I Have A Crazy Beautiful Story About Psychosis

I have a crazy beautiful story about Psychosis. It was also absolutely terrifying. For those who have not read my threads on Psychosis, I did my PhD on the neuroscience of emotion. I asked the question where is emotion in the brain? Hemispheric asymmetry: the divided brain. #HealingTrauma

Well it turns out it’s not just in the brain. It is also in our body. It also turns out this is a living cosmos. Bessel van der Kolk pioneered Psychiatry with The Body Keeps the Score. However, my third year of my PhD was in 2011, so these ideas were not fully mainstream.

2011 was also the year of Occupy Wall Street protests. The Maya calendar. Some said would be a spiritual revolution. Others, the end of the world. It was also when experts from all different fields increasingly appeared on TED Talks calling for social and political change.

Dr Brené Brown released her world famous TED Talk: The Power of Vulnerability (2011).
Occupy Wall Street Protests (2011).

Finally, Psychiatrist Ian McGilchrist had just released a book The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World; shortlisted for the 2010 Bristol Festival of Ideas Book Prize; long listed for the Royal Society 2010 Prize for Science Books.

Psychiatrist and author Ian McGilchrist.
The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World (2010).

McGilchrist’s work was also on hemispheric asymmetry. He argued that there once was a balance between the two hemispheres of the brain. The fractured and decontextualized world we see today is a consequence of the left hemisphere out running the right.

Among other things, the left hemisphere is the bureaucrat trapped in a hall of mirrors who cannot see outside of himself. He cannot see the whole picture, which is too big. So the brain formulates a map, which works for the most part. However, this map has become so far removed from reality, illustrated in our explosion of mental illness and climate crisis.

“Our education system has mined our minds in the way that we strip-mine the earth: for a particular commodity. And for the future, it won’t serve us. We have to rethink the fundamental principles on which we’re educating our children.” – Sir Ken Robinson’s world famous TED Talk. ‘Do schools kill creativity?’ (2006).

McGilchrist described the right hemisphere as relational and connected to all that is. However, its all knowing voice is silent.

Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor released a TED Talk A Stroke of Insight that mirrored this. She had a stroke in her left hemisphere. As her left hemisphere shut down so did her constant brain chatter, “to do” lists and years of baggage. Imagine that.

Dr Jill Bolte Taylor released her world famous TED Talk: A Stroke of Insight (2008).

Dr Taylor’s right hemisphere was still online which she described affectionately as “la la land”. She also realised that this is traditionally known as Nirvana: Freedom.

According to Dr Taylor our left hemisphere is the “I am”; our sense of separateness:

I am Louise. I am female. I am 37. I am Australian. I am an Academic. I am a Psychologist. I am a Human Rights Activist. The right hemisphere is not interested in “I am”:

So here, I am “that which is not”, inseparably connected to everything, beyond words.

So you can imagine me at 25 asking a simple question “Where is emotion in the brain?” and by 27 stumbling upon all of this. My PhD had taken me from my left hemisphere to my right. I became nothing, connected to the entire universe, beyond words.

Isha Yoga Centre, Tamil, India.

“The word Yoga means “union”. Yoga is not a religion. We looked at the Universe and saw a union.” – Sadhguru

So I’m in the university lab one day. I’m watching TED talks, Occupy Wall Street protests and people talking about the end of the world, thinking to myself, I just found this secret treasure, the solution to life’s greatest dilemma: a divided brain in the Western World.

Next minute, this woman walks into the lab wearing nothing but swimmers with bleeding cuts and scratches on her legs. Her eyes are wide awake. She had just come out of a night spent in the rainforest. She said to me “I’ve been connected to the Universe”. I was speechless.

This women was in a mixed state of blissfulness, distress and terror. As I began to comfort her, my PhD supervisors returned from somewhere. They asked if she was okay. The woman started sharing her story. Next minute a clown on a scooter comes into the lab.

The clown interrupts us and starts making an animal with a balloon. The first thing that came to my mind was the left hemisphere bureaucrat! Distraction from this moment of truth at hand. In reality it was just Orientation Week. A friendly clown the university had hired.

Before I knew it an ambulance arrived and she was taken away. I asked my supervisor what will happen to her. I was advised that they took her to the mental health hospital. This destroyed me. My favourite Psychology classic is from the 1970s “On Being Sane In Insane Places”.

The researchers got some randoms, such as Doctors, Teachers, Psychologists, with no history of mental illness, to admit themselves into a psychiatric institution and pretend they had Schizophrenia. The experiment found that they were diagnosed with Schizophrenia.

The researchers told the hospital that they admitted pseudo patients who were not really mentally unwell and then asked them to guess which ones were “normal”. The experts then classified those who they thought were “normal”. However, the researchers tricked them.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

The institution they selected had no pseudo patients at all. This classic piece demonstrates experts can diagnose the “sane as insane” and the “insane as sane”; hence the name “On Being Sane In Insane Places.” This is my all time favourite experiment in Psychology.

It was also the only thing that came to my mind as I learnt the women who had been connected to the Universe was taken away. This was the beginning of my Psychosis. I remember crying for the woman. My supervisors asked if I was okay.

I tried to explain the left and right hemisphere. It made no sense logically. They wanted me to see the university Psychologist. They were genuinely caring. I did not want to see the university Psychologist. Although I went anyway. All I could see was my PhD everywhere.

Australian Geographic: Laura Dance Festival
Cape York, Australia.

“You belong to all that is there
and all that is there belongs to you.”

– Bobb Randall

I thought to myself was this Psychologist trapped in her left hemisphere as well? Does she know about “la la land” (i.e. Nirvana)? I told her my PhD was on the neuroscience of emotion. Hemispheric asymmetry. I told her about the left and right hemisphere.

I told her absolutely nothing in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders can describe the experience I had. The experience the woman had. An experience beyond words. Beyond a diagnosis. Beyond a book. Beyond science. She looked at me oddly. That was that.

On the one hand I felt like I had found the answer to the greatest problem we have repeatedly played out for thousands of years. I knew I was not alone because I heard expert after expert say the same thing, in a different way, in their field of practice, in TED Talks.

I saw young people Occupy Wall Street asking for a fairer world. I personally experienced myself in the universe beyond my name, gender, age, ethnicity, privilege, socio economic status, education, titles and so on. How could such insight not be beautiful and worth sharing?

Intimacy (safety, stillness, low arousal, flip side of freeze).

How could nobody else in my immediate world see this except the woman who was taken away? My own Psychosis kicked in. In my quest for truth I too ended up in a psychiatric hospital. I too ended up on medication. I too ended up having Electroconvulsive Therapy.

I too ended up going from teaching Psychology at a university at 25 to unemployed by 28 and absolutely terrified of intellectuals. My first episode of Psychosis took nearly three years to recover. You are on more of a marathon than a sprint.

It was the most crazy beautiful terrifying experience I’ve had. The most difficult experience of my mother’s life. Ten years has past. Including a second episode, because I am a stubborn seeker of truth. Besse van der Kolk is now mainstream and the leading expert in trauma.

Pioneering Trauma Expert Bessel van der Kolk.

In 20 years, I have seen my field dramatically transform from a fixed mindset of pathology (i.e. abnormal psychology), to neuroplasticity (i.e. our brains are not fixed, they constantly change and heal), person centred therapy (i.e. who or what harmed you and how can I use my power to empower you)

to Trauma Informed Care (i.e. safety, trustworthiness, choice, collaboration and empowerment), and now as of 2018 the Power Threat Meaning Framework (i.e. while each injustice differs, all stories share the same trauma: the negative operation of power; a call for social and political change).

Australian of the Year Grace Tame: #LetHerSpeak

“Using my voice amongst a growing chorus of voices that will not be silenced. Let’s make some noise Australia.”

Dr Gabor Mate has been awarded the order of Canada for his contribution to trauma, addiction and his work with First Nations Canadians. He just released a movie The Wisdom of Trauma which calls for a trauma informed world. In his words:

“Depression is rising. Youth suicide is rising. All is not well. So the question is can we be human beings in the midst of civilization? Because what we call civilization demands the denial of human needs. Every human being has a true, genuine authentic self and the trauma is that disconnection from it and the healing is that reconnection to it.”

Trauma and Addiction Expert Dr Gabor Maté.

Bessel Van der Kolk: “Beneath the surface of protective parts of trauma survivors there exists an ‘undamaged essence’, a ‘Self that is confident, curious, and calm’, a ‘self’ that has sheltered from destruction’ by various protectors that have emerged in their efforts to ensure survival.”

Importantly, “Once those protectors trust it is safe to separate, the ‘Self will spontaneously emerge’, and the parts can be enlisted in the healing process.” Sounds awfully like poetry: “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it” – Mawlana Jala-al-Din Rumi.

Life is crazy beautiful terrifying.

I was too young to make sense of all of this. You might be too. I can confidently say now after surviving two episodes of Psychosis, we do live in a truly magical world, in the sense that, science, arts and poetry all dance around this nameless truth.

Dr Maya Angelou (1928-2014):

“Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.”

I would also like to point out something very significant. This is the first time in the history of humanity that science, psychology, psychiatry, wisdom traditions and technology converge. This is the first time in history that we can communicate with the entire world.

This is the first time as one a global humanity we could drop all outdated beliefs to break the cycle of thousands of years of intergenerational trauma (i.e. Power Threat Meaning Framework). Please do not understate the significance of this once in a lifetime opportunity.

Neuroscience and Wisdom Traditions converge.

“Incredible things can be done simply if we are committed to making them happen.” – Sadhguru

However, crazy beautiful terrifying it may be. I will never know what happened to the woman who was taken away. If I could go back in time with my insight and courage all I would say is “it’s okay”, “don’t be afraid” and “me too”.

And guess what?

There is now a documentary The Divided Brain inspired by Psychiatrist Ian McGilchrist’s book on the Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. Described as a mind-altering documentary that features Iain McGilchrist with actor-comedian John Cleese of “Monty Python”, neuroanatomist Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor of TED Talks fame a Stroke of Insight,

The Divided Brain Documentary.

pioneering neuroscientist Dr. Michael Gazzaniga, former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, neuroscientist Jurg Kesselring, Aboriginal elder and scientist Dr. Leroy Little Bear, neuroscientist Onur Gunturkun, and – brains!”

Critics praised his book as being a landmark publication that could alter readers’ perspective of how they viewed life. Others say “the findings of brain science are nowhere near fine-grained enough to support the large psychological and cultural conclusions Iain McGilchrist draws”. Of course not, science never will (i.e. left hemisphere).

According to Besse van der Kolk: “The prevailing brain-disease model overlooks fundamental truths. Being able to feel safe with other people is probably the single most important aspect of mental health; safe connections are fundamental to meaningful and satisfying lives.”

So what does all of this mean in practical terms? If we had leaders and experts who put this knowledge and wisdom into practice, we can and will change social conditions to create environments in which children and adults can feel safe and where they can thrive.

The End.

“The language of psychosis is an intelligible one, though steeped in metaphor. It is a human language, but a language of despair. And it is only spoken when all other attempts of communication have failed.” – Dr Dan Edmunds.

My friend Jane…

“Not everything that is faced can be changed,
but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

– James Baldwin

Now you know the power of Trauma Informed Care. Let’s turn this framework into a mindset for personal, social and political change. If you are unable to, you might need help first, to get safe or become ‘unstuck’ from trauma. Reach out for trauma informed care. #YouBelong

With love,

Dr Louise Hansen
Psychologist
PhD in Psychology
Human Rights Activist

#HealingTrauma #Justice4Australia #WeAllBelong

Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu -Wiyathul (2008):

“Märrma djiawurr näthinana,
nambawu larrunana Guwalilnawu
Rirrakayunmina liyanydja milkarri,
nambawu larrunana Murrurnawu
Roniyirri rirrakayyu. y.a barrawajayu y.a
Mutlwutjna galaniniyu
Ga namba Guwalilna,
ga namba Warradika,
ga namba Yumayna,
Yä wulman näthinana,
yä dhiyanuna lanyindhu dhungunayu
Yä bäpa Kamba-Djunadjuna,
miln’thurruna mayma Mayan-naraka
Yä nändi manda, marrkapmirri manda,
nhumanydja nayathanana Ruypu Milinditj
Yä nändi manda marrkapmirri manda,
nhumanydja näthiyana milnurr Burarrapu
Yä namba guwalilna,
yä gunambal warradika,
yä namba Yumayna.”

#YouBelong

https://youtu.be/PNLQGaFjdhA
Dr Tracey Westerman AM:

“I’m a proud Psychologist; but the Psychology profession must own the fact the entirety of its training is built on a foundation of cultural exclusion.

No embedded, data driven, clinically determined Indigenous content in any Psychology degree in Australia. We have a side order of cultural awareness instead.”
#IncarcerationNation

https://youtu.be/XUyfAme3i_U

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” – James Baldwin
“Feeling overwhelmed by the amount of support we received overnight! We’re able to fund one more Indigenous Psychology student for a full three year Psychology degree from just a 10 minute appearance on ABC #TheDrum.” – Dr Tracy Westerman AM

If you would like to donate, please visit:

https://www.thejilyainstitute.com.au/about-us/
My partner Marcelo Alegre Rubic who taught me do not let anyone control your life. #YouBelong

Trauma Informed World was inspired by Kopika and Tharnicaa; two faces that remind us everyday of Australia’s cruel refugee system. One of many systems in Australia that remind us of the negative operation of power. #HomeToBilo

Kopika (left) and Tharnicaa (right) were kept at Christmas Island Detention Centre for nearly two years despite trauma informed calls to return them to Biloela, Queensland. Tharnicaa has spent most of her life detained by the Australian Government and is still in community detention to this day. #YouBelong
Trauma Informed World respects and acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the Traditional Custodians of the land and waterways on which this educational resource was inspired. I acknowledge and respect Elders past, present and emerging. I honour the continuation of educational, cultural and spiritual practices and celebrate the extraordinary diversity of people and relationships worldwide. This website contains images of deceased persons. There are also swear words in some of the songs presented that portray intense emotions. This website is not intended to trigger people who have experienced trauma. However, if you do find any of the content triggering, each page has a link to Australia’s National Helplines and Websites for immediate mental health support. These are my own personal views and comments and may not reflect the views of my employer.

Australia’s National Helplines and Websites:

https://www.beyondblue.org.au/get-support/national-help-lines-and-websites

To provide the best information possible, Beyond Blue has listed national helplines and external services. All services linked to Beyond Blue are reviewed before they are posted.

Published by Dr Louise Hansen

This is a free educational website on Trauma Informed Care for survival and wellbeing. While each injustice differs, all stories share the same trauma: the negative operation of power. Let’s break the cycle of injustice and trauma together one day at a time. The byproduct of clarity is peace. Joy is peace dancing. Trauma is disconnection. Empathy fuels connection. Knowledge is power: “Love is the absence of judgment.” – His Holiness the Dalai Lama. #YouBelong

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