This is a comment from a course participant Mary S Newton, PhD, who graciously let me share her words here regarding her own recovery from psychosis:
I signed up for the course not so much to get help for myself or someone else, but rather to see if the course would really live up to its very attractive advance publicity. Going on past experience, I was not optimistic. I’m happy to say gloomy suspicions were completely unjustified. I’m continually astonished at your skill in opening up very difficult and painful problems and encouraging helpful input from all participants, in addition to your own wise advice.
Today you outdid yourself, in bringing up the problem of staying in communication with someone in psychosis. A little background: many years ago, as a 27-year-old housewife and mother of two young children, I had to deal with psychosis myself. I was college educated and loved to read and ponder all the Big Questions, and in my reading I had stumbled across Carl Jung and his theory of individuation, or psychological maturity, which is something I longed for. Individuation, he said, comes about when the limited conscious ego accesses and assimilates the contents of the vast collective unconscious, the source of spiritual experience and wisdom. I eagerly pursued this line of thought, and one day had an out-of-body experience that convinced me I was making good progress. This was followed by even more impressive — and frightening — experiences that soon convinced me I needed some expert advice, so I went to a psychiatrist to explain what was happening to me, and what I hoped it meant, and to get his advice on how to handle the experiences.
As I’m sure this group knows, the psychiatrist was basically horrified at what I tried to tell him. Taken aback at his reaction, I asked him if he thought I was crazy. He pulled himself together and cautiously said no, because I wasn’t trying to talk him into believing in Jung’s theories or anything like that; I wasn’t acting crazy. But he so much wished that I had come to him sooner, so he could have spared me all this.
All I heard was the part about not acting crazy. I wasn’t crazy as long as I didn’t act that way. Trying to talk to him about what was going on in my head was obviously crazy. What I needed to do was go home and keep my mouth shut, unless I wanted to end up in the looney bin.
So I went home and kept my mouth shut, though it was the most horrendously painful and terrifying experience I’ve ever endured. I couldn’t talk to my husband or family or friends; their reaction would have been to try to get me to a psychiatrist, and I knew the end result of that: a lifetime of stigma and shame and hopelessness. Death would be better. I hung on to my frail hope that Jung was right, and that if I accepted my experience in silence and learned from it, I could not only survive but thrive.
After three long years I finally decided Jung was right. But not a day went by when I did not suffer from my self-imposed silence, and longed for a sympathetic listener who could simply accept my confession without criticism or fear and let me howl in anguish without being locked up. It would have been such a relief for me, and would have made my recovery so much quicker.
So thank you, Krista, for teaching families how to listen to their loved ones in psychosis. I’ve been waiting for years to hear that someone is doing this. One day maybe even psychiatrists will learn to listen too.
By the way, I eventually ended up going back to school and earning a PhD in psychology; I had a career in addiction treatment and am retired now, enjoying my children and grandchildren and travel. My advice to families is to encourage your recovering psychotic children to go back to school and get the degrees that will let them help others get through the same experience, because now they know what they need.
Person who personally experienced psychosis & class participant.