A Story of First Episode Psychosis: From Symptom Activation to Hospitalization
Crossing into Broome County New York my vehicle was immediately pulled over by a state trooper. The trooper insisted that a car was weaving in and out of traffic in the vicinity I was driving. While he issued me no ticket, he followed me all the way to my exit in downtown Binghamton.
After returning home, Professor Hendricx, my housemate, suggested I go with her friend to a bar and relax. I accepted the offer, as I had money, and nobody to spend it with presently. After spending the last semester too poor to drive a car or pay for gas, this was a welcome change.
However, walking to the bar with her friend, I began to feel tremors again. That’s when I started flailing my limbs to get the blood flowing, Her friend nervously asked me what was wrong. I insisted that I needed a drink and we should hurry to another bar.
The response to my suggestion was poor at best. The friend began to walk away from me and when I raised my voice to rein her back in from a distance she picked up her pace in the opposite direction I was heading.
So, I began to walk back to my house. I needed rest. I walked into my house and noticed that all the furniture had been moved around. Shrugging it off momentarily, I walked into my room and lay down feeling the tremors wax and wane as the minutes passed by.
It was then when I started hearing a loud metallic chirping from the telephone poles outside my room. The chirping began to transform itself into a similar noise as a hammer banging on a metal plate. I began to twist and turn in bed and cover my ears with a pillow but I could not muffle the noise. The hammering grew louder and my neck began to stiffen.
I stood up in the middle of the room to look outside at the telephone poles but could not determine the source of the noise. That was when I figured out the banging must be coming from in the house. The problem however, when I went to look for the noise, was my range of motion. I could not turn my neck or move my body in any direction. Motionless, and beginning to feel tremors, I could only listen to the banging which I now could hear was coming from upstairs, accompanied by footsteps.
Momentarily, I loosened up, and began to walk towards my mattress. Knowing I would just fall asleep and not figure out what was occurring around me if I had my mattress in my room, I began to carry it outside and lay it by the foot of my door outside my room. At that very moment, I began to hear more foot-steps upstairs, and the clicking of a typewriter. Puzzled by all the activity at four A.M, I started walking up the flight of stairs to the second floor. I saw a light in Dr. Hendricx’s room, but nobody inside from the view I had through the opening of the door.
Trying to peek inside with no avail, I heard the typewriter continue to run non-stop. I walked back downstairs and into my room and sat on the floor where my bed used to lay. The tremors began to surge through my forearms so I decided that a cold shower would settle my system.
As I walked to the shower I began hearing more foot-steps but ignored them. I jumped into the shower and blasted the cold water. Once again, momentarily, the tremors waned, and I flipped the lever in the tub to take a bath. I sat down in the tub and began cooling off. With ease, I lowered my head back and looked up at the ceiling. That was when I heard talking upstairs. I had located the noise. Now fully convinced that the noise was coming from upstairs, I listened….
My friend from earlier days in college began talking to me through the ceiling. Slightly irritated that I always seemed to speak to her through means other than face to face contact I still sat attentive in bath. She told me that the reason why all the furniture was displaced after my return to Binghamton for summer was because Columbia University had partnered with Binghamton University for a television show that centered on my life as an un-matriculated graduate student.
The show was a partnership between the English department in Binghamton and the School Psychology department at Columbia. Upon hearing her explain the details of the show, another friend began to tell me filming had already begun and I should act natural but play for the cameras which were everywhere. He also went on to reveal the noises I had been hearing, the banging of the hammer which was actually drilling cameras into the walls for filming purposes.
Relieved that the commotion wasn’t something serious I relaxed in the tub and smiled for the cameras. At that moment, the Chair of the English department began to discuss the meaning of language and I began to speak out loud to the ceiling debating his every point. The graduate director chimed into the conversation just to thank me for my work in the department and the inspiration to create this television show.
I felt vindicated for a moment. My department was working with me again and I was working with my college friend on a fascinating project. My friend told me that our ratings were higher than Columbia anticipated and that we would be going national very soon. I was thrilled and relieved that my work during the semester Contesting Admission had produced something significant in the academic world.
I got up and out of the shower and walked back into my room continuing the dialogue until the end of the program. When the show ended that night my friend wished me a goodnight and her voiced began to dissipate in repetition repeating the words goodnight until there was no noise at all like a recording coming to an end. But, the typewriter continued to click away. Obviously, it was Dr. Hendricx writing new material for the next program but I still became preoccupied by it. In fact, I listened to the typewriter so intently that I began to hear another recording begin to play. This time, the recording came from the bedroom directly on top of mine.
The recording was my neighbor speaking. It was another explanation of the noises I was hearing upstairs. He had a significantly different explanation and certainly, a more convincing one. He went on to inform me that I was living in a CIA owned and operated house. That Dr. Hendricx works for the Witness Protection Program and I have been taken into the household because I was being abused by my family, my friends, and the English department.
In fact, the CIA continued to elaborate that I was not really speaking to my friend previously in the bathroom. No, instead, I was listening to a CIA training exercise that would prepare me for life in the Witness Protection program and I was merely becoming acquainted with their equipment. The recording coming from upstairs from the Federal Government told me that if I continued to speak to my friend, my family, or anyone else anymore that I would continue to have tremors. In fact, the tremors, according to the Witness Protection Program, are punishment for continuing contact with anyone I knew previously.
The recording from the CIA went on and off all night. Sometimes I would call out for my mother, or my friend, or Dr. Hendricx but I would just receive an extremely painful barrage of tremors. This went on all night into the morning hours when the vent in my room began vibrate in the wall and the tremors became so overwhelming that I began to cry. At daybreak, the recordings stopped. I put on a fresh set of clothing and moved my bed back into my room and began to sit down. However, I was not surprised when the recordings began again. This time however, the recordings from the CIA were talking to my friend. The Witness Protection Program told her that I was going into the CIA and that she could be my wife if she left everyone behind and moved away with me.
The CIA told me to get ready for my wife and prepare my room for a marriage ceremony. I was so relieved that this seemingly never-ending conspiracy was coming to an end that I raced upstairs and listened into the bedroom that was over mine. I heard the CIA tell my friend that she had to leave everyone and she began crying that she did not want to do so. Periodically, the government operative would call my friend stupid and unwilling to cooperate. I became irritated by both my friend’s unwillingness to leave her world behind to join the Witness Protection Program and by the CIA for calling her stupid and childish.
I went back downstairs to my room to sit down. That was when a new recording began to play. This time it was the CIA explaining to me that I had listened to another training video that Sarah was in jail for victimizing me, along with my family, and all of my friends. The Witness Protection Program then began to punish me with more tremors which became so overpowering that I had to strip down naked.
At that very moment, my friend began to speak to me through the vent that was vibrating earlier. She told me that there was a bomb in the house and that she was going to detonate it and that all of the recordings would end and that the show would be over. Before I could take in the gravity of what she was saying to me, I began to hear a countdown timer. I quickly covered myself in a blanket and ran outside the house naked.
When the timer finally reached zero there was no explosion. No noise. Except, there were tremors, those did not end. I walked back into the house and got dressed. I summoned the strength to go on my computer and began to go about my day as business as usual. I thought to myself, what an episode of television we are producing here in Binghamton. But, before I could believe I was making television history, I was asked by the CIA once again to walk outside the house, and start walking down my street. The tremors began again, as I was told, for believing a training recording and speaking to my friend and the CIA began to tune me into a live trial where all of my friends, family and fellow colleagues in the English department were undergoing. After each individual was questioned on the witness stand, I heard a summary verdict and the slam of the jail cell doors on them.
I believed if I listened to the CIA and joined their program that I could move on with my life, So, I got into my car and began driving around. The CIA told me that if I flash my hazards on and off I would give the Federal Government acknowledgment of my safety in the Witness Protection Program. So, I drove all around town flashing oncoming cars with my lights until finally running out of gas a few houses from my home.
When I arrived back home yet another recording began playing. Apparently, Dr. Hendrcx was a double agent in the CIA from Belgium and it was my duty to the Federal Government to banish her from the Witness Protection Program safe haven that I was being housed in. Walking up to the house I asked Dr. Hendricx for her phone and dialed 911. The phone did not dial the emergency number however, instead, the screen read: Dr. Cloud. The recordings told me that this was the code word for transfer of power from one Witness Protection house commander to another and would mean her expulsion.
After I dialed the number, she looked at the phone and said “okay Max” and gave me her phone. According to the recording, this meant that I would now have possession over all her things, including the phone she handed me, the things in her room, and all of her food which I needed because of dwindling supplies.Immediately after she handed me the phone she left in her car. I walked into the house triumphantly and heard megaphones outside our home that were proclaiming that I now had full authority over the household. I went to the refrigerator and began eating Dr. Hendricx food and left the containers that the nourishment was in outside on the porch to signal to the community that I was in control and healthy.
I went into my room afterwards and began setting up my command. I knew that the community needed subtle signals that enabled peaceful transitions of power in the neighborhood or the possibility of the former commander Dr. Hendricx’s return might be in the cards. Thus, I took a Queen from the chess set and put it in the window to gesture towards the need for an heir to the throne. I also positioned two limes in the direction of ovaries to symbolize the need to birth a child to rule as my successor.
Then, the recording began. However, this time they were the cries of Dr. Hendricx screaming about how she will return to her command. I quickly took out the battery to her laptop and her phone so she would not be able to contact the house. At that point, more megaphones blasted outside to let the professor back into her home or the city of Binghamton would use force. The voices were those of the police. I panicked and lit a cigarette and sat in a chair in the living room covering where I could monitor each entrance and exit.
To my surprise, I heard the back door open with the jingle of keys and the professor walked into the house. She stood close to me with her hand on her bag indicating she had a weapon. I watched her closely and finally took her laptop outside and hid it in a moving van. Before leaving the house, I put a knife in my pocket.
More recordings vocalized that the home had once again changed powers and encouraged me to demobilize her vehicle with my knife. I instead walked to my car and put the weapon on my windshield. Next, I walked over the neighbors that were using the moving van that now contained the professor’s laptop and asked the neighbors to hide the body referring to the removal of the professor in a non-violent manner.
With no response besides puzzlement from the neighbors, and no safe passage in my home, I needed to relax. So, I went over to my car which contained my pills and tried to open the doors with no luck. I had locked myself out of my car. At that moment, I heard instructions from the CIA to pick up a large rock and smash the windows to my car to gain entry. After breaking into the car I climbed in and swallowed a few pills and lit a cigarette. More instructions encouraged me to present to the public normal behavior so I took the rock and smashed the other window in the front to give the impression of continuity.
Sitting in the car I began to hear more police activity but this time had visual sight of police lights. I got out of the car and walked over to the police officer that was speaking to my neighbor that I had asked to hide the body. The police officer asked if the car with broken windows was mine and why had they been broken. I told the on duty officer that I could not get in contact with a locksmith. The officer had a disappointed look on her face and asked me to put my hands behind my back. She then proceeded to cuff me.
In hand-cuffs, the officer gently assisted me into her vehicle and began driving away from the CIA house where Dr. Hendricx was casually sweeping up the broken glass from my vehicle….
There I was, In the back of a police vehicle, I peered in the front part of the cab and looked at the computer screen between the driver and his partner. The screen said “suspicious signs”, or that’s what my mind read. I suspect I read suspicious signs from the computer screen because these particular signs are ruptures in language creating new meaning…
Thus, according to the police’s computer, I was creating new language in this new season of my program, Contesting Admission.
I looked at the sign. I had been here before. One year earlier when feeling suicidal I took myself to Binghamton General Hospital for an evaluation. I was told it was my only chance of seeing a doctor in less than six months. So, I went to Psychiatric triage in the Emergency room was given some soda, and sent home shortly after seeing a clerk.
Now I saw the sign again. Bold letters: Psychiatric Emergency Room. Of course, still in handcuffs, and under police supervision, I backed away from the receptionist. A few people were watching television. I compulsively said “Barbara Walling and Dr. Heywood a few times and sat down”. The police officer told me to clam down. I wasn’t out of control at the moment though. Simply, I was incoherent. The receptionist called me over to the desk. She asked me a few questions. The lady at the desk asked me my name, my phone number, an emergency contact, and if this was my first time in the Emergency Room. I answered back: “Barbara Walling, Dr. Heywood, Barbara Walling Barbara Walling” the two names of staff members from the English Department from the previous semester.
Within five minutes of this questioning, I was given an ID bracelet and asked to follow a nurse behind the triage area and into the Emergency Room proper. Once again, just like a year previously, I was asked my choice of beverage. I asked for ginger ale and smiled graciously.
After five or so minutes, I was asked to walk down a long corridor with mirrors affixed to the ceilings so guards could see past corners in case of any danger from their clients. I was asked to wait in a room until an evaluator could see me. Still with the cup in my hand I peered out of the room to see another room perpendicular to my own housing a guard. I walked down to him and he asked me to get back into my room. I did. At that very moment I noticed another set of doors in the opposite direction. I heard my friends through those doors. Very plainly I heard the voices: “We are still filming your movie. This is the climax scene. Everyone is here for your big finish”. I was ecstatic. My movie, according to the voices, was finally over. We could all be together again. My family, my friends, figures from past and present, united once more.
I kept inching out into the hallway to see if I could make out any movement past the door with my loved ones. The guard, at this point, somewhat irritated, asked me to get back into my room. Feeling on top of the world, with a blockbuster Hollywood movie on its way into the public domain, I became defiant: “No, I’m staying here”, I made clear to the staff. At this very moment, I crushed my soda cup in my hand to show my control over the situation just to be subsequently tackled by the guard and two other men he summoned at the last second. I fell to the ground, and they injected me with a shot of an unknown nature.
I woke the next day in a hospital room outfitted for two people. I looked to my right and there was a middle aged Chinese man laying still. I tried to get more sleep but I couldn’t. I simply gazed at the man for a few hours before the Mental Health workers assigned to my room called me into breakfast.
The unit at Binghamton General Hospital BGH was set up in a traditional manor. There was one long hallway where the patient’s rooms were located. Perpendicular to that hallway was the nurses’ station, medication room, and farther down the hallway, a lounge and the offices along with the dining room. Right next to the nurses’ station was the Quiet room where patients go when they cannot behave safely.
Outside the dining room the meal cart was parked. We had to go up to the meal cart, say our name, and we would given the tray of food. I grabbed my tray and sat down at an empty table. I was not hungry. A middle aged women inched by me in a walker crying with white powder crusted around her mouth. I lost my appetite immediately that first meal.
At that moment, I met Elizabeth. She sat down next to me. She started talking about god and the devil. Not fully aware of my new surroundings yet, I stood up, and walked away saying: “I’m going to disengage” However, with my fondness for eccentric personalities, I came back to the table periodically only to say “I’m going to disengage” when the conversation became to stressed.
In my worldview, I was in a FBI or CIA laboratory working in tandem with SUNY-Binghamton to monitor my behavior and report the results to the Army which was interested in my stamina training from excessive stimulant usage. Since there were no stimulants in the hospital, I figured I had to be quick in my actions before I lost my concentration or I would fail the tests on my body by the government.
In the hospital I patrolled the hallways of the uni and most of the time, goose-stepping and holding my chin in the air like a old world dictator. The unit had to know I was in control, or so I thought would be conveyed by my behavior. I knew I was being observe but I had no idea of the magnitude. That was when I found video cameras in the nurses’ station. They could see the entire unit. I simply pointed to my eyes and pointed to the cameras to make it known I was aware I was being watched without saying so because people were listening everywhere or so I thought.
The final night I was at the Community Hospital I heard screaming all night long from my neighbor’s room, Elizabeth. She was carrying on like a child. The screams resembled those of a baby’s cries. I kept pressing the button next to my bed to summon the staff but nobody arrived until the next morning. Given the sleep deprivation, and my comprimised mental status, I was delirious at this point. By the same the staff from the unit was in my room addressing the situation I was feeling so naueous from the noise all night that I leaned over and vomited on the social worker and lunged towards the psychiatrist for help….
I was immediately placed in a quiet room. About an hour later, the doctor came into my room and told me that I would be transferred to another hospital and that I would be staying there for a very long time….
Max Guttman is the owner of Recovery Now in New York. Max provides psychotherapy, complex case management, community consultation, and self-management skill-building groups. His approach is based on evidenced-based practices (EBP). Max earned a master’s degree in Social Work from Binghamton University. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) and a field instructor for both postgraduate and undergraduate students at Lehman College. He is also a social work supervisor and psychotherapist at Courtlandt Avenue Clinic in the South Bronx where he teaches students social work praxis in New York City. In addition to this responsibilities, he manages Mental Health Affairs, a mental health blog.
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