today I want to share with you my very personal story that my friend Linda has rewritten for me. She asked me a lot of questions to provide you, my dear reader, with more details. Thank you very much, Linda and enjoy reading, everyone.
I was in France, attending school in a six month school exchange program. I had left my parents, my brother and my friends back in Germany. I knew only one person for more than a few days, my exchange partner who came with me to France from Germany.
In the beginning, everything is fine. At least I thought so, until I woke up in a hospital, an IV in my arm, and a catheter between my legs. Paralyzed. My thoughts are moving fast, but I can only move my eyes. My mind began to move even faster; dashing, circulating at hyper-speed around one thought: I am The Virus.
It’s quiet, though sometimes I hear voices, I don’t know where they come from, are they out in the hall, or in my head? The walls are bare white hospital room walls, drab and cold. I have a window, and it looks cold and lonely outside.
I pass the time letting my sight flow from the ceiling to the floor as far as I can. Then I blink. I have to actually think about blinking. I reset a strange spot of dust to the ceiling and let it fall again, following my eye movement. So I blink and do it again and again, faster as my mind races and my eyes play a kind of bizarre sort of Ping-Pong with the dust mote.
Suddenly I see UN soldiers running through a labyrinth which surrounds two people. I can feel them approaching.
I open my eyes, realizing I had fallen asleep. I watch immobile as the door opens, and the couple from the labyrinth enter. It’s my parents. Though it has been less than eight weeks since I last saw them, they appear deeply shocked by what they see. Did they see me, The Virus? No, they don’t know I am The Virus. They don’t see.
They ask me something, but I can’t understand and cannot answer anyway. All in all I would prefer they would leave me alone. Me, The Virus.
A few days later, I am transported to a general hospital in my hometown, Karlsruhe, Germany. A doctor welcomes me with some French words, I answer him cautiously and politely because I know he is a secret service agent.
After about a week of physical therapy I leave the general hospital in woolly slippers, supported by a nurse. I don’t know this person is. I wonder where I am. I feel 60 years old, pale, skinny, pinched, and bald. In France, I hadn’t been sleeping well. I had worn dreadlocks, but shaved my head when I thought the dreadlocks were preventing me from laying my head down comfortably to sleep.
It’s about noon when I arrive at the adolescent psychiatric hospital; I can’t understand why they brought me here. Don’t they know I am The Virus? I am AIDS, I am plague and cholera, spreading disease everywhere and they only care about my mind? What a crazy world!
I spend the first days in an observation room next to the infirmary office. The room is small, sparsely decorated. There is a table, chair and cot. I am dressed like the other patients (I imagine), nothing but a hospital robe and slippers. I am mostly alone, except for eating and taking my medicine. I pass the time mostly lying on the cot, though sometimes I sit at the table or stare out the window. There is a window in the door and sometimes I can see people walking around. Sometimes people of about my age look back at me through the window.
They bring me my meals on a tray with a glass of water and a tablet of Zyprexa, a psychotropic drug. It is supposed to stop your thoughts from circling, but has several adverse effects, as I will soon learn.
The speed of my mind and of my body are becoming slowly the same. I’m tired. My eyelids feel like opening iron gate. I sleep. Normally I sleep on my back and rarely on one side, but here I sleep lying on my stomach and am almost unable to lift my body from the mattress. I need sleep. I go to bed at eight o’ clock in the evening, I can’t stay up any longer. I am 16 and I am so tired, I can’t stay up past eight. It’s the Zyprexa. At least my thoughts are also too tired to race. It gives me a respite from the fear of The Virus.
When I awake it feels as if I’ve never slept such a deep and dreamless sleep. It doesn’t feel as if I have been sleeping long. This persists for the first month and then my exhaustion eases, but this is one of the side effects of the Zyprexa. The other is weight gain. I enter the hospital a skeletal 60 kilo and leave, almost two months later, a chubby 90 kilo.
I spend my days on drawing therapy, in the hospital school. Mostly I draw simple things: a man on a boat with very little detail. The therapist likes my drawings, though they are artistically on the level of a kindergartener. Yet, I when I explain my choice of colours, forms and compositions, and how each relates to the experiences and feelings as I recovered, she seems to like what I say.
I take my meals at a round table in hospital, with the other young people (there are 10 of us) and some nurses. Eventually I make friends with some of the other patients, and we attend movie and song nights.
One day when I see the doctor, a kind old man in slippers, he says, “Schizophrenic psychosis.” My parents were present during the examination. The doctor was quite nice about it and tried to explain what that meant. He spoke about the steps in the process. In the beginning I had no choices, but had to do as I was instructed. Then as I improved my choices grew. I could participate in hospital life. My dad had told the doctor that I liked table tennis and the doctor tells us that they have tables at the hospital and as soon as I was physically well enough, we could play. Later I could go to the garden or to the hospital shop with my friend. Eventually I was able to make visits home, then overnight visits. The visits home would get longer and I would go back to school. Then I could leave the hospital for good.
I like to talk to some of the other patients but those most recently admitted get on my nerves with their loss of control. I feel that they are hindering my recuperation. I want more than anything to get back to normal life. I will still have to take my drugs for a longer time and will have regular sessions with a cognitive therapist to decrease the risk of getting sick in my mind once again.
Of course, the first time I was back into everyday life was not easy. School whereas previously was near effortless, now was a struggle. Before my psychosis I could relax at school, had no trouble studying, and scored among the five best in almost every exam, now I had to work hard to stay in the last ten of the class. The drugs I had to take slowed down my brain, I took a smaller amount of it now but I could still feel the brake on my thoughts. I joined the school choir where I mumble in the bass voice which demonstrates quite well how much I was slowed down then (I am now a quite high tenor).
I still feel the joy singing has always given to me and I start to think about taking real singing lessons instead of some funny ten minute-long singing exercises in the choir. The feeling continues getting stronger. I feel that a great singer is living in my body and am wondering why nobody else can see or hear him. After the first time on stage with my first rock band, some of my friends make jokes about me about the two songs I sang. Finally I find a singing teacher, and start private lessons–not cheap, but he is very kind and motivating. After our first (trial) lesson, he tells me that he has rarely, if ever heard such a “misconfigured” voice like mine. He promises me that if I keep working hard for a long time, I can improve. I convince my parents to pay for the singing lesson, telling them that it is really important to me and that it will be good for my personal development.
Soon, I take singing lessons once a week. My singing teacher lets me shout out the songs I choose. He tells me I had to get out of my body with my voice. That when I sang, he did not hear a single tune. I try to sing even louder and after more than a year, we can finally move to the next big problem, rhythm.
He makes me sing childhood songs, rhythm is appearing, we have to work on my vowels, and being understood, and I feel like I’m making progress. But this progress is still not perceivable for someone who listens to me for the first time. My singing is still full of bad notes (at least I don’t mumble them anymore). I have trouble keeping rhythm (but at least there is some kind of rhythm). Now I am just as good as I am bad.
I appreciate my personal perception as well as my progress on my long way to becoming a singer. More than a year after my stay in the psychiatric hospital, I am finally allowed by the doctor to stop taking Zyprexa. My energy is coming back, my body is losing its lethargy and I lost almost 20 kilos almost overnight. I find that my way of being and school are vastly different. School is disapointing because of its fixed, meaningless and senseless frame of 45 minute school lessons.
My singing teacher first talks to me about my change of behavior after I stopped taking the drugs. He tells me to watch my step; that I was behaving a bit like an ADD patient. He points out that I talked precociously and should not get carried away. In the school I sit impatiently on my chair during the lessons, always feeling like having to pee. While my class mates are snoozing their way to get their high school diploma, I nearly burst as I wait to be finally allowed to talk.
I feel monitored and dominated and smothered by my mother, because she that I would get sick again. Though she mostly remained quite calm, she tried to “help” me by tidying up my room, etc., without asking if that would be a good activity for me or in general showing me that she doubts very much I know what is good for me. It is too much for me, and I move out of my parent’s house and move in with a friend. His mother soon recognizes that I endanger the fragile balance in their familiy by my anxiety and she talks to my father and we meet up together. They ask me how I think we can solve this situation. I tell my parents that I want to leave school, that school does not make any sense, that I need to spend my time in a more meaningful way, that I feel like a high school diploma is not as important as everybody says.
The principal of my school (a very nice woman I have to admit and thank!) tells me that I can stay home for some time and think about what I really want to do. I begin searching for jobs on the internet but I don’t find any that I would like to do. I realize that to go on with my studies, I need this piece meaningless paper: a high school diploma.
I find a teasing advertisement: “Learning materials and organization for your way to a diploma doing homeschool, check it out now for four weeks for free!” I find the materials appropriate and well laid-out. I can read through the textbooks quite fast and I can handle the corresponding homework quite successfully. I am able to go to my part-time job at Fraunhofer after my daily homeschooling session. (Eventually I teach myself Java programming there and work on a project to simulate security scenarios.)
My singing teacher is the only person among my friends that is not surprised about my choice to leave school and home school myself. He can even find some positive aspects of my choice. My (ex-)girlfriend and especially my mother (who is a high school teacher) are shocked. To convince my parents, I pay for the homeschooling with the money I earn working at Fraunhofer. My parents accept my decision under the condition that I check it out for the four free weeks and then think about it again.
While I homeschool I find it irritating that I have to stay in my room because my father gets angry as soon as I get out of my room and see him. We discover he is ill with a psychosis a and claims to be stronger than I am. But he loses his “war of nerves” against my mind and leaves to recover in a psychiatric hospital. I have made peace with my mother and try to support her while my father is in the hospital. Things settle down a bit and there is a kind of peaceful co-existence in the family.
I find my first band gigs and succeed in controlling and balancing my energy flow and body resources. Finally, I have the time to enjoy my universal creativity (which is not universal judged if I looked on my visual “art”) yet I discovered a talent for writing, communication, planning, organizing, singing and maybe some more, but drawing and similar art can not be added to my list of talents.
At the end of the day (not literally), there will be the final high school examinations in Hamburg, but they are quite far away in time, even if I want to get my high school diploma in 18 months instead of 30 months so that I can catch up on my class mates and get my diploma at about the same time they do.
In sum, I feel a lot more grown-up and in good condition (body and mind). I hit the floor when I get three out of fifteen points at the Maths pre-exam. Only by the luck of my good French pre-exam achievements that I pass the pre-exam and am allowed to attend to the final exams for my diploma. For the next two months I work very hard. I concentrate on old Maths exams, for about 120 hours of studying. I get twelve out of fifteen points in the final Maths exam–which is good because I want to go on and study Computer Science.
Before the final oral exams, I worry about Physics because my homework was not high scoring, so I find a tutor and get twelve out of fifteen points in the final oral exam and the remark, “Have you ever considered a job related to Physics?” which I take as a compliment.
A few days later, I’m the proud owner of a German high school diploma (Abitur) with a GPA of C+ (2,7). I feel well prepared for my studies to become a Computer Scientist. I have chosen to study and work fifty-fifty for three years (cooperative study program at the DH, Karlsruhe) and found a very cool drugstore chain with great flexibility and understanding of what an employee is and how to treat him—autonomy.
I find my love searching for a girl guitarist. We spend an exciting whilwind year of our love, our music and my studies. My singing skills improve and I feel like I am getting better and feel a harmony with my inner vibes. By recovering from my psychosis, I seem to have become a sort of an expert in the field of psychiatric illnesses and try to support my friends and their friends to find the reasons and solutions for their problems.