On Nightmare Psychosis

Trigger Warning: this post contains a detailed description of a particularly terrible psychotic episode I’ve had.

It starts in the dead of night, it starts in the middle of a dream. A presence looming over me. It’s inside my apartment. It materializes from the thick, heavy air that proceeds it. A monstrous thing, not unlike a bird nearly withered into its skeletal form; and dripping, always dripping – a thin, clear liquid that burns when it touches my skin. It moves through my apartment – the clicking of its claws against the hardwood floor sounding as a pair of high heels.

My sleep turns panicked – I know if I can just wake up everything will be okay, but I’m too deep into sleep to wake myself at will. I can hear the faint whispers of the creature as it moves toward my bed and climbs in next to me, on top of me. Its breathing is heavy and full of labored rasps. It reaches inside of me – straight towards my heart and its grasping claw seems to ignore the surrounding bone and tissue as it takes my heart in its grasp and squeezes. My skin burns from the acidic effects of the liquid dripping off its grotesquely shaped proportions.

It’s an even squeeze, and firm. It slowly tightens its grip and I’m unable to move under its immense weight. White flashes appear in my field of vision and I’m paralyzed. I try to move, to scream and I imagine I’m somewhere else where my scream will attract the loving embrace of my mother. But I’m all alone in my apartment and if I scream, no one is going to come to me.

I reassure myself that I will move again. I can feel Kerrin sleeping next to me – she’s not barking, just sleeping and I take some comfort in that. Its grip sends shocks of electricity down my body and the pain, though excruciating, feels like old times. I’ve been in this position many times before and I start fighting back. It’s hard to breath, but I suck in air as I begin to muster my strength.

I can see through closed eyes, I see my arms move but the sensation is markedly different than actually moving my arms; it’s empty like diet soda. But that’s progress…before I couldn’t even move imaginary arms. I begin to push back, its grip tightens – the white flashes are more intense, the shocks of electricity more pronounced, and the pain multiplies. But I’m gaining ground. I press harder and harder against its paralyzing grip. I know that if I can move my arm it’ll all be over. And then, in a flash, in a heartbeat my arm moves and the creature disappears. I open my eyes to the peace of the night and try to catch my breath. I give Kerrin some scratches and tell her it’s okay. I close my eyes once again and I’m off to sleep.

But again – moments, minutes, hours later the air thickens and I can feel it materialize across the room; claws clicking on the hardwood floor as it moves to consider me for a long moment. Through my waking dream I felt it materialize next to me. I’m filled with dread this time…it’s going to be worse. It’s always worse the second time.

Maybe the creature is furious with me, maybe it’s just making its sadistic rounds and needs to check me off of its list and because of its earlier failure its more determined to hurt me. Or is it just my subconscious, the true enemy of anyone with a mental illness, directing everything to be worse? This creature is real, as real to me as anything else I’ve encountered. But it’s also just materializing from the malfunctioning tissue of my brain. My sick brain knows the intimate details of what truly terrifies me and often exploits that knowledge.

It’s bird claw feet start scratching the hardwood floor and I’m desperate to wake up. But I can’t wake up. Why can’t I wake up?

It shoves its terrible claw, wrought in a leather-like texture, with two-fingered talons grown dull from overuse, up through my anus and begins to pull my bowels, my intestines out and the pain is indescribable.

I feel hot blood pour out of me and I hear the creature speaking to me in a cruel tongue that’s familiar to me by now but still seethes with an other worldly menace. And once again, I summon my strength.

Afterwards, it hurts to sit down. Every movement of my body reminds me of this creature’s invasion. My subconscious is so convinced I had my guts torn out through my anus that I still feel the pain of it. A week later, two weeks later I’m wincing from the effort of standing up and sitting down. The pain during the episode was such that I feared I would black out, the pain afterwards makes me look like an old man as I struggle into and out of chairs. Are they nightmares or are they psychosis?

Nightmare psychosis most like. There’s a certain dread that comes with my phone’s beep to tell me that it’s time to take my pills, there’s a dread that builds and builds as I take my pills and start getting ready for bed. Some nights I sit for long whiles trying to muster up the courage to get into bed and turn the lights off. I pray for strength, I pray for reprieve, I pray for a peaceful night’s sleep.

If I don’t go to bed I mess up my entire schedule, if I don’t go to sleep soon I’ll get my second wind and then it could be the early dawn before I’m tired enough to find sleep. If I do go to sleep there’s always the risk that I’ll feel the air thicken, and I’ll smell the stench of it that’s becoming all too familiar – and then it will come on me again. This time it will try to tear my spine out, all at once in one painfully elongated stroke. It tries to maximize my fear of it by inflicting pain on me, tremendous amounts of pain. But it’s not real, none of it is real – this is the power of our brains…to feel agony over something that’s simply imagined.

I later found out that the very pills I relied on to help me fall asleep can cause people with psychosis to experience such nightmare psychosis. So I swore off the Melatonin. It was replaced with a drug that both helps me to get to sleep as well as prevent nightmares and now my experiences with the creature have mostly ceased. It’ll still sometimes grab me in the middle of the night, but it’s not as painful and it’s not as terrifying. It’s easier to combat it in its current state, it’s weakened, it has less resolve to torture me.

This whole phenomenon raises some metaphysical questions for me. I believe, rather firmly, that this thing is real. I’ve called my mom after its had its way with me to tell her that we needed to call our pastor…because a demon was trying to possess me. But would a demon really be warded off by the addition of chemicals to my brain? Why does my brain produce such terrifying things? Why does it want to torture me so much?

I feel largely disconnected from my brain and body – it’s hard to know where I exist…I am not the terrifying things that my brain produces, I am not the terrible thoughts that come into my head or the terrible suggestions that come from the voices in my head. I am a good person. I am caring and loving and kind. The nature of having schizoaffective disorder is feeling as though you’re possessed and feeling completely disconnected from everything around you. It makes you wonder who you really are; it makes you wonder what comprises a person, who they actually are. Descartes brought up the idea of the mind-body-problem in the 17th century. Long before a modern understanding of mental illness existed. Are we our body or are we our mind? Or are we something else, perhaps our soul?

This question has popped into my head again and again over the years. Particularly after a bout of violent psychosis that leaves me doubled over in pain begging whatever is causing it to stop. In the aftermath, after all of the tears have dried and I’m finally breathing steadily again, I can’t help but think back to philosophy class my junior year of high school. Our teacher had us line up on a spectrum from mind to body to announce who we thought we were.

I don’t remember what spot on the line I chose; probably somewhere near the middle…somewhere safe where I didn’t have to commit myself one way or the other. More likely, I chose the middle out of protest – what about the soul? Does it have to be either the body or the mind? Does it have to be either mental or physical? I think that too often, philosophy doesn’t consider the philosophical implications of mental illness. Philosophy, for the most part, conveniently overlooks the existence of alternate ways of perceiving. Mental illness is discounted, thrown into the corner with the rest of the garbage and only retrieved at convenience, and even then only briefly. Which is confusing to me: if philosophy is the study of the very core of the human condition why would the age-old tradition of philosophy ignore a condition effecting so many? I suspect it has something to do with both the dehumanizing treatment, professionally and culturally, of the mentally ill as well as the fact that many mental illnesses (in particular the thought disorders and those featuring psychosis) undermine and even shatter their precious theories on the human condition.

I am not my mind and I am not my body, not exclusively. My mind has a tendency to be twisted and evil and my body doesn’t feel like my own. There is psychosis that I deal with that is purely physical (the sensation of bugs crawling all over my body), psychosis that is purely mental (the many voices in my head), and then there’s psychosis (such as nightmare psychosis) that exists on an altogether different level. Spiritual? Metaphysical? Ultraphysical?

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