|Melissa: age 25|
Portion of a work in progress: my sister's story and her battle with mental illness.
by Gaya Lynn
I want you to enter my mind.
I want you to really know what my experience was like though my eyes. through the eyes of someone who once was completely insane.
It is my hope that by looking through my eyes, by walking the path I walked up on, you will go away with a better understanding what it is to have mental illness. Though my illness has caused a great deal of pain for myself and for my loved ones, I still feel that my experience-no matter how bizarre and painful it has been - was nonetheless fascinating.
When I was insane, it was like living in a completely different world, and though this world was often just an illusion, it was all so real to me.
In the beginning, my experience was living in a cartoon, being at the top of a roller coaster, on a constant high. But as time we on, as my condition deteriorated, the cartoon turned into a living hell. During the acute phase of my illness, not only did I fear that the devil was out to get me and that my life was in danger, but I was also tormented but the voices of God and the devil. I had lost all touch with reality while I no longer had access to many emotions such as guilt and remorse. I was so incredibly happy and euphoric; I no longer cared if I hurt the feelings of friends or family.
I was lost in my own reality, one that kept assuring me that I was right, the “chosen one,” and that everyone else was wrong and evil. And while it appeared to an outsider that I was mad, I truly heard the voices of the Devil and God just as one hears his neighbor or a friend. For months, I lived on the threshold of insanity, dipping in and out of mania until I was completely insane.
This story is based on those months of my life, when I went from being a fairly typical Southern California gal to a patient in a mental hospital. Perhaps what I found most interesting were those subtle personality changes which came about as I got sicker.
Changes that were so subtle, and came so quickly, it felt as if I woke up one day completely insane without knowing when or how all this came to me.
For many months, I wasn’t just in another world, I was another world. I saw through the eyes of madness, an experience that has not only changed my life, but the lives around me-
Melissa. August 1, 1995
“I have a story to tell…”
That was my what my older sister, Melissa, told me one summer during my one month stay at my parents. Since I had been away in Italy during most of her psychotic episodes, I had yet to hear what had happened. Thus, we began with cassette tapes. Every day after lunch or sometimes late in the night, I would go up to her room with cups of hot Japanese tea, press play on a small recorder and interview my sister.
For several hours, Melissa would tell me what had happened with incredible detail, detail I found surprising in light of her state of mind at that time. Apparently, though my sister was completely insane, parts of her intellectual facilities, and memory remained fully intact. Not only did she experience insanity, but she was able to recover and share her tale.
When the interviews were completed, I took them back to Italy and begun to write. After
listening to the tapes and reading her dairy, I knew that she had been right. This was indeed a story which I wanted to share. I found the experience unique, packed with insights and strange and bizarre events.
To go from sanity to insanity was like taking a trip on the wings of a mystical bird, flying at top speed, deep into space and other galaxies. As thrilling as this may sound, it was also frightening. Although the paranoia can be attributed to the mental illness, my sister during her psychosis truly believed that the CIA was following her, that the devil was whispering in her ear, that I was a troll.
Until her diagnosis, my family and I were baffled by her peculiar behavior. Since our journey occurred many years ago, we did not have the experience and insights we have today. Nor did we have the technology. We thought that her rude and erratic behavior was part of some kind of post- adolescence while we pointed fingers at her husband and her childhood in order to explain what was happening to her. It was not until she was committed under the law 5150 and was placed in a mental hospital that things began to make sense.
Melissa had a mental illness, one caused by a chemical imbalance of the brain.
Approximately, twenty million Americans have mood disorders, but I’m sure the number are much higher as many individuals go either untreated, undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. Melissa however represented one of the more severe cases. So extreme she ended up walking freeways, declaring herself to be Marilyn Monroe’s reincarnation, and getting arrested. When we began this project, my sister wanted to share her tale in hopes of helping those who suffer from mental illness. Still today, mental illness is a huge challenge. A large portion of the homeless most likely has some sort of mental illness while in recent years, we have lost huge talents such as Robin Williams and Kate Spade to depression. I also wanted to share this experience to help those who are the caretakers of those with mental illness. Perhaps, if my family knew more about this illness at its onset, a great deal of confusion could have been spared.
Thus so far, no X-ray or medical examination exists that can pinpoint the illness, so making a diagnosis is often based on observation and probing into the patient’s hereditary background. This disease seems to be hereditary if you look into the family history, you may find a relative who had committed suicide or was remembered for his/her odd behavior. As for my family, my grandmother was believed to have been bi-polar.
Because I do not have the medical training to write about mental illness per say, I chose instead to emphasize how this illness affected our lives. Over twenty years have passed since these traumatic incidents have occurred. My sister’s son is now nineteen, her husband has since moved on, I am much older, while memories of her now have faded, only to come forth in my dreams. Always in my dreams.
This story is based on real events. Please note that I am not a psychiatrist, physician or therapist. The names have been changed to protect the identity of those involved. All that has been written includes personal accounts, perspectives. I release all liability towards myself, or my family.