The following is an important article by my friend Ruth Anne Dean. In it she tells us about a widely misundertstood disorder of the brain which almost took her life. She is an encouragement to me for the way in which she has endured deep suffering and yet emerged in joy and a persevering faith in Christ:
It was a warm spring day that matched the mood of our six-year old daughter. For her it was a day of hope that seemed to spill from the earth as it was warmed by the sunshine. As we walked home from the kindergarten bus stop she bent over and plucked a dandelion that had gone to seed. I paused to watch her purse her lips and blow the dandelion’s white down into the fresh air as she whispered, “I wish for a puppy.
The sweet side of my children came out especially when they were playing with their pets. Our son always had a cat. For the new kitten he chose a very soft old blanket and made the new kitten bed in his bottom desk drawer.
This was the calm before the storm. Our family of four was not prepared for me to suddenly develop major depressive disorder with psychosis. I had some knowledge from nursing school about mental health, but no amount of knowledge could prepare me for the vortex of confusion and heartache that lay ahead.
I was already struggling physically with Crohn’s disease and the stress it caused. A rheumatoid type of arthritis went with it and caused swelling and pain in my joints. Within three weeks of starting a new medication for my health problems a reaction to a medication caused me to slip into a severe low sodium called hyponatremia. I had symptoms of chills, sweats, weakness, confusion and pallor with this low sodium.
When a person in a low sodium state is returned to normal too rapidly, severe abnormalities can develop in their brain. Unfortunately this is what happened to me causing my brain to take a free fall into hell.
In his book The Case for Grace, Lee Strobel, the former investigative journalist and current Christian apologist and author, provides an excellent description of his brief episode of insanity when he experienced a life threatening health crisis with hyponatremia. Here is his description:
“what threatened my life the most was hyponatremia—my blood sodium level had plummeted to the point where life was unsustainable. Water was entering my cells and triggering dangerous swelling of my brain. Doctors needed to raise the level back to normal to stabilize me, but it had to be done slowly and carefully. If it were elevated to quickly, the brain could be irreparably damaged, leading to death or severe disability.”
“Alone in the bedroom, my yet-to-be diagnosed hyponatremia continued to worsen. I became utterly convinced that everything in my life was gone. My wife was leaving me. My children were denouncing me. My friends were abandoning me. My bank accounts were dry. The house and cars were being repossessed. Police were hunting for me for unspecified crimes. Though innocent, I was headed to prison and disgrace. I imagined myself living in a dirt field, alone, shivering against the Colorado cold, with nowhere to go and nobody to help me.”
“From my perspective, this was no medically induced fantasy; this was indistinguishable from reality. I felt the full emotional impact of every part of it.”
Without minimizing Lee Strobel’s experience with hyponatremia in any way, the consequences of my experience with it were catastrophic and life-altering. I experienced similar delusions, convinced that my family would soon be starving and living under a bridge because of the imminent world economic crisis. On my mind was a picture of me huddled in a small cave with walls of dirt and bare roots with the devil in the background waiting to take me.
My whole life I had eagerly anticipated the joy of being a mother, but now the role I treasured brought nothing but pain. Thoughts of my imagined failure as a mother assaulted me. Another delusion was that I lost my salvation and relationship with Jesus. Repentance was not an option for me, and hell was what I deserved. The emotions attached to these delusions were intense, and profound loneliness and hopelessness engulfed me. This all began suddenly and lasted for one very long year. I was experiencing psychosis which made it impossible for me to grasp the person I had been for the previous 48 years. It was like being alone in a black hole and falling, falling, falling. Every thought convinced me I was worthless. Psychiatric care was needed. My psychiatrist described my brain as being in a total shutdown. My normal brain function had ceased; it was as if I had lost my very self.
My brain continued to deteriorate and I began having suicidal thoughts. One day, alone in the upstairs of our home, tragedy struck. I suddenly felt as if my head was detached from my body and I started running but didn’t know where I was going. I was like a marionette on a string, with a puppeteer in charge of my every move. Unable to control my actions, I ran to the window and fell twenty feet below to cement, permanently damaging my spine. The nightmare continued. Two hours by ambulance to the hospital, seven hours of surgery, seven units of blood and seven days in the hospital. Of that time I remember almost nothing except the shocked, heartbroken faces of my children when they learned I would never walk again. I was still psychotic, but knew my behavior could not be understood by my family or anyone else, including me. I’ve heard actions like mine were a choice. It was actually like a seizure. These actions were something I would never choose.
The term that describes our family’s sorrow at that time is “ambiguous grief.” We were all grieving the loss of me; my body was there, but in it was someone else’s brain. My children gave voice to what they were experiencing. My son missed my laughter when I talked on the phone. My daughter missed the sound of my voice as we talked because I rarely talked. We hoped medication would help me recover my personality but there were no guarantees. When the correct medication and dosage were found, my brain began to slowly function normally again. I was so thankful when normal returned although by now I had to learn to do life in a wheel chair because of the spinal cord injury, but that was absolutely nothing compared to pain of depressive psychosis.
Twenty years passed before I told my psychiatrist about my detached mind experience leading to the fall. He described my experience as a psychotic break, caused by the brain’s chemical serotonin level falling so low that there was an actual break in the transmission of nerve impulses between my body and brain. What I had experienced was something with a medical explanation. My strange behavior which included self harm were symptoms of a mental illness like spots are a symptoms of the measles.
My thoughts while I was ill were strange and illogical, which was very hard for my friends and family’s logical brains to understand. On occasion one would try to convince me out of a delusion by logical reasoning. Absolute failure was the result.
I have found many people who are unacquainted with mental illness do not understand or accept the illogical thoughts of the mentally ill. There are over 200 brain disorders that demonstrate how crippling a brain disorder can be. Here are three of them, imagine yourself living a normal life with any one these:
- Cotard’s syndrome causes a person to think he or she is dead.
- Prosopagnosia can cause a person to not be able to recognize their own face in a mirror.
- Capgas delusions causes a person to think that their loved ones have been replaced by an imposter.
Jesus understood illnesses and touched all types with His healing power.
Mathew 4: 23-24 KJV “and Jesus went out about all Galatia teaching in the synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing all manner of diseases among the people. And His fame went throughout all Syria and they brought unto Him all sick people that were taken with diverse diseases, and those that were possessed with devils and those who were lunatic and torments and those that had the palsy and He healed them.
Over the years Christians have fed the hungry, cared for the sick, taken the orphan for their own, built hospitals and orphanages, and started schools. They have worked to end slavery, infanticide, child labor and widow burning. Treatment of the mentally ill has been bogged down by fear, stigma and lack of knowledge. But mental illness and the pain that accompanies it can be just as devastating as these other scenarios. It is my hope that the reader of this article will see the human brain as an amazing work done by an awesome Creator. It is an organ that can suffer disease like any other organ of the body. When someone is experiencing pain or dysfunction of any kind, we should be a reflection of the compassion that Jesus showed, also helping to provide what is needed to accomplish healing and alleviate suffering. While we are created in the image of our awesome Creator, we are called to do His work of healing in whatever ways He calls us to do.
I also want to encourage people to have compassion for those who have suffered psychotic breaks. People underestimate their susceptibility to mind-altering drugs, to psychosis, to breakdowns. It can happen. There are videos of “tough guys” on YouTube who fight against being put under and wrongly believe they won’t lose consciousness when given anesthesia, that they are too tough and too strong to be knocked out, but eventually they do lose consciousness. Every time.
Psychotropics can cause you to lose your mind. I am not a doctor and this is not medical advice.
Also, severe enough trauma tends to have the potential to produce psychosis in victims. Abusers strategically inflict severe enough trauma in order to produce a psychotic, deranged-seeming victim so the abusers can falsely claim to be the victim of a “crazy woman”. Same thing happens with reactive abuse. The woman is badly abused and constantly takes it until she finally reacts badly with abusiveness of her own and he usually records such and then claims it is further proof of her being the abuser and him being the victim of not only a “crazy woman” but a “[b-word]” too.
Then there are the abusers who will drug or intoxicate their victim in order to produce unconsciousness, psychosis, or a very susceptible, vulnerable, suggestible victim. Other abusers will regularly and methodically create such trauma and abuse that they drive the victim to substance abuse in order to cope with the cruelty, the fear and dread, and then such abusers demonize the victim as being an undesirable “drug addict” or “alcoholic”, someone deserving of society’s judgment and shaming./
In short, there are lots of ways to have your life spin out of control. We all are more susceptible and vulnerable to psychosis than we otherwise might want to admit and acknowledge. Abusers use pretty much anything and everything to harm their victims and to have them shunned by others.
This was an interesting post — I work in a school with many students who suffer from emotional issues, mostly anxiety and low self esteem, eating disorders, depression. I have never heard of the effects of low sodium called hyponatremia. I know that low iron and low b-12, often from postpartum, can result in what looks like psychosis episodes.
I am very interested in the link between nutrition and out gut health and mental health and recommend: “The Mood Cure” by Julia Ross, Natasha Campbell-McBride’s new book the “Gut and Physiology Syndrome: Natural Treatment for Allergies, Autoimmune Illness, Arthritis, Gut Problems, Fatigue, Hormonal Problems, Neurological Disease and More,” and Weston A Price journal and articles about the link between nutrition, gut health and mental health.
Sadly, psychotropic drugs, which are initially intended for short term use, typically become long term and forever crutches and only further exacerbate gut health and thus a patient’s reliance on them.
It is absolutely true that a malicious abuser will intentionally create a fog of confusion and gaslight his victim into acting like she is “crazy” and “has mental health problems” especially during a custody case. This is what happened to me and I had to spend over $100,000 in forensic (and court ordered) mental health investigations fees alone (not including the legal fees) and so that my mental health was extensively tested, evaluated, scrutinized only for all of them to be in agreement and report that have no mental concerns about me. Meanwhile, my abuser was not subjected to a single test or evaluation. It took me several years to realize that I had believed my abusers narrative about me that I had mental health problems and that it was “not a marriage problem, but a mental health problem (on my part).” When I finally got the courage to separate from him, he arrange for psychiatric hospitalization of me under the guise that I was irrational for trying to leave him and proceeded to tell mental health experts (and police, who I called for help) that I suffered from psychosis, a personality disorder, was paranoid and acting irrational.
He of course promptly used the hospitalization as means to gain custody leverage — in the overwhelming absence of any negative reports about my parenting.
My separation efforts in response to his abuse were irrelevant and immaterial (as his response to my separation efforts, which he testified to: taking and hiding my child when I was sleeping and refusing to tell me where she was, taking my car keys and refusing to give them too me, draining my car battery and canceling my only credit card) and all that mattered was his claim that I was somehow irrational and paranoid, so therefore needed to be hospitalized, and then because I was hospitalized I therefore proved his claim that I was irrational, paranoid and had mental health problems.
It all sounds so unreal, but it happened. I then had to spend hundreds of thousands in Family Court to convince the court i was not mental ill as he stated I was. Incredibly, he repeatedly objected to my every effort to dispute the legitimacy of the hospitalization (were arranged in the absence of a verifiable mental illness and harm to myself or others) including filing Motions to limine expert witnesses and eye witnesses and the Court allowed it. Conversely, he as late as this past year, continued to assert that because I was hospitalized I therefore had mental health issues – even though the hospital records clearly reported my abuser making many phone calls to them and telling them I suffered from psychosis, BPD and paranoia and was irrational. I was even court ordered to take (and pay for) an intelligence test because he claimed my thinking was illogical – even though I had an advanced degree and steady employment until I was married and he forbid me to work – claiming it was because we lived in Europe at the time so it was not practical. Just as the Court never ordered him to take a mental health exam, they also never ordered him to take an intelligence test.
Even more incredible is that not a single Family Law attorney ever suggested that arranging for a psychiatric hospitalization for someone under false pretense is a crime of false imprisonment. This is something I had to research and figure out on my own and then had to spend hundreds of hours combing through all of his statements to compile a list of all his contradictory statements evidencing his involvement in arranging this. However, I am now bankrupt as he had drained me of all my resources in family court in attempt to bicker over minutia and his personal opinions while using the hospitalization as means to discredit me.
It took me several years to realize that my abuser’s narrative about me is not true, has never even been substantiated by anyone else (friends, family, colleagues, treating mental health professionals), and persists despite the enormous hoops I jump through to contradict his claims. Replacing my abusers voice and narrative with God’s truth and promises has been a game changer for me, in addition to drastically limiting my contact with him without jeopardizing custody.
One Bible verse that has has been a life line for me these past few years when ever he tries to drown me out with his false mental health allegations is (which he has continued to do in court documents as late as 2020):
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” — 2 Timothy 1:7
I have held fast to this promise that a “sound mind” is God’s will for us and He will lead us in such paths. Confusion is from the enemy.
Thank you for your comment, lg. I absolutely believe you 100 percent and don’t doubt it for a second. It has been done to other women, too. You are not alone.
Thank you again, lg, for sharing.
Here is the name of Dr Natasha Campbell-Mcbride’s first book, which address more serious mental illnesses/psychosis and gut related problems:
“Gut and Psychology Syndrome: Natural Treatment for Autism, Dyspraxia, A.D.D., Dyslexia, A.D.H.D., Depression, Schizophrenia” by Dr Natasha Campbell-Mcbride.
I originally referenced her newest book with addresses milder issues.
Another verse is “God is not the author of confusion” ( 1 corinthians 14:33)
I’m so sorry for what you’ve been through, Ruth Anne. Your spirit and strength are so apparent in your words. Thank you for writing this and helping people like me to understand a bit better. I will do better going forward.
So (sadly) interesting that I can relate so well. I had shock treatments and at least they interrupted the severest point in my illness and got me to a point of near-sanity. God graciously healed me, mostly after my abuser was outed and removed from my life. It’s almost unimaginable how one human being can inflict so much cruel harm on another.