WARNING: The following post may be disturbing for certain readers of this blog as it contains details about my nervous breakdown. If you don’t want to read this, skip it and read the ones above or below it. Thanks.
When we left off last, I was living Los Angeles and studying for a Master’s in English Literature at a renowned Catholic liberal arts college. I was also terribly depressed and this is where the next part of the story takes place.
It was around this time that I had a bit of a tiff with a young female classmate of mine. Both she and I were extremely competitive and I had the intuitive feeling that she wanted me to fall flat on my face. I honestly cannot tell you why I had that feeling at that time. Perhaps, it was the water in Los Angeles or my depression. Who knows, it could have been the iar.
In mid-October, I started feeling overwhelmingly paranoid about everything. I was not having enough sleep, I wasn’t eating well. I was just sitting in front of my computer most days and then taking classes at night. I was hammering out papers and presentations by the dozens and then listening to a professor drone about the literary qualities of the Pan-African Movement in the Carribean or the courtliness of St. Thomas More. On the weekends, I was as much of a mess.
When not meeting with relatives, I would go down to the famous Amoeba Music store on Hollywood and La Cahuenga. I would spend hours there rummaging through the shelves looking at anything that could have been come in over the course of the week. It was at this time that I acquired my set of Schubert sonatas played by Wilhelm Kempff and the complete piano works of Gabriel Faure. For months afterwards, they were probably the only things that I listened on my walkman.
Yet it seemed to me that this frenzied activity and paranoia had to end somewhere. It did and I crashed and burned when the stuff finally hit the fan.
The incident that I am about to describe for you can be examined from many different angles. From a spiritual angle, one could say that I was tempted by the devil. From the point of view of a psychoanalyst, one could say that I was having massive issues with my mother. Either way what happened was that I started visual and auditory hallucinations.
They started one October afternoon as I was sitting in the lower level of the library typing a paper. I had been feeling off all day. For the most part, I had been shifting back and forth between writing a paper on Castiglione and listening to Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries.”
I looked up and saw a woman dressed completely in black from head to toe. She wore a wide-brimmed Victorian with black plumes and gloves that went all the way to her elbows. I thought in my mind that either somebody was really excited about Halloween and had decided to dress for the occasion or I was having a nervous breakdown. I decided to go with the first. Obviously, I was feeling completely fine. Nothing had really happened to me and I didn’t anticipate that anything would.
Yet when I rose from the computer desk and walked away, I had the distinct feeling that I was feeling followed. I could hear the clicking of high heeled shoes against the floor. I turned around and the woman was there in all of her black, veiled glory. In her right hand, she was brandishing a knife. Then, before I knew what had happened, I started to run.
I don’t remember anything more about that afternoon except that I felt like a hunted animal. Everywhere I turned, I could see the woman with the knife in her hand. The knife was dripping blood. I remember how my head used to spin because I would get so tired from running. I remember running in circles.
I remember going to class that night and feeling completely off. The woman was there and I simply was not able to pay attention to our guest speaker, a professor that I enjoyed listening to who worked in the library. I remember classmates asking me if I felt all right because I looked pale as death. I told them nothing. Later, of course, I would cave and tell them everything. At this point, however, I felt that it was none of their business.
When I got out of class and got on the bus, I could still feel the woman there. She looked like one of my classmates from school and instantly, I started to hear the words that poured out of her mouth. They were filthy, fily obscenities. All I could do was to say over and over again in the din that my mind had created, “You are not real. You don’t exist. You are not real. You don’t exist.”
I repeated it hundred and hundreds of times that night as I was going home. I remember distinctly the face that stared at me from that vision. It was the face of that same classmate that I had mentioned earlier. I remember how scared I was. I wondered if this was because the girl had started using voodoo dolls. I know that last comment doesn’t sound right, but people that are having nervous breakdowns and suffering from massive amounts of psychosis have a tendency to think this way abotu the things that are happening to them. They think that someone else is responsible for what is going on around them.
That night, of course, I went back home and lay in bed most of the night. The next day, I went back to school to work on my paper. I became aware of the woman’s presence once again and the clicking of heels. I was scared, I was in complete anguish about what to do.
Then I remembered that if I went to the counseling center on campus, thins would be all right. Yet I could still hear the nagging voice of the woman telling me over and over again, “If you go to that place, they will strap you down to a bed and they will make sure that you never get out of it.”
I was wearing gloves at that time and I remember how I stumbled up those stairs in my suit. I sat there for what seemed like an eternity before someone saw me. Then the wheels started to turn faster than I could stop them. Various EMT companies were called, the psych wards of hospitals were examined, my whole life seemed to be flasing before my eyes. Something was happening, I was being taken somewhere.
Of course, I called a friend of mine to drive me to the hospital. It wasn’t the best idea, but at least it was a friend and not a complete stranger. I stayed there for six hours by myself until it was late in the evening. I went home exhausted and scared. Something inside of me had snapped for the worst and that was all that I kne win the back of my mind, I wondered why God would punish me this way or why the devil would show himself in the form of a woman. It didn’t make any sense to me and it still doesn’t make sense to this very day.
Reflecting on it now, after so many years, I can understand that my nervous breakdown was part of a downward psychological spiral that I couldn’t control. I was in a strange city, completely alone, and then place in a program that placed the highest expectations on its students and their perfectionism. It was precisely the kind of recipe that could produce a nervous breakdown and, to me, it was the lowest point of my life.
As I will explain in the next portion of this, however, God did not plan for me to get to rock bottom and not get up again. He had other plans that were inscrutable to me and that I couldn’t be able to understand. Fortunately, enough I will describe them later.