Sunday, February 15, 2009

How to Recover from a Psychosis without Medicine

The Story of Joris van Huijstee (42)
How to Recover from a Psychosis without Medicine
Translated from the NRC Handelsblad (
14/15 February 2009

After a psychosis it’s as if you rise from the dead. You have to be re-born emotionally. Someone who’s never had a psychosis doesn’t understand what that means. There’s little empathy in society for psychiatric patients. If you break your legs, someone holds the door open for you, even ten years later, but for a psychiatric patient, the door is slammed shut. It’s an unbelievably hard existence. Even so, a psychosis isn’t the end of the world. You can even recover using your own strength.

At a certain point, when I had a psychosis, I took things into my own hands. I didn’t go in for treatment. I decided to address the problem itself: I stopped taking medicine, and took the long road toward independence. You take medicine for your surroundings; you look like you fit in, but that’s only on the outside.

The pharmaceuticals have a lot of influence in psychiatric healthcare. It’s slowly become this way over the past twenty years. Psychiatrists used to look at the symptoms of an illness, and then they’d give a diagnosis. These days, they mostly ask themselves: What can I prescribe? I think it’s important that people who experience the same things that I have realize that you can also recover naturally. I think that many patients yearn for a life without medication. The majority of the psychiatrists will say that you can’t recover, but I haven’t taken medication in 15 years, and I also haven’t been depressed in 15 years.

The psychosis manifested itself in 1990 during a period of heavy drug and alcohol use. For years I blackened my lungs with cigarettes and marijuana. I got drunk when I was 15 for the first time. I drank more than the others, and I always stayed longer at parties, instead of going home to study for my exams. When I was 24 it was as if my brain slowly opened a door to a past that I’d always kept closed. As a child I experienced trauma that I repressed for years that came back then like a boomerang.

I was thrown into the grow-up world early on. I lived in a foster home for five years, from the time I was six-years-old, because my parents had relationship problems. I was abused there by the teenage son of the family and his friend. For a long time it seemed like a taboo subject. I came to a still-stand emotionally when I was six. When I was 24 I started to re-experience the trauma. I had an identity crisis. There were times when I didn’t know my own name anymore.

A psychosis is a degenerative process. Your mind actually walks off, separates from the body. You think irrationally, fantasy and reality are no longer separable. My mind couldn’t bear the physical re-experiencing, and that manifested itself in angst. I was scared of everything all day long. I’d never experienced that before.

I was committed for a year to a psychiatric hospital. Everyone in such a hospital has a damaged child inside of himself. I didn’t want to acknowledge the memories of the fearful boy in the crevices of my memory. My treatment consisted of talk-therapy, working with clay, and painting. I also got anti-psychotics. The intention is that you gradually go off the medicine, but they usually have side effects that need to be counter-acted with more medicine, so that, after half a year, you’re swallowing five pills in the morning, and five at night.

I read that 10 percent of the people on these medicines are chemically “happy.” They lead a so-called happy life, but in reality the chemicals paralyze part of your nervous system. It’s not a cure. The side effects bring new suffering with them. Medicine makes you cynical, bitter, and paranoid. You can become depressed from them, and even become psychotic. On top of it all, the medicines always come with a warning that if you stop taking them, your symptoms will return even worse than before. Nine out of ten patients relapse sooner or later. They have a subscription to the institution, and are dependent on medicine.

You can ask yourself if medicine serves the patient or the pharmaceuticals. Their interests are at odds with each other. I’m not suggesting that everyone should stop taking his medicine, but that once you're in its clutches, it’s difficult to break free. If people know about your psychiatric background, and you have bags under your eyes, then they think it’s from the medicine, but with someone else they think, he just didn’t get enough sleep.

One of the reasons I stopped singing the institutional song is that, I think, I choose instinctively for hormone therapy. I asked the therapist for it because I had the feeling that I wouldn’t make it without some extra power. Life in an institution is no walk in the park. It’s a hell. In prison, at least the prisoners have the idea that they can escape. That gives them hope. Pharmaceuticals take the hope away that it’s possible to live without medicine. Some patients can’t cope with reality. It would be good if they added hormone therapy to the medicine to give the patients strength. They could derive some hope from it, and the feeling that there’s been a stay of execution.

During therapy I learned to talk about my fears. You get a handle on them so that you can register and analyze them, but re-living them comes later. But I wasn’t cured when I came out of the hospital. I got the idea that I had Aspergers-syndrome, a form of autism. There were many signals that pointed in that direction. The conclusion was that they couldn’t rule Aspergers out, but the therapists weren’t interested in the diagnosis since there wasn’t much they could do for me as an adult, they said. They only wanted to give me chemical medicines. I avoided this. I left and decided to pave my own way.

It was a road with thousands of incremental steps. I sometimes say, I didn’t cry a thousand tears at once, but cried one tear a thousand times. It was a question of perseverance. My theory is that mental illness stems from diseased organs. The mental health sector sees things the other way around. The brain controls the body. I think that, for example, if the lungs, liver or kidneys are diseased that the blood pressure changes, and that’s how psychosis occur.

If you can ensure that blackened lungs, and kidneys damaged by alcohol abuse, function normally, then it will have a positive effect on the diseased brain. That’s why I stopped smoking and drinking ten years ago. In order to cure the kidney damage, I drank four or five liters of liquids per day to keep my bladder functioning well. Everyday I walked five-ten kilometers. I have a tendency to shut off into myself, but I forced myself to look forward to tomorrow. In addition, I followed various alternative and homeopathic therapies.

If you don’t drink or smoke and you’re not dependent on medicine, then you’ll do what you need to do. You don’t stay in bed as easily. After a while I got a job as a telemarketer, and I was good at it. I even won tickets to the Champion League between Ajax and AC Milan in Venice because I was the top salesperson in our department. But at a certain point, I thought, if you choose for a life without medicine, and you’re critical of the influence of the pharmaceuticals on mental health, then you shouldn’t be sitting on the phone selling products. You should pick up a pencil ("pick up your gloves") and write down your story to help people with similar problems.

I’d already written detective novels. Time heals a psychosis. This time I wrote an autobiographical report. Of utmost importance was the message. I wanted to express a contrary opinion. In the chapter, “Mental Illness Stems from the Body,” I wrote about how I found my way toward recovery.

That’s cost me a lot of energy the past several years. I haven’t made it big in society, which is unfortunate. But, first things first. I live on government assistance, write books, give Dutch lessons to asylum seekers, and private Dutch lessons to foreigners. One day I’d like to generate my own income. If my book, now only available online, is downloaded a lot, perhaps I’ll find a publisher. I’m driven, and I would like to be successful in life. I’m not scared that the psychosis will come back. I know how to survive.

Joris van Huijstee’s books can be downloaded online for free (in Dutch) at http//