I’m in love with a psychotic

She was the most amazing person I'd ever met. Within days, I had to have her committed

Topics: Since You Asked, Psychology,

I'm in love with a psychotic (Credit: Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Hi Cary,

I’m a longtime reader and I appreciate the perspective you bring to people’s issues. I hope you can give me some good advice.

I’ve had easily the most emotionally intense week of my life. I recently reconnected with a casual acquaintance — I honestly don’t know if I’d ever had a one-to-one conversation with her before. I needed a place to store some stuff during an activism event we were both going to, and she offered her place on Facebook. I intended to go over for about an hour, and then off to the march. Instead we didn’t leave each other’s presence for a little over two days. We pretty much only stopped talking to sleep. We fascinated each other. I’ve never connected so quickly with somebody — we seemed to think in the same way, share so many views. She was passionate and incredibly intelligent and has a shining spirit. She stimulated my mind and had such a profoundly loving disposition. I fell in love.

Now this doesn’t happen easily for me. I haven’t been in a relationship for a number of years, and there have been only a handful of people in my life who I feel really “get” me. I make friends easily enough but deep connections like this are rare in my experience.

So all was right in the world, and everything was beautiful. But then things started to change.

To give you some background: She told me she’d recently come out of a long depression and was feeling the most content she ever had. She had been reading a lot about spiritual awakenings and believed that she was in the midst of one. I’m very sympathetic to that idea, and agreed with a lot of what she had to say. But toward the end of the few days we spent together, her views pretty quickly got stranger, and she became intensely interested in the symbolism of seemingly random things. Numbers, letters, colors, patterns — all seemed to contain deep meaning to her. The logic of the symbolism was nonsense, but the conclusions she was coming to were still fairly reasonable things to think, so I was concerned, but not frightened.

We parted ways for about a day, and then I came back, and she was there but gone.

She had written all over her walls, her desk, her floor, strange alphanumeric scribbles that contained deep meaning for her. She was communicating with the dead, a few specific dead people who spoke directly into her head. For a while she believed that I was the reincarnation of Karl Marx, but then decided that in fact she was. She couldn’t stop talking or scribbling for long enough to eat, or drink, or even smoke a cigarette. She was exhausted, gaunt. Over the course of a few hours, she started speaking in deep voices, increasingly frequently, and when they came over her she would tremble uncontrollably. And most worrying for me — she had come to the conclusion that she was meant to travel back in time to fix things (what specifically varied quite a bit), and that the way she had to do it was through a ritualistic suicide. Honestly, it was like she was possessed by a demon. The devil played prominently in her delusions (she’s an atheist), and often satanic symbolism would occur in her scribblings, which she wouldn’t even notice unless I pointed them out. Though it was a warm day, I would find myself shivering. It was a horrific thing to behold.

I decided within minutes of getting there to leave as soon as I could. It was four hours before I could slip away without doing any damage or making her suspicious. While I was there I stayed totally calm, spoke very little, neither confirmed nor denied her delusions, and just tried to focus on my love and project it at her. It was incredibly distressing and difficult to watch her.

After I left I was in shock. After speaking with some close friends who have dealt with mental illness both in themselves and with family members, I came to the conclusion that she was an imminent danger to herself and that I had no choice but to call the police. They arrested her and brought her to a mental ward, where she’s now been for a few days, under mild sedation, still delusional, and awaiting a diagnosis. She doesn’t know I was the one who got her put in there and considers me an ally.

I never thought I would ever call the police on anybody, least of all somebody I cared about, and I have long had a deep mistrust of the mental health system, but I feel as though I had no choice.

She doesn’t seem to have anybody in her life who’s in a position to support her through this. She’s been estranged from her parents for years — they threw her out of the house when she was quite young — and from what she’s told me about those closest to her, it sounds like they largely take advantage of her, in particular an ex of hers who is trying to stay in her life with pretty clearly emotionally abusive tactics. So from where I’m sitting, it looks like I’m the best ally she has. And so I’m pretty much certain that I’m going to rearrange my life to be able to take care of her once she gets out. From all I’ve read about psychosis, it sounds like the most important factor in successful recovery is being in a supportive and stable environment, and I know for a fact she won’t have that if I’m out of the picture.

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So to get around to the question part: is that “crazy”? I’ve known her, really, for less than a week, and I knew her best when she was in a manic, pre-psychotic phase. I realize I may never see the girl I fell in love with again. I realize that this is likely going to cause me (has already caused me!) a lot of emotional pain and suffering. I realize that I can’t “fix” her problems (although I can help provide a stable environment that she can heal in). I realize all this and yet I still want to do this. I made her a promise, very seriously, when she was in the middle of her psychosis. She said that I was going to have to help her with her time travel, to stay behind and wait for signs from her and help her get back. And I looked her in the eye and said, “I will do whatever I can to help you. I promise.” And honestly, though I’ve never believed in fate before, it seems as though I appeared in her life at exactly the right time to help her!

(I should mention also that when her parents kicked her out, it happened immediately after they institutionalized her for a marijuana “addiction,” putting her in a treatment center with people detoxing from much harder drugs. So she has issues surrounding institutionalization and subsequent abandonment. I feel like the worst possible thing I could do right now is disengage!)

So. That’s where I’m at. What do you think of all this?

Lovestruck, Dazed and Confused

Dear Lovestruck,

You made a promise to a person who was hallucinating. You don’t know if she was talking to you or to a horse or to a serpent. You promised to help her with her time travel. Does that mean you promised to help her with her suicide?

Your promise was not a contract between two competent parties. It was an oath charged with mystery and passion.

Who is the person who was brought to life in this encounter with her? What was brought out in you? And what is that person being directed to do?

Perhaps this was an encounter with the divine. Perhaps it is time for you to descend into your own underworld.

It makes sense to ask what you can do to help her. Perhaps you can make sure that she eats. Perhaps you can help stabilize her living situation. You can be an ally but there are practical limits. Do you have a house she can live in? Do you mind if she writes on the walls? Do you mind if she brings home criminals?

That is one danger. There is a larger danger, though, that by placing yourself at her service in a practical way you are misinterpreting the meaning of this encounter. Do not take your promise too literally. You cannot rescue her. And if you try, you may miss your chance to go out into the world to do your own wandering and to enter your own madness, and I suspect that is what this episode is saying.

She handed you a gift. You need the courage to interpret it correctly.

Consider the connections between social activism, martyrdom and madness. In your world activity, you are an activist. Political activism awakens fantasies of rescue and martyrdom. We wish to rescue the world from its sins, and because we are powerless, we often fail, and in doing so enact a kind of martyrdom.

Those of us who envision a better world are often on the outside, poor and misunderstood. We identify with other outsiders who are poor and misunderstood. We distrust established institutions of science and medicine  because they seem to perpetuate the ills we seek to correct.

So who better to represent us, who is more misunderstood, literally, than the madwoman, trapped in a deeply personal world of inscrutable signs and symbols? So we are drawn to the psychotic. Yet, frustratingly, we are forever outside that world and thus in a sense, when compared to the psychotic, we are inauthentic. We are the dominant worldview.

We may want to upend the world order; the psychotic actually does so. Thus her seductive power. Madness seems a kind of revolution. But madness is not a program for change. It is a system of explosive symbols, a kind of fire. Madness and revolution consume their hosts. They lay waste to everything.

So I suggest you ask what this encounter with madness means in your own life. What is speaking to you? What is your next necessary step?

Something happened here. This is about you. Your task will be to descend to your own depths of madness to learn who she is and what her significance is to you.

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