What psychosis is like

My first contact with the mental health institutions was as harrowing as it was treacherous. Shenley Mental Hospital, Hertfordshire, 19 November 1983 was one such time. Through the prism of my my subconscious mental illness and lack of insight, I could discern horrendous death beckoning. But why the evil perpetrators right before me were people who I thought were there to help me, I surely could not understand.  

I was grabbed by four nurses holding my arms and legs and was carried out of the nurses’ office kicking and screaming.  Having already foiled the angry man in his plots to murder me, I then avoided the nurses’ attempts to poison me with a yellow liquid. Now, in their determination to get rid of me, another fate was being planned by these thugs.

I was deposited on something soft, which I took for a bed and mattress.  I started to struggle with my assailants, but they held me down. I heard footsteps and a man I thought to be a doctor entered and leaned over me.  I cant remember him introducing himself. For me, he became Dr H. “Try and relax”, Dr H said. “I am going to give you an injection”. Of course. I knew it. This was to be the lethal and fatal injection.  I noticed that there was a gold chain around Dr H’s neck with two Hebrew letters hanging from it spelling a word, which in Hebrew means LIFE. I drew Dr H’s attention to it and there was just a hint of a wry smile. What irony!  That the chain of life was being worn by a person whom I was convinced was the angel of death.

I felt a sharp pain in my bottom that waned off as quickly as it was felt. Gradually the nurses seemed to loosen their grip on me.  My strength was sapping away and my eyes were growing very heavy. I was facing death. I remembered a quotation from Hamlet – “There is a divinity that shapes our ends rough-hew them how we will”.  I was dying. Disappearing without trace. Killed in this godforsaken hospital and there was nothing I could do. God must have willed it. This acceptance of my fate made me feel more relaxed and I looked around at the neglected state of the room where I was finally shutting my eyes on the world.  For ever. It was a far cry from the ancient city of Oxford which had been my home for some years until only about two years before this. God had given me a single ticket via Oxford to destination unknown. The rest was darkness.

Coming Alive Again

I don’t know how long I was dead for. I had hoped it would be forever as I feared waking up in a coffin.  A carol was being played – “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”. It was a favourite tune of mine and I found myself gently humming it.  I didn’t know all the words, but joined in every time it came to the words “Glory to the new born King”.  

I was aware of voices chattering away to each other and wondered whether I had arrived in Heaven or Hell.  To ascertain my location I slowly and gradually opened my eyes only to behold, much to my amazement, that I was lying in the same shabby room in which I had died. Was I disappointed? In my grandiose sense of satisfaction it dawned on me that after all Heroes don’t die! In fact they rise again!

I was still singing “Glory to the newborn King” and was doing so with increasing gusto.  Managing to turn my head to the side, I noticed a bed side cabinet with a cup on top of it.  I stretched out my arm and dipped my finger into the cup. It contained some liquid. I put my finger to my mouth and tasted a drop of what tasted like sweet tea.  Feeling that the sugar would make me stronger, I repeated the process until the cup was empty.  


The tempo of my singing was rising all the time and it suddenly occurred to me that I must be the new born King.  In the lead up to my admission, I had resorted to reading the Bible. I was more attracted to the Old Testament than the New. I felt the Bible was speaking to me and I found incredible messages in it. The wondrous messages I had understood from nights of reading the Bible must have been correct. A monumental event in the history of mankind had occurred: the Messianic age had arrived. And the Messiah was finally here. In me!   

My strength was gradually returning and I managed to raise myself and sit on the side of the bed.  I cautiously put one foot on the floor, got to my feet and shuffled into the adjoining room where the TV was blaring.  I saw the fat man with the scowl whom I had believed (in my previous life) would murder me and I realised I was no longer afraid of him.  I was protected by God. The Messiah. I was untouchable. I acknowledged him with cheery “Good evening Desmond”. He grunted in return but his scowl seemed to soften.

I turned my attention to the TV and soon realised that the subject of the film being shown was reincarnation.  How appropriate I thought. I half expected to see myself on the screen, in white robes with a halo over my head but in that regard was disappointed.

Mood Swings? For God’s Sake

During my stay at Shenley I did not attempt to find out why I was there. I was happily submerged in my sense of grandiosity and delusions. With time, as my insight began to return, I realised that I had been through some serious mental health illness. Increasingly words such as psychotic, delusional kept popping out every time my name was mentioned. In fact it was only about three years later and well after a second lengthy admission that I became aware that I suffered from bipolar disorder. Even then, it was fortuitous. I was sitting in the men’s group on a Monday morning at a day hospital in Willesden. The group was run by a jocular Irish guy called Kevin with whom I always got on really well. He was a senior nurse. He was trying to get members of the group to talk about themselves and when it came to my turn, he prompted me by saying: “Now Danny here, suffers from mood swings”. And that was it!    It finally dawned on me that I was actually suffering from bipolar affective disorder. And how it all now made sense when nurses and Doctors uttered delusional, psychotic, manic depression. And how they dismissed my self proclaimed messianic arrival to save the world as grandiosity. And how they dismissed my persistent allegations they were there to kill me. How I really overheard heard them from across the other ward planning and plotting. And how they chuckled with laughter and excitement about annihilating me. All simply dismissed as mood swings. 

Coping with a bipolar diagnosis

It is now thirty six years since my first admission to Shenley Mental Hospital and subsequent discovery of my diagnosis. Sadly, I have gone through several episodes of psychosis and manic depression ever since. But along the way, I have equally learned how to cope with bipolar.

Friends and family

I have been very fortunate that I really have good friends. Throughout my episodes and in between they have been there for me. I make it a point that I actively also try to keep in touch by phone and email and invite them to visit me. My favourite quotation is from a Rabbi who once told me that if you can count your friends on the fingers on one hand, you are a rich man. And believe it. And how this nicely fits into my grand sense of grandiosity. I have much more than five friends. 

Writing as therapy

The experience of living my life in between mood swings with occasional spells of normalcy has given me good cause to write. Writing preoccupies me intensely and has the positive effect of keeping me in the balance whilst really engaging me both mentally and intellectually. For some reason, I always seem to be more creative whilst in marginally higher elation. Depression certainly does not the opposite. Presently, I am in the last phase of completing my book which I started seven years ago. My objective is share with my readers what really goes on inside my mental state. How, in my sense of grandiosity, I know I am related to the royal family. How I became a spy under deep cover at Shenley Mental Hospital to protect Gorbachev on his visit to the UK. How, I have always heard those voices next door conspiring to do harm on me.