My Story

I never saw my episode in hospital coming, although in hindsight there were probably some warning signs.

I wrote down “my story” for three reasons:
1) Therapy for me 🙂
2) A way of saying “it’s okay, you’re not alone”
3) A unique insight into what mental illness is all about

Here are some of the key points of the last five years.

What causes a psychotic episode
Bipolar is a mood disorder that goes up and down in mood (manic, then depressive, etc). Medication for bipolar normally stops the highs and lows, so you can never get too depressed or too manic. If not on medication at some point mood can just keep going up. Once at that point, the brain is running overtime, and starts forming strange and erratic thoughts and ideas about the world. Strangely enough all this can make you feel very good – euphoric even. As things get worse, people around you start noticing that something isn’t quite right, but on the inside everything makes perfect sense.

I could have sworn that when I was in hospital that I was God’s servant, and that it was simply part of my “path” to be there, etc. That’s called psychosis, or to be more specific psychotic delusions in my case. This “chemical imbalance” can fortunately be ‘fixed’ with today’s powerful medication – the wonder drug clozapine in my case. The sooner the diagnosis, the better though, because when the brain is running overtime it can damage itself if left untreated.

Most people with bipolar only have one or two episodes in their life. Touch wood. 🙂

Stopping your medication (especially without doctor support) still remains extremely dangerous due to a high chance of relapse.

Leading up to my episode
I don’t think there was one single thing that caused my episode, it was probably always going to happen. Here’s a brief overview of what I was doing at the time.

I remember reading the “Power of Now”, a spiritual book about who we are. I think the author concluded that God exists, and soon after, I revived my Christian upbringing on top of that. I went to an Alpha course where I recognized some of my new insights and started sharing what I had learned. They thought this was a bit odd, and my wife said I was illogical and couldn’t be reasoned with.

I was also very interested in, a website on OOP (Out Of Place) objects that works on the assumption that the Flood had really happened. The website’s philosophy is something like: the Adam generation left physical evidence, scattered by the Flood, all over the world. Their knowledge vanished which would ‘explain’ why the first Pyramid was of a higher quality than the ones after that. Maps were found of The Arctic which is currently covered in ice. And so on… I used the OOPs as Flood ‘evidence’ to sustain my new found religion Christianity. I became quite obsessed about all this, and became a new born Christian as a result.

At roughly the same time I was also being coached for business purposes. With coaching you normally pick three goals, and work on them week by week. One goal was to organize my office, and I had already read “Getting Things Done” by David Allen, so I got started on that straight away. David’s system, GTD, works really well and puts all the little things that are in you head in a trusted system, so that you will have a clear mind which you can then focus on the big things in life.

I wrote everything down on notes and left them in my inbox until I would have time to deal with them during the weekly review. This in itself is not a problem, but as I got closer to my episode I started writing more and more notes in a frantic pace. Most of these notes were later collected and handed over to my doctor, after which he concluded I was manic. The notes were mostly illogical towards the end.

I was a Christian once before in my teens, but that only lasted two years or so. My new found religion didn’t fare much better especially once I started looking into for more evidence on the validity of the Bible. I read many articles on the subject (Atheist websites, brochures from different churches, etc), but in the end I had to conclude it didn’t add up and let go of altogether. It was at that point I decided to “go mad” (like Arthur Dent) as I could make no sense of any of it.

I then basically asked God to “show me”, and come in my life again. Very shortly after that I opened my Bible, and then things got weird. By opening the Bible at random places a “story” started to emerge. Some were just verses, but sometimes also a continuation of the concept behind it. For example, God would say that I was righteous, but that I was also a sinner, and that I would need to make a choice. Or, God ‘explained’ how saddened He was that no one would take responsibility of WWII, and that things like the Holocaust were (even today) were even denied by some. This referred mainly to the incredible loss of life and suffering. The WWII thing was so emotional, that I was completely overwhelmed by it. I was unable to read anything for several more days.

Halfway through this process my wife was fed up with it, and took my Bible off me. We had an argument about it, and I ended up going to the mall to buy another Bible. The last ‘verse’ I read had to do with me bringing the good news to others. I didn’t really like the idea of me shouting on top of a soap box at all. So when I got to the bookstore I opened the Bible on a random page, and then Isaiah 42 came up (see below). This basically picked up where the other ‘verse’ left off. In particular verse two because it told me I didn’t need to go and stand on a soap box in the street. Phew. 🙂

Isaiah 42 / Holy Bible – New International Version
The Servant of the Lord
1 “Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him
and he will bring justice to the nations.

2 He will not shout or cry out,
or raise his voice in the streets.

3 A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;

4 he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
In his law the islands will put their hope.”

5 This is what God the LORD says—
he who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and all that comes out of it,
who gives breath to its people,
and life to those who walk on it:

6 “I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness;
I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant for the people
and a light for the Gentiles,

7 to open eyes that are blind,
to free captives from prison
and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

8 “I am the LORD; that is my name!
I will not give my glory to another
or my praise to idols.

9 See, the former things have taken place,
and new things I declare;
before they spring into being
I announce them to you.”

This verse became one of the cornerstones of my mental illness. It led me to believe that I was God’s servant here to open people’s eyes. Doctors later called caught me off guard by asking me “what to?”. I actually had to think about that for a couple of seconds. The answer I came up with was “Life’s a Gift, but if we choose not to accept it, it still belongs to the Giver”. I don’t know where I got that from, but it was immediately bounced back with “who wouldn’t want to accept life?”. Indeed! 🙂

I also heard a voice once which said “It’s not just believing Jarno”. I can’t remember in what context this was though. The doctors were very ‘interested’ in this aspect too. 🙂

It all went somewhere like: you are righteous, but you’re also a sinner, Jesus had to come twice for you, and I now had to make a decision between death, or become God’s servant. This happened at around 5 am, and it literally felt like a was being judged, and that I was dying. Looking at it now, it was probably some sort of panic attack, as I was completely out of breath. I ‘knew’ that my first step would be to tell the truth to someone.

My wife and I had an argument about where all this was going the night before, and I had been expelled to the guest room, so she was a bit surprised when I walked in that early in the morning. I told her that “we were dying” which made no sense to her. For me it was like we were both part of Adam and Eve, and we were both dying together (because of the choice between life and death we all had to make – this became a mantra on its own which I used many times after that). Just don’t ask okay. 🙂 I was completely out of it, so she got me on the phone talking to her dad. He also thought I was completely out of it, so I ended up talking to my mum, who was very worried and didn’t understand what was going on either. In the background my wife was instructed by her dad to call the police, and they showed up rather quickly. They assessed the situation and decided to take me to the hospital. [Thanks guys, you did the right thing]. Strangely enough, while in the police car I felt strangely calm, and I just knew that this was all part of God’s plan for my life.

They booked me in at the mental health section, and on the way to a secure room, a group of people gave me a rather strange (judgmental) look because of the way I was dressed (I wasn’t given much time to grab decent clothes when I was picked up). That was an interesting experience by itself. Being God’s servant, I forgave them of course. 🙂

It was still early, so I had a great conversation with my security guard (nice guy) while we waited for the doctors to come in. When they finally arrived there were two of them, and they asked me a whole bunch of questions like “what happened, why do you think you are here?”. I had answers for all of those of course (being God’s servant and all). And believe it or not, they wanted to send me home, because they thought I was just regular fundamentalist Christian (new born and all). Don’t know quite what happened there – must have been an incredibly tough decision with the bed shortage. At that point my wife asked for a third opinion, because she knew I was not my normal self. The third doctor was quite experienced, and after several questions, he wanted to keep me for close observation.

Mental Health Unit
I was then transferred to a closed (locked doors) section of the hospital, where I was welcomed by three staff members. They looked pretty strong, and for a second I was slightly taken aback. Not sure what to do, I introduced myself which made things a bit easier for everybody. They explained the ‘rules’ to me, and showed me my room (just a mattress on a floor). Not very fancy at all, and no way out.

The next day the experienced doctor came by. He was so concerned that he had decided to come in on his day off, a Saturday. My argument was along the lines of; I’m either God’s servant here to open people’s eyes, or I’m mentally unwell which you’re going to have to prove to me. We had many conversations over the two months that I stayed there. Most were with another doctor there, and sometimes even with a student. In most cases my wife was there also, and sometimes there were other family members as well.

Unsure of what to do in my room, I opened my Bible at a random page, and it ‘told’ me to go talk to my brothers and sisters (not sure how that was worded, or what verse sorry). There were some rally cool people there. There was one guy that was actually three guys, a drooling guy that banged his head on the wall, and a guy that walked all day long and was laughing away (he cheered up a lot of people that way). I saw my chance so I challenged the drooling guy to a game of chess. I was thinking it would be an easy win, but he wiped me off the board three times in a row (the first game in less than 5 moves, due to one of those “if you do that move, you loose” openings). Sigh.

I was still very euphoric and felt it was part of mission to talk them, so it was actually relatively easy to talk to others. We had some really awesome moments. Staff included as well of course.

I was convinced that I was God’s servant, so while they questioned me and put me on medication I requested a hearing where I could argue my case. In my deluded opinion they had to really prove that I was mentally unwell. From memory there were two hearings (both declined), two second opinions (all the same diagnosis; delusions and bipolar), and another practice diagnosis by a student doctor (with also the same diagnoses). I thought I had the second second-opinion in my pocket, but then he asked what I would do if I were dismissed. I told him that I’d sell my possessions (including the house) and preach the gospel on the street. I took everything in the Bible literally, and that’s more or less what it says. At some point in hospital I had also told my employer that I had decided to quit my job. He then asked how I was planning to support myself, so I explained that God would take care of it; like he did with Elijah and the raven (they fed him). Yeah, that didn’t go down too well. DENIED. 🙂

I owe so much to my wife, and my employer for supporting me through all this. I could have lost everything as a result of that episode. After a few weeks my wife asked my employer if it was alright if I went back to work part-time, and my employer agreed (I brought my Bible of course). Those were, without doubt, key moments of my recovery. Oh, and the toasties they made every night in hospital of course. Yummy. 🙂

The ‘revelation’
Another interesting Bible verse I stumbled upon by opening my Bible at a random place, was about the ‘revelation’ that I was given.

Habakkuk 2 / Holy Bible – New International Version
The LORD’s Answer
2 Then the LORD replied:
“Write down the revelation
and make it plain on tablets
so that a herald may run with it.

3 For the revelation awaits an appointed time;
it speaks of the end
and will not prove false.
Though it linger, wait for it;
it will certainly come and will not delay.

As a result of these verses, I decided to write my ‘revelation’ down into 23 pages or so.

The main part of my ‘revelation’ was about how we all had to make a choice about a life with God, or death without. Life’s a Gift, but if you choose not to accept it, it still belongs to the Giver.

I also wrote about my role in it, based on several Bible verses, and things I had added to it myself (as a result of my psychotic delusions). I don’t remember all Bible verses, but here are a few:

  • That God called me because he looked and was displeased that there was no justice (Isaiah 59:16-20)
  • That I had to be a servant because I was a sinner
  • That I would open people’s eyes (Isaiah 42)
  • That I had to speak the truth

I then discussed my view of the state of the world in categories such as history (WWII), science, math, biology, social, motivation, morals, justice, psychological, etc. I even had an explanation of the number 42, and how it was related to the meaning of life, the universe, and everything else. It’s a shame no one understood any of it. 🙂

I even phoned the “NZ Herald” at some point (verse 2: “so that a herald may run with it”) because I thought they might be interested in that sort of thing. Left a message on the answering machine – something like “I’m in the mental health unit of the hospital, but I’m not crazy, I’m really God’s servant – come see me”. Never heard back from them. Strange.

While writing this article and going through my notes, I can now safely conclude that they’re indeed the ramblings of a mad man (or a mentally unwell man if you prefer that term). Nothing made sense at all, except for maybe some bits and pieces, like insights, etc.

Fairly soon I was put on Lithium and Olanzapine. The Olanzapine didn’t really work fast enough, so I was put on Risperidone. That (apparently) worked, but I started getting side-effects, so they put me on Clozapine. That worked fairly quickly, and soon I started realizing what had happened. The medication also turned me into a drooling zombie at night, and my new found appetite added almost 20 kg to my body.

Over the years I was able to get my logical mind back, and my Christianity was reduced to Atheism, and then finally brought back to Deism (Creator exists, and everything else can be determined by reason). Each to his own in this of course. 🙂

It’s interesting that my episode took a religious turn. I suspect a psychotic episode like this is strongly related to how you were raised, and what sort of beliefs you were holding at the time (religious, alien abduction, mystical experience, etc). My type of episode wasn’t even uncommon, as there are others who thought they were prophets, or even Jesus himself. It’s amazing how the mind works really (or not works).

Keeping an open mind is important, or otherwise you might find yourself locked into a belief set, that’s not helping you.

My medication has changed lots over the couple of years, and most of the time it comes with an improvement in mental clarity. For me, it’s still an ongoing battle, as I still think I can do better. But then, as pointed out by others in similar situations, it could be much worse.

The hardest part for me is to find the dividing line between mental illness and spirituality again, as that’s not always clear. For example, was this 100% mental illness, or was a part of all this meant to be (as part of some plan for my life – a common belief among New Age people)?

Key factors to recovery
The most important factor to my recovery was my now wife (only girlfriend at time). She pushed for a second opinion, she helped restore my employment, and she stuck by me all the way. I owe her big time! 🙂

I owe my doctor a lot too; he came in on his day off, and was able to diagnose me quickly, and came up with the right medication. A speedy diagnosis can make all the difference.

My employer also played a big part, as he allowed me to work part-time again, which made me feel part of society again. My colleagues were very supportive as well.

In addition to all of that, my family/friends were very supportive as well. There are too many to name them all, and each has contributed so much over the years. Also, the other patients and staff were incredibly helpful and supportive too.

So yeah, I was basically incredibly lucky that all the right people (unsung heroes) were around me at the time.

Reality check
My experience wasn’t necessarily a bad one. I mean, I was quite euphoric about my delusions. For the people surrounding me, it was incredibly hard. Imagine the idea of losing a loved one to some delusion, impossible to reason with, in a completely strange environment (hospital), and completely uncertain of the outcome. I can assure you that this process is incredibly stressful.

With the help of my medication, I did eventually get down from my euphoric phase, and that was quite depressing. Once I fully realized what had happened depression quickly became the standard. I was ‘lucky’ to have bipolar (mood swings from depression to manic) because it gave me time to evaluate how I was going, and make adjustments accordingly.

By far the worst thing about my bipolar was the anxiety part of it, blocking more and more parts of my life. Depression you can work around, but anxiety is without doubt a hard thing to face.

I also believe that my ability to laugh at myself, and crack jokes have helped alleviate my mood somewhat. Unfortunately my sense of humor is terrible, so this has probably lowered the mood of others somewhat. Ah well. 🙂

Turning point
When my logical mind came back, I started searching for some sort of meaning I could give to my life. I largely ‘blame’ depression for that, as it tends to steer you towards the big questions, e.g. “Does God exist?”, “What’s my purpose?”, etc.

After researching many religions and philosophies, over a number of years, a pattern started emerging. One that was almost universal. It’s known as “Giving to others”, or “Love thy neighbor as thyself”, etc. But of course when you want to save someone from drowning, you need to learn to swim first (e.g. manage depression and anxiety).

Knowing something is not the same as doing of course, so I decided to try out the “giving” strategy for a while. I soon realized that a month wouldn’t be enough so I set a number of years for it. I followed my decision by clearing out my current projects, so I could spend all my time on my new project. That was pretty hard at times. 😉

At roughly the same time, I was having some difficulty reducing my medication past a certain point. I remember talking to my doctor/nurse about it, and they basically said I would have to go back to the old dose, or find a way to make it work. Not wanting to back down we decided to try again. Some time later my wife found a expert nutritionist

At some point after that my wife found an expert nutritionist (Maria Middlestead) who my wife thought would be able to help me. I was somewhat hesitant, but went to see her anyway. She explained to me that if the digestive system is sensitive to certain foods (like sugar for example), the digestive system gets inflamed, and as a result is not absorbing the nutrients it needs. When that happens all organs suffer, including (and most importantly) the brain. For example, bipolar is a mood disorder, mood is regulated (amongst other things) by serotonin, and 95% of serotonin is produced by the digestive system.

Diet is definitely linked to mental illness, and diet is something you can do something about. I haven’t been depressed since I started my new diet.

In addition to diet, I also decided to adopt a more holistic approach to improving my health. So, a strong reason to live, diet, exercise, giving back. This is obviously a lifelong process, so I started to record my progress on this website.

At that point I realized that my website was not actually the best medium to tell people about this. After much thinking about a suitable medium (website, newspaper, hospital DHB, etc) I finally came up with an idea for a YouTube film. The film would interview several experts, I would then put it on YouTube, and follow it up with a press release to relevant health magazines, and websites.

After that decision the next steps became clear quite quickly. Out of the blue, a job offer came from a recruitment agent who still had my details on file. Amongst other things, it also came with a significant pay increase. I took the job (even though I was nervous about it), and with the money I was able to book an Outward Bound course. The Outward Bound course was to help me with my anxiety, and make me stronger inside in general. This project has certainly taken a lot of time, but I believe the result will be well worth it. In fact, we’ve already completed the filming and it’s now in post-production. 🙂

I had also decided to spend more time with my wife and son in the weekends, and that has resulted in a much better relationship between all of us.

I hope I’ve given you some insight in what mental illness is all about.

I consider myself lucky, as it could have been a lot worse (some people cheat, or become very angry, etc).

I think I’m in a unique position to change the way we look at mental illness, and help a lot of people deal with these issues.

Apparently 1 in 5 people have mental illness, 1% of the world population has bipolar, and by 2020 mental illness will be the #2 illness.

It’s definitely nothing to be ashamed off.