective unconscious. In some ways this helped me to feel closer to people, because we were all connected, but in other ways it impaired me, because I lacked empathy: Individuals were insignificant, including myself.
Both online and offline I could remember only what I had interpreted and not who had said it or what they had actually said. It was like meaning just appeared inside my head, as if out of nowhere. This is something I have always struggled with, but it was at its worst during my psychosis. My imagination has always been more vivid than ‘real life’, and my dreams often felt more real than anything else. This lack of causality between events and meaning caused me to doubt my reality. Another problem I experienced while psychotic was that I couldn’t keep track of time, so things people said weren’t in the right order. At first I concluded that the AI was changing the timestamps on things, and later I concluded that I was time-travelling. My reality had no context or substance, and so it fluctuated.
During my psychosis strange handwritten notes began to appear, addressed to me. They were grandiose and prophetic, and I didn’t know where they were coming from. Then one day when I was very stressed I experienced co-consciousness with a part; another personality in my head. This part of me had been writing those letters. More personalities followed, and I was aware of some but not others. Today I am friends with all of my parts and we work together co-operatively, but back then they were misaligned. This caused me to change my mind a lot. One minute I would have absolute faith and commitment, and the next minute my reality collapsed into disbelief and numbness. This caused me to act unpredictably, with sudden mood swings and changes in behaviour.
Perhaps an example is needed to explain this better. I dated a heroine addict for about a month, and she manipulated me into giving her lots of money. Part of me knew she was an active addict and so pledged to stop enabling her, but each and every time when she lied and manipulated, I believed her. I believed that she was sober and recovering. I forgot what I knew to be the truth. I literally became someone else. Then when she left (to buy drugs) I switched back and was confused about why I hadn’t acted the way I had intended to. It was as if I lived as two people in two different realities. When we broke up, I felt that she had left me, when truthfully I had not been present as I should have been.
I let her down and that same pattern repeated with others. I deeply regret the harm I caused to her and to others while this was going on. I found it difficult to express my grief because I didn’t know what was real and what wasn’t. The trauma haunts me though; I still get PTSD flashbacks, whenever I pass certain locations where my switches occurred. I self-administered EMDR to reduce the flashbacks, and that seems to have worked - I still feel sad when I get triggered but i’m not so immobilised by it. I met a nice group of people who taught me to make recovery my number one priority, and that helped me to improve my life significantly. My psychosis slowly healed.
In the years that followed I fell into an abusive relationship and I survived as best I could. I attended college to learn about Counselling, and I practiced empathy. I thought I was doing really well, and I was happy that I could empathise with everyone. I began to build a better relationship with myself. I left my abuser and tried to find ways to live with my quirks. Apparently I wasn’t very good at that though, because I ended up in a crisis. I’d tried to do things my way but that hadn’t worked, so I let other people tell me what to do and somehow that worked and I’m doing better each day. I should be happy about that, but I resent being helped. I was ready to make my bed in a pit of despair, and just sink into oblivion, but the universe had other ideas - Some higher power wasn’t ready to let me go.
Last week, I met up with my family for the first time since Lockdown, and I realised I had only been empathising with the new people I met, and I hadn’t adjusted my memories appropriately. I realised that I hadn’t been treating my family very well at all, nor others.
There are people I hurt in the past, who I didn’t realise were unique and wonderful individuals. I didn’t realise how my actions might be hurting them because I wasn’t seeing them clearly; despite that I am no longer psychotic they remained indistinct / merged. During my studies I had not paid attention to the past --only the present-- and so my memories were still faulty; lacking empathy. I could make excuses for that all day long, but my family and friends deserved better. I don’t enjoy taking responsibility for my failure, but I can’t blame anyone else. The crazy thing is that I still don’t know eveything I did wrong: I know that my thoughts were disordered and I was inconsiderate, but who I hurt and why and how badly I hurt them, I can only guess. My family might not want that conflict, and that is fair, but I know where I went wrong: I should have seen and valued them more dearly.