2007

I tell you, making these words manifest is truly a great challenge. To delve my repressions and give them life is both painful but at the same time a necessary process in my healing. I’m tremendously grateful to have found your work. As it happened, I was in an Eckhart Tolle chat room and they were discussing being in the now, my mania sprung to mind and I shared some of my experiences and got the lead to your videos from there. I consumed your material in rapid succession and upon reading your book knew that I too at one level or another would like to share my experiences. This was in January but such is the nature of my life right now I’ve been a passive observer and great procrastinator but as for today, who knows where these words might lead me.

My story could begin anywhere, as leading a life with social anxiety there is a pattern in your ways and a great stock pile of experiences to draw from. I’ll try my best to keep this relevant to my bipolar experiences, however there are earlier contributing factors I’d like to pay a brief homage to. I don’t think there is a way for me to write this prelude truthfully and at the same time feel comfortable with it being publicly available. Even now it brings me great shame and out of respect for the people I love I’d rather edit this part out then let the world see mine and their skeletons. Anyway, I digress, enough of the foreshadowing, I will begin (with this brief prelude I mentioned).

At 24 I departed New Zealand in May 2007 for my Working holiday to England. My story to date had been triumph over adversity and with my coping strategies and positive experiences thus far was excited at the prospect of a new beginning. There was however omens that ate at me. My integrity had been dealt a major blow when a foolish drunken moment saw me in court where lust conquered sense and I was DIC’d. I’d also found news of my father having an affair. Friendships were becoming stale. Change felt the solution and my drunken foolishness forced my hand with my job future uncertain.

With the intention to meet new people and experience Europe, I booked in on a two week party bus. Needless to say I didn’t cope well. There was a lot of ego and this unsettled me. It made me self conscious which isolated me. I soon began over hearing comments about me. One night the mood was solemn, I was certain it was because of me. My mind was paranoidally screening for comments to affirm this and perceptively I heard deep sadness in the tour operator’s voice. Eventually the anxious thoughts got the better of me and I felt a release of energy. Spiritually I know no answer as of to what happened to me. My initial thought was my spirit had left my body (but that would imply death?), or I’d even suffered a stroke but this was later explained to me as a panic attack. Who knows? Survivalism kicked in and all I could think of was to leave, so I did. The next day, only five days in to it I flew out of the south of France and pissed away a large amount of money.

I was in rather severe psychosis when I left. I had a lot of Euro travelers cheques and since this was the only time I would be in Europe thought I’d cash them I didn’t even care about exchange rates, this was a salvage job. This took forever, I was paranoid, anxious and looking rather suspicious. Some how I managed to lose the bit of paper with my flight details on (completely out of character), since the booking was made in haste I couldn’t even remember the name of the airline. I tried to get on a computer to find out but couldn’t find an Internet café, time was ticking. I took a punt on an airline which had a vague sense of familiarity and it was the right one, I made it. On board I was oblivious, completely lost in my spiraling thoughts. The flight must have been going for 20 odd minutes and someone asked me if someone was sitting next to me, I couldn’t remember and said no. There actually was someone sitting next to me and there was a bit of a scene, I felt some British scorn.

So the salvage continued. I told my newly wed cousin who I was staying with what happened and even bringing those words to life it felt completely irrational. I phoned my parents in the middle of the night and confessed my pain from the other side of the world. They were encouraging and supportive and did their best to keep me going, only I knew I was in no state to start a life there, I needed help.

A few days after France things were spiraling more and more out of control. I couldn’t concentrate, I was disorientated and my memory was playing up. Suicidal thoughts were entering my head (for the first time in my life). I went to the hospital (after a few failings of my map skills). As I sat in the waiting room I felt very dark. Evil energy seemed to be emanating from me, I felt contagious. There I was in an emergency operating room while people were bleeding. I felt out of place, but I knew not what was happening to me and eventually my turn came. The doctor ran a few tests, could see nothing physically wrong with me and gave me a diazepam. This felt good temporarily, but I had no orientation what so ever, something was wrong. I asked if there was anyway I could get more pills and they sent me to see a psychiatrist.

I remember completing a form and filling in great detail what my symptoms were. I met with two people three times in total. Answered a whole lot of questions and was prescribed some anti anxiety/depressant (the name escapes me) and diazepam. Since they barely spoke I gained little insight from this, only they did remain hopeful I could still work in London.

I spoke to my parents most days, crawled Wikipedia for answers, such things as: neurosis, psychosis, social anxiety, avoidant personality disorder, schizoid, schizophrenia, paranoia, panic attacks, post traumatic stress disorder practically every mental illness under the sun trying to figure out what was happening to me. The few days I did get out were either spent at museums or churches. I spent a lot of time in churches. Praying, hoping, trying to feel, hoping for a chance interaction with a priest who could heal me or give me some kind of answers, it never came.

I’d booked a trip to Switzerland to a musical festival which included one of my favorite bands the Smashing Pumpkins. I was highly anxious and dubious about going. So much so I even called a Samaritan line to ask their opinion. Eventually I decided to go and after a restless night I flew to Switzerland. Such was the extent of my negligence I managed to drop my ticket to the festival at a train station. Fortunately a kind Swiss person saw, and returned it to me. I met an interesting man on the train on the way to the festival who was a retired school teacher; he thought I was a performer which was quite amusing. He asked me a few questions about New Zealand and one question which stirred a bit of activity in my head “what is New Zealand’s religion?”

I thought about it from my generations perspective, a country starved of spirituality, drinking binges, sports obsessed, meaningless sex, high divorce rates (all to common in the west). Our census may say we’re a majority Christian country but I see no evidence of that in the people (particularly those my age). I told him Christian, but it certainly served as a trigger.

Switzerland was a beautiful country. I was there for three days. In my hostel I found a great sort of meditation room. I spent a bit of time in there reading, praying and calming myself down. I did also enjoy the beauty of the place, walked around and of course enjoyed the music. It was a rather lonely few days given I didn’t speak the language, the pumpkins were great, and I enjoyed the crowd. He played my song Zero which was by far the highlight and I remember looking up on the large screen and seeing myself and not even caring, just totally enjoying the moment. As I left I sought some kind of memorabilia. My options were between a hoody with a devil on it and a Smashing Pumpkins t-shirt with the statue of liberty on it. What was the worse statement? I chose the latter after a fair deliberation.

When I returned to London I decided to go to a social anxiety support group, sort of an experiment to gauge my level of hope. It was a moving experience, but also a stark reminder of where I stood and the severity of my situation. I recall doing this exercise with another girl where we said affirmations to one another and worked on eye contact. At the end she commented how moving it had been for her, but for me it didn’t really elevate the pit in my stomach, but I did leave feeling quite good.

In London I felt a real burden, it was apparent I was causing tension where I was staying. The usually highly energized people I was staying with looked increasingly strained and depleted and at a loss with what they could do. I knew I had to go home and I told my parents. I did feel awful doing this given their situation, what a time to have a break down, but my rational self saw no other alternative. They considered coming over and having a holiday in Europe with me but I rejected this profusely, seeing sites in a state like I was in was a waste, a torturous exercise and I was a wreck.

One night I decided to give my cousin and her husband space by going to a movie. I got a little lost and ended up giving an old lady who was after bus money (apparently this is a beggar trick) 20p in exchange for directions to the movie theatre. I sat uncomfortably through Pirates of the Caribbean 3 and did not follow the plot at all. Think I slept for a fair portion of it. For some reason and I can’t think for the life of me why I smelt a bit and was really self conscious about it. At the half time interval the people sitting next to me moved away and were giving me such evil looks, understandably I guess, things just kept affirming my negative thoughts.

Lastly I remember going to a science museum, just as a sort of way to kill time and get out of the house. I remember systematically just looking at everything with such a disinterest until I reached the human section. I remember seeing all these little games and fact sheets about the human condition and how our memory works and what not and just feeling completely underdeveloped and freak like. I was looking over ledges thinking how fatal a fall would be, thinking about oncoming trains, I really wanted out but was prepared to change to a familiar environment to see how things settled.

I phoned the airline to check flight availability only to find for the next 2 weeks it was school holidays and they were all booked out unless I left today, so I did exactly that. I withdrew all my money and closed my bank account, wrote a thank you note with some chocolate and rent money, sent an e-mail to my parents and left.

The only catch was the main bag I was carrying was 30kg and came up to about my chest and only had two out of four wheels (no straps). I had to travel maybe 1.5km with this bag and it was very heavy and to make matters worse it was hitting rush hour. Maybe a third of the way to the station the wheels fell off so I had to physically carry the bag and I couldn’t go far, maybe 20 meters at a time and I was working up a major sweat. Eventually I made it to the train station and squeezed on board amongst a full train.

There I was visibly anxious, sweaty on a crowded train in rush hour with a large suspicious looking bag, terrorist enactments all over again. At the airport it was another huge slog as I made it to the terminal. I managed to find a restroom and freshened up a little, changed my virtually drenched shirt to something clean and sprayed the hell out of me with deodorant. I propped up my bag in a way that it didn’t weigh so much to avoid an overcharge (such the miser) and miraculously made the plane. The 12 hours to Bangkok were a blur. I’m sure my conscious hours I was self conscious about all the sweat I’d built up, but largely, I think I had just one mammoth sleep.

In Bangkok my priority was quite simply to have a shower and I looked everywhere to no avail. My only option was to have a full body massage and get one that way. I had just enough money for that (I’m sure it was very expensive). So went that option, didn’t enjoy the massage, so much as the shower :).

Arriving home was awful. My parent’s situation was very charged. Dad’s ex was continually making harassing phone calls and out and out verbally abusing my Mum over the phone and to make matters worse Dad was being extremely dishonest about what he was up to. Phone bills would come in and Dad would be secretly phoning and e-mailing her and the whole situation reeked heavily of lies and deceit. There were so many arguments and my Dad he just looked a guilty and dishonest man.

So that was the turmoil I arrived home to and all I wanted to do was disappear, so I did. I completely withdrew from all of my friends and confided in people who laid little bearing on my life. My memory was still lousy and a psychologist I initially saw tested me and found some quite alarming things. My recollection of what was happening was the noise in my brain was just so overwhelming I simply couldn’t commit things in to short term memory. I remember going for runs up in the forest and it felt my skills in negotiating the ground, roots and that sort of thing, was just oblivious, it was like I was running on autopilot with the safety unit broken.

A curious incident happened which I’d like to include, perhaps the first week from my return. I was trying to sleep one night and my cat was lying next to me. I felt some sort of energy coming from him. I was really confused and thought that whatever my cat was doing would kill him, and I flat out didn’t want that to happen and that was the last thing my Mum wanted. The cat was quite still and I panicked, so I interrupted the process, picked the cat up and kicked him out of the bed. The next day the cat looked completely and utterly dazed and oblivious and the craziest thing is that from that day forth his meow has completely changed, to a weird and unnatural sound.

It was at this stage I sought answers on the Internet. I continued the Social Anxiety avenue and chatted in one of their IRC channels. It was all rather superficial nonsense however I did meet a really intriguing character out of it, and she was very big on the spiritual and philosophical aspects of things.

We talked fairly often and the nature of our relationship was pretty abstract and deep. She’d been on the path for a while and educated me a lot on Jung and introduced me to his theories such as the collective unconscious, synchronicity, the shadow and archetypes.

We shared stories, I guess similar to the detail I’ve shared with you and the deeper conversation style we’d developed began to be transferred to a few of my other Internet friends.

In this digging, personal growth sort of couple of months, I was well conscious about my personal situation. The fact that I wasn’t working and I guess I was really looking for a way to find a job where my confidence level wouldn’t be so much exposed, yet it was something that used my skills (e-commerce University degree) and I enjoyed. So my personal growth journey was also coupled with thoughts of applying it to what I know, to sort of share it as you will.

It was at this stage I discovered a fairly large community of New Zealanders (now pretty much defunct) who were communicating on very similar lines as of to how I’d been. It served as a major source of synchronicity and hope and their vision resonated strongly with all that I had learnt and been thinking.

I’d got the lead from a friend on a film called Waking Life and this was absolutely powerful. I’d never been stimulated by a film so much in my life. It was like the rules of the game had completely been rewritten and this was the template. I was so excited just to see thoughts that had echoed around my head throughout the years bottled up to me in high concentrate, it was brilliant.

Dad had been acting completely deceitful. He concocted up a make believe job in Singapore so he could see his ex and lines were crossed and things were just completely turmoil. It really tore me apart, Mum was just completely and utterly victimized and I felt so much compassion. I know this is probably a statement any child would say but in my eyes my Mum she has all the qualities you’d want in a woman, good heart, compassionate, fun, trusting and she was being completely abused and tormented. It was tough.

Dad came home and there was a lot of conflict, Dad was scheduled to go away in a few days, destination unknown, his actions were just frivolous and had no method and I decided I’d had enough and thought I’d give him a slice of my mind before he left.

One day I was trying to use Dads laptop, but it was password protected. I stumbled across Dads password clue and it was “soul mate and age”. That was very very confusing. My Dad is about the least spiritual and heartfelt person there is in this world and to have something like that was completely bizarre. I was aware that Dads ex had a bit of psychological background and Dad has confided pretty much his whole life story in her. I was confused and tried a few options involving my Mum and her age as well as the ex but to no avail.

I mentioned this to Mum, it was tough telling her this but I disclaimed to her not to take it personally and I thought Dad has completely lost it and she confirmed the spelling. I did something pretty unethical, and I guess a complete invasion of privacy, but anyway I needed to understand where my Dad was coming from so I copied his recent e-mails from his ex.

What I read was the most manipulative conniving, abuse of psychological understanding I had ever witnessed and I was appalled. Just about every trick and device was being used, it was a full on assault to destroy my family and belittle my Mum. I know really you just shouldn’t meddle in other people’s affairs but the deceit reeked, it just seemed so obvious that lies and trickery were in play as some sort of twistered revenge. To make matters worse she even lived with her (alleged) ex husband, seemed like some twistered con job, so I thought I’d at least say my piece.

I remember reading up about mid life crisis’s on Wikipedia and printed out the article and highlighted all the relevant parts and left it on the bench. I remember him acknowledging, hmm this does sound kind of similar.

I remember vividly a dream I had before this day. I was in Auckland and there were sirens going off, I suspected volcanoes were going off and they were violent volcanoes were going off everywhere, lava, rocks flying and it was a mad dash to get my family north to a safer area.

It was September 11th, my Dad’s birthday. I’d recently seen the movie the secret about the law of attraction and thought I’d experiment with the whole people treat you differently if you act in a certain way, so for a laugh I wore my suit. I had a fair bit of British currency and thought I’d walk around the banks to find the best exchange rate. It was quite funny the reaction I got. Carrying such a large amount of cash and wearing a suit, people were thinking I was really important and bending over backwards to try and get me to change to their bank.

I recall an impulse buy in a music store, I can’t think why but I was speaking to the checkout girl about music and she mentioned she liked my favorite band the mars volta. We talked a little about her passion about music and she referred me to a band Coheed and Cambria which I brought without even listening to (in hindsight, the bands ok nothing spectacular). She also mentioned they were releasing a new album in which I sort of took a jibe at yesteryear and suggested they have a launch party :).

For Dads birthday I sought out a telescope. The best telescope money could buy, and found a fairly bulky unit. I was being quite inquisitive in the purchase and was asked the sales man if he had ever looked in to it and what the colours were like. He hadn’t, but I could tell he felt a little exposed.

I remember going to the super market and spontaneously buying flowers for my Mum, she was quite moved by this, but I just wanted her to know that I was still there and she was what was important in all this.

I remember Dad saying all he wanted for his birthday was understanding, so I wrote his birthday card on a small note “Dear Dad, Understanding, Love Stephen”

My chronology of how this all panned out is a little muzzled but I’ll do my best. Mum had gone away to stay with a friend for a few days and it was just me and Dad. I started questioning my Dad about things, not in a personal judgmental way, just a sort of deep philosophical kind of way. Wanting to understand where he was coming from, what his values were and what he wanted out of life, that sort of thing. I relayed the dialogues I’d been having to my brother and he and his girlfriend wanted to have a say and also came over.

I shared some rather personal things I’d came up with while on outward bound (outdoor / personal development camp) and one of the things was this thing on values which we’d fleshed out in three days of isolation. I’d found the bit of paper with the probing questions and we went through the list and Dad gave his malformed answers. In a sense it was sort of like a eulogy and we picked up on so many inconsistencies in his statements, which was made easier by the irrational madness that had been unraveled in the e-mails.

I remember him reaching for some wanky management award where his core competencies were strategic, leadership and competitive. It all seemed so heartless.

Once this concluded we had a bit of a party for Dad had a few beers and played cards and then as a sort of surprise we smoked a couple of joints. It was really in essence a huge manipulative device, my brother well he’s known to do it quite a bit, but his girlfriend and I well we’re seen as responsible, so well that night my Dad smoked pot for the first time, and he enjoyed it. There was a lot of laughter and I remember playing a round of cards that was so so synchronistic.

It was like our earlier conversation that we’d had about values was being reinforced in the card game. The way we were jibing and bantering and the way the cards were going down in such a dominating fashion, it just seemed out of worldly.

As the card games died down an earlier revelation that I’d had as a sort of website idea entered in to discussion. It sort of came to me as in epiphany and I’d been holding on to it on the back burner once the events had ran their course.

It was election year and I was contempt about the world and society. So my thought patterns were very much centered on using the Internet to effect democracy, a sort of new age model for politics, one that utilized technology to bring the people together to effect decision making. My thinking I guess was very much fantasized about what would happen if majority of your country used your website (such as in New Zealand the e-bay equivalent trademe which has over half the country or 2 million users).

At the heart of the idea was building a model of the countries income and expenditure and allowing the user to be able to tweak the variables in the form of ‘their government’. The greater concept was to show statistical averages on what everyone else was doing and also for each budget item (such as education) show exactly where the funds were being spent so people could make more informed decisions about their allocation.

The concept also extended to voting functionality where the users could make informed decisions about contentious issues such as smacking babies and it’s the people’s voice that dictates how the country is governed. It’s funny writing this today I mean I haven’t revisited this idea in over a year and it still sounds pretty good.

Anyway we discussed this idea with great synergy and everyone seemed to fully get what I was talking about, how it would work and it seemed pretty damned feasible. My Dad had recently given me an empty book and usually I’m too much of a perfectionist to write, but something snapped and words poured from my mind. I thought I’d do my best to capture what we had been discussing and wrote things as they came to me. The first line in the book reads:

“New Zealand will be the leading OECD country and lead the Western world to truth and a society innovated by the people”

Actually that sounds completely off target from what I’ve just explained to you, but perhaps I was just projecting in to the future a bit, a sort of vision.

Anyway as the night went on I couldn’t sleep and just kept writing. I think I eventually slept around 4am and awoke around 7am. Full of energy and zest and eager to share all who were present with what I’d done. Their enthusiasm was less reciprocal and they just wanted to sleep.

I phoned Mum and spoke to her completely from the heart. I told her I loved her and that we’d spoken at great lengths to Dad. I said I’m not sure what will happen but at least we gave it a go.

When Mum came home, she was concerned that I was acting out of character, so I said I’d see the psychologist. I really didn’t care I was on a very natural high. This is what I wrote:

“Hi Erin,

I’m going through a bit of a stressful time and was wondering if we could meet soon. I do however, want to ease off my medication and would appreciate any advice you may have. I’m having difficulty sleeping and have so far written 10 pages of thoughts. Please schedule me in at your next available slot.

Thanks,

-Stephen“

Actually it’s interesting reading that as it slightly conflicts with what I was saying earlier. I’m not sure about the stressful time I referred to perhaps the natural high hadn’t quite kicked in at this stage or maybe I idealized the proceeding events a little. Anyway, I met with the psychologist and sticking with the law of attractions concept came in a suit. I brought my book to which he skimmed through and during our (what I referred to as meeting) I basically interviewed him. Completely turned the tables on him and sought out to understand how he became a psychologist, asked him on his opinion on a whole array of thing, all the while taking notes.

At the conclusion of our meeting he made a concerned phone call to the hospital (it was quite late in the day, but he wanted me there ASAP). He said to me and he was really nice about it. “I know you have all these great ideas, but I think there is a better place you can go”. I was actually relived at the prospect. I didn’t want to go home, I wanted to explore this idea and hearts and minds and it didn’t really dawn on me that he was sending me to the psych ward.

I remember waiting in the waiting room for what seemed like an age. The place was sterile and I felt suffocated. I asked if I could go outside and after a bit of a protest was able to enjoy the fresh air. After about 15 minutes outside I came back inside and my parents were called to talk to the professionals. I waited for a very long time before cracking, knocking on the door and delivering an impromptu speech on love. It was in my idolized recollection very charismatic and heart felt and one of the nurses seemed moved. Perhaps she saw the core truth in my words as opposed to ramblings of a madman. In any case I just wanted to speed the process up.

I came to hospital with pretty much the instructions of I just want to be able to sleep can you give me sleeping pills. But my inexperience and trustful nature was exposed and I was medicated with epilum, zyprexa and lorazepam.

The attitude and approach I was taking in my interactions was pretty much to seek wisdom and knowledge from everyone I met and take notes. I was quite inquisitive and curious and even suggested I have an MRI scan to see what was happening, only they explained the cost implications and I backed down from that suggestion.

I was also working on a concept that sort of centred on the idea that there are questions out there which people instinctively if they thought it through enough then majority of people would end up with a similar answer. So I was seeking those questions and also practicing them on people.

Fortunately for me, I didn’t really have any interactions with any other patients who made me feel uncomfortable and I thought the fact they made me porridge everyday, it was just like a hotel, so I guess in a sense I was content.

I did however get a bit angry at one of the male nurses who were behaving in a condescending manner. I asked to see my forms to get me the hell out of there, but perhaps that was just drama to reinforce my point. I was actually quite large on theatrics really.

Anyway as the days went by my mind slowed down with jigsaw puzzles and ping pong. I was a little dictatorial asking for a print out on hypomania and arranged a trip to church.

I did get one nurse to help me consolidate my writing and she wrote down a whole lot of the universal questions I referred to. The next day she actually commented that she’d asked her husband some of them and they had quite an interesting conversation.

I also had a sort of plan on my circle of influence, thinking of those around me skills and utilizing them in the project for when I got out.

Some of the e-mails I sent while in hospital during my release time read:

“I’ve been described as hypermanic and am actually staying in the hospital to help relax my mind down and help bring things down in to perspective.”

“I’m really happy on life (such as what hypermania is) but know I can come out of this. Tis’ a shame I’m stuck in hospital as I feel like a large fish stuck in a fishtank.”

“Unfortunately we live in a fucked up world where if you are enthusiastic about something you get punished for it. I’m currently in and out of a state called mania http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mania). It’s a true bugger cause I know exactly what I want and have a rough idea of how to get there only these clowns are keeping me with the loonies which really fucks me off!”

“I do feel so trapped whilst my dreams are too big for those walls.”

An interesting note on this is my otherwise perfectionist self was making so many spelling mistakes, even with spell checkers at my disposal. It’s like I was mister haste on a mission and any spelling errors was overlooked in the name of efficiency.

I guess in reflection from this my actions were almost in complete contrast to how someone with social anxiety would normally act. So really my difficulty now is I’ve seen both sides of the coin and the dominating issue is the anxiety.