“For a long time, I lived in an imaginary world. A world were everybody was nice and respected me for my invented talents and very unlikely beauty. As a child, I often spoke these fantasies out loud and the habit carried on into my teens, leading to a child psychiatrist assuming I heard voices. I didn’t; I just confined myself in a fantasy world to the point where I believed it all. I didn’t live in the real world, but in a false reality. What happened, only happened in my head. At some point, the childish fantasies became a psychosis and that’s when everything changed in my happy little world; I invented slights and insults, and became convinced that, rather than adoring me, everyone loathed the very ground I walked on. Being bullied in secondary school pushed me further into the fake reality and only confirmed (in my addled brain) my suspicions that everyone was conspiring against me.”
Psychosis is impossible to explain to anybody who’s never experienced it first-hand. Wikipedia describes psychosis as an abnormal condition of the mind, and is a generic psychiatric term for a mental state often described as involving a “loss of contact with reality“, and given that my fantasy world was as far removed from reality as it’s possible to be, that’s what I’ll call it.
Of course, I don’t remember what was real and what was simply imagined, so I can’t accurately describe exactly how my psychosis panned out. Although I now realise that certain torments and threats were entire fantasy, I sometimes wonder just how much of my life as I see it is just an illusion. I confess… I don’t like feeling that so much of my life was a lie.
I can remember sitting on my bed in the room I used to sleep in, and feeling convinced the entire world could see me. Not through cameras, but in their heads; I don’t know, some sort of telepathy. They saw me and judged me on everything I said and did. Sometimes I got dressed under the bedcovers, worried about everyone seeing me naked and laughing at my body. I would turn photographs and posters to the wall in case they were somehow a way of people watching my every move. At one time, I had hundreds of posters and, when stressed, would refuse to look at them in case they knew that I knew.
At no point did the thought occur to me that none of this was real or strange. It felt so normal that I never questioned it; you see what’s in front of your eyes, and what I saw may have been removed from reality but I saw it all the same, and had no reason to be suspicious I was living in a false world. If you see a cup on a table, you don’t think, “hey, is this real?”. You just accept that the cup and table are there. I accepted that the things I thought and believed were there too.
I’ve written before about how happy my years in primary school were, but I neglected to mention a few problems I had along the way. On the whole it was an amazing experience, and one I’ll always cherish – I can still smell the cut grass on the school field which signaled it was summer – but it wasn’t always the rosy-tinted childhood I make it out to be. I suppose I haven’t felt ready to talk until now.
I have never got on with numbers. Basic arithmetic is the best I can manage, and I’ve done a lot of avoiding maths in my life. I still don’t have my maths GCSE; I wasn’t even competent enough to take the exam. It’s not that I don’t want to learn, something just stops the numbers processing properly. It’s like they turn to mush in my brain as soon as I try to solve all but the most simple problems. In the first years of primary school this wasn’t a problem because even I could understand that 2 + 2 = 4. What I didn’t reckon on was being introduced to basic fractions and decimals when I joined the junior classes. I couldn’t process them. They made no sense. I couldn’t accept that there was any rhyme or reason to any of it, and I began to panic. I started needing to pee all the time, and often used it as an excuse to escape to the toilets next to the classroom and hide from the numbers.
This is where things get cloudy. I have memories, but they may not be real. I have brief flashes, but I’m not entirely convinced I didn’t invent the whole thing.
All I remember is those toilets. Three small stalls and two sinks opposite. Tracing paper toilet roll. And somebody – somebody male – in those toilets with me.
His legs are all I can picture. Dark trousers and black shoes. That’s it. His legs. Nothing else.
It’s only a fragment of memory. A tiny second out of twenty-seven years of life. In the grand scheme of things it barely exists. So why does it follow me around? I just know that toilet stall is somehow important. I just don’t want to consider why.
The last two years of juniors is when I started retreating into myself. I started spending time alone on the playing field, picking daisies and throwing them. Once, I fell over and badly cut my hand on a piece of glass which had been sticking out of the ground. Instead of going to the teacher on duty, I stood and watched the blood. For a long time. I remember kids crowding around me, and a teacher wrapping a bandage around my hand.
By the age of eleven, I was inventing scenarios in my head which never occurred. I began to tell ridiculous lies; lies which were so obvious yet I was convinced I was actually speaking the truth. It’s hard to explain to somebody who’s never experienced it. Even though what I claimed was clearly impossible, as the words came out of my mouth I believed them entirely. When the bullying started, my beliefs became more and more outlandish; to the outsider it must have sounded like I was trying to make myself sound cooler than I am, but in reality I had no such plans. All of it – the invented boyfriends, imagined situations – were 100% real in my head. The people I created lived out their lives and, when something bad happened to them, I felt sorry for them. When one died, I cried in the history classroom, putting my head down on the desk and sobbing into my black blazer.
This is all so difficult to talk about. You just can’t explain something which was never there.
Sometimes the walls moved in one me. Loud bangs would shoot off in my head, as though there was a gun going off inside my ear. Music played when there was none. I saw figures standing just out of my vision, always watching me. I stayed up late every night, worried that somebody or something would grab me if I fell asleep, and I would stare at the reflections in my tiny bedroom television, convinced I could see people moving inside. Not once did I consider that tiny people inside my television might be quite an unusual event.
I knew, without a doubt, that my every thought was being broadcast somewhere. Where, I never quite decided; most likely to my enemies, the people who hated me most and who were waiting for me to put a foot wrong so they could point and laugh at my total inability to fit in with the social norms.
By far the worst aspect of being bullied was knowing that two desks behind me I was inevitably the subject of a caustic bitching session. This bit was undoubtedly real. I did experience name-calling and shoving in the corridors, but that wasn’t anywhere near the feeling of being totally ignored. I had a handful of friends but my increasingly wacky behavior - muttering to myself, writing poetry on wardrobe doors and turning up to class with my white shirt sleeves soaked in blood from where I’d hacked at myself with a razor – quickly drove them away and although we still hung out at break, I was suddenly being invited to a lot fewer sleepovers.
I skipped class often. Nobody ever missed me and I often whiled away hours in the toilets near the R.E classroom, locked securely in a stall far away from the door. I’d hear girls come in and chat about the usual mundane things. Once, I was sitting on the toilet seat and writing in the back of my English book when I caught my name in their conversation.
“Yeah, she’s such a freak“.
From this point on, every word said to me was taken as a criticism on my worth as a human being. I scrutinised every conversion - looking for insults and judgement – and found that everyone, every single person I met, hated me. Total strangers knew my entire life story and looked down on me for failing to succeed, and even my own family were conspiring against me.. When my mother sent me to the child psychiatrist after I was found harming myself in school, I saw it as a direct attack. I was perfectly fine, she was the one with delusions.
Every session with the psychiatrist, I sat on a blue-cushioned chair and stared at the clock on the wall above his head. I counted the ticks. I looked at his ratty face and imagined throwing him out of the window just so he’d stop asking me how everything made me feel. I felt fine. I was okay. The world was fucked-up, not me, and I’d cope much better if everyone just stopped interfering with my life, thank you very much.
One day, he asked me if I heard voices. I answered honestly; yes, I did. And yes, they suggested bad things.
The voices… they’re not like a real voice heard inside your head. They’re more like thoughts – you don’t hear a thought, you think it – which occasionally pop up and, because it’s just a thought, you believe it.
The bad things? Killing myself. Killing my classmates. Going into school with a kitchen knife and forcing the bullies to take me seriously for once, rather than laughing and making sly comments when I put my hand up in class. Once, I took the knife – a small one – in my schoolbag but wasn’t brave enough to use it.
I never thought that I was anything other than normal.
The psychiatrist said I was schizophrenic. I was sent to PL. They said I wasn’t. Nobody seemed to know why I was so removed from everything, other than I was experiencing some sort of post-traumatic psychosis. In one of the many counselling and therapy sessions, I was asked if my father had ever sexually abused me. I said no, of course he hasn’t; my dad may be some things, but he never laid a finger on me.
Nobody ever asked if someone else had abused me, though.