‘You’re Paranoid. You’re Paranoid. They’re coming to get you.’
The best way to describe my experience of paranoia in July 2015 was that everything suddenly clicked in my mind. Every detail of my life suddenly made sense; an alternative explanation and perspective started to dominate my thoughts. Everything and everyone throughout my life had a connection to the conspiracy threatening me.
It was not simply the loss of rationality, but an alternative way of reasoning. In my mind, I was completely rational and the discoveries of conspiracy connections and explanations kept rushing into my mind faster and faster. I was descending into madness, but it just made sense to me. To those around me, my future husband (let’s call him W) and our housemate, it was frighteningly clear that I was becoming more and more irrational, accusing them of being spies, telling them that there were cameras in the eyes of the stuffed animals in the house, that we were being recorded through the camera in my laptop, that all of my emails had been made publicly accessible and that there were secret cameras in the lab at work. I refused to tell them these things in the house due to the cameras and took them to a far corner of the garden where I did not think there were any cameras.
When I told the doctors about these thoughts, they admitted me to a mental health hospital. Unfortunately, I was convinced that the hospital was actually a detention centre where all the people (who said that they were doctors, nurses and patients) were really spies collecting evidence to use against me. I became obsessed with doing the right thing, to show these spies that I was a good person, a good citizen, that I deserved to be set free. I could not tell them that I knew they were spies as then they would think I was trying to fool them just to escape.
The worst part of my paranoia was not the fear and mistrust of the doctors, nurses and patients in the hospital as these were complete strangers I had just met, but the complete loss of trust in everyone in my life and the conspiracy connections that continued to build around my memories. I was convinced that my family knew that I was being watched throughout my life and had been trying to tell me through secret messages. The Truman show is probably the best analogy to my thoughts at this stage. I thought that, though W and housemate were spies, they had grown to love me and care about me and so they were secretly trying to help me escape the web of surveillance that surrounded me. Interestingly, I never doubted that my family or W loved me; in my mind, they were trying to protect me from those that were monitoring and threatening me, but I became obsessed with the thought that they knew everything and had known for years and had never told me. All my friends throughout my life were suspect. I started remembering threatening notes that were put under my door at University and strange emails I had received after moving to Cambridge. At the time that I had received these messages, I thought they were simply nasty pranks of University students and jealous colleagues, but colored with paranoia they took on a sinister hue.
At the hospital, I started taking antipsychotic and antidepression medication. Unfortunately, I thought that the medication was a placebo. In my mind, I was being told that the medicine was real to see if I would pretend to get better. Actually, I got much worse. My thoughts of suicide and paranoia intensified after starting the medication. I vacillated between reading all the information that they provided to refusing to read any information as it was being used to manipulate my responses. I decided that it was all a test, that I was an experiment, that I was under constant observation and one word or action could mean that I would never be set free. I was convinced that the people surrounding me were only trying to gather evidence against me.
In order to counter this ever-present threat, I tried to behave in an impeachable manner. The mental health hospital provided daily activities like Tai Chi, crafting, gardening and encouraged the patients to eat together and interact. At first, I tried to be a model patient doing everything that they recommended, but then I took a turn for the worse again. After a few days in the hospital, during the night, I heard a knock on my door and, when I opened it, I saw a huge burly man with a beard and wild eyes. He tried to push into my room. I slammed the door and pressed the alarm button to call help. I was terrified. When someone came, they told me to calm down and that the person was probably just disoriented and that there was no danger.
I refused to leave my room the next day. It was safer in my locked room. Everyone obviously did not care about me. I became convinced that they had purposely arranged for the incident to see how I would react. They brought W into my room to try to convince me to come out of my room and eat. One of the other problems was that I had decided to stop eating while in the hospital/detention centre as I thought a hunger strike would mean that people outside the hospital/detention centre who were petitioning for my release would have a good case if I was dying from starvation. This also had the additional aspect that I had always thought that dying from starvation was the best way to commit suicide as no one would think it was suicide.
W convinced me to leave my room and eat something. It was obvious that he loved and wanted to help me. He was the only person I trusted at that stage. I stayed as far away from the burly man as possible in the small centre and always made sure to keep a door between me and him. Reading through some one of the many information leaflets that they had given me, I made a discovery. One of the leaflets mentioned that I could be let go if I felt frightened for my life. I thought that they had set up the incident in the night to give me my escape route. They had decided to let me go and this was the way to freedom. After a few days, when W was visiting me, we were sitting outside at a picnic table in the garden when suddenly the burly man approached us and tried to hit W. Frightened, I ran away back into my locked room and demanded that they let me leave. I started sitting by the door of the centre and trying to push my way out whenever anyone entered or left the building.
After a day or so, they allowed me to leave with W, but the worst was yet to come. I was physically free, but mentally entrenched in the conspiracy theory filling my mind. W could not watch me at all times when I was home. A major error was made; I had access to all the pills. As soon as I was left alone for a moment, I took all of the pills. I was convinced that they were placebos (in my mind, I had not experienced any side-effects) and that I was going to prove it to everyone by taking them all. Probably the scariest part of the act was that I thought that my action was completely rational. It was not an act of depression or suicide, it was an act of defiance. In my paranoid delusion, I was proving to all the fake people surrounding me that I knew they were spies and liers and that the pills were fake.
Needless to say, W rushed me to the hospital as soon as he discovered what I had done. I do not remember much of the experience except that I kept saying that I did not believe they were real.