lessons from extremity: that time I lost my mind

I took a surprising number of valuable life lessons from my time on the street.

Things that I rely on pretty actively in my day to day life, now.

Things like #needs-and-wants and #the-whys-of-the-whats, and many more.

I’m not sure yet how to format what I want to write about today, but it has to do with why I think it was such a valuable experience.

I could do this by trying to separate some of the more crucial lessons from the experiences themselves.

That’s kind of the approach I’ve been taking lately; I think there’s a risk of the things I’m trying to communicate getting lost amidst the emotional weight of the stories themselves when I try to tell the whole stories.

But I also suspect that this is more of a failing on my part to tell the stories well, so…. I’m feeling ballsy today, and I know y’all want to hear more stories from the Other Side, so I’ma give this another try.

I had something between three and five pretty major breaks on the street, from the summer of 2017 until January of 2020, depending on what you use to qualify such things.

Those moments when life as I knew it, myself as I knew me-

S H A T T E R E D.

Explosively.

The ways this manifested in my behavior varied, depending on the circumstances, but that was what was going on.

The proverbial baptism by fire, from which we emerge stronger than ever, as something new – or from which we don’t emerge at all.


Okay. After a few minutes’ consideration, this topic is going to have to become a series of articles. Too much, too long, for me to realistically cover all of those experiences in a meaningful way, right now.

So I’ll start with the first major one, which may well turn out to be more of a monumental task than I can take on in one sitting in itself, in a way that even has a chance of communicating what it is I actually want to say.

But I will try. All I can do is try.

 

Since childhood, I had been fiercely independent. Toxically so.

Relied, ultimately, on myself and my senses over that of anyone else.

My first major break on the street was when that assuredness, that unshakeable confidence in my mind and my senses was violently ripped from my grasp.

Summer of 2017, I quit a decade long opiate habit. Cold turkey, except for replacing it with methamphetamine.

I had been mainlining fentanyl by that point for several years, so it was an easy thing to just go in heavy and begin mainlining meth instead.

I’ve never been one to do things….halfway.

I’ma do a thing, I’ma commit.

Now, in order for the full weight of what transpired to be clear, I need to go a little more in depth on some background that y’all may or may not be aware of.

In college, cocaine was my thing. But I didn’t party.

I had a small, rotating group of friends that I talked with.

We shared stories, insights, and experiences and what had been rather spotty personal/spiritual growth on my part became… exponential.

That is when I began developing a series of ideas about humans and the brain and why we do what we do and how I thought tangible steps to reduce suffering on a global level could be taken.

This was merely theoretical Brooke, however. I wasn’t living it, only had enough confidence in myself to even entertain those thoughts when I had the dopamine boost of cocaine.

Those thoughts, they slipped my grasp when sober.

That was my passion, what I lived for. The thing I thought I would do anything to achieve- write a book about those thoughts.

But when I moved to LA, I stopped doing cocaine, stopped having those kinds of conversations, stopped thinking those thoughts, stopped believing in them.

In myself.

This is, I now believe, when my descent into eventual total apathy began, though it would be many, many years before I recognized that fact.

 


So. Summer of 2017, I was just recovered from severe sciatica that had left me nearly suicidal. Apathetic.

When my dealer stopped picking up his phone, just after my tire fell off my car (in which I had been living), I began befriending the homeless people who stayed in the park near the library where I’d been charging my phone.

They all used meth, for reasons I won’t go into at the moment.

I found it helped with my withdrawal and what the fuck else was I doing, anyway?

So I started as well.

Then, I met someone. Another lost soul, like me.

He had studied philosophy in college, and we spent a week talking about the kind of stuff I had talked about in college.

It was thrilling. Life-affirming.

My withdrawal symptoms went away- except that I was unable to sleep.

For nine days.

 


He slept. I layed down next to him and listened to happy, orchestral indie ballads, or wrote.

I lost my mind. There’s no gentle way to put this.

It started with aural hallucinations.

The day before I lost my mind, I kept answering questions people hadn’t asked, or responding to things that had not been said. I had heard their voices, clearly.

But I could tell by the looks on their faces that they had not actually said those things.

This only happened a few times, but it was enough that I noted it was happening.

A number of things happen when you go extreme lengths of time without sleeping.
Longest I’d gone without sleep before then was three, maybe four days in college.

At that time, I noticed that I’d get jumpier. See shapes moving out of the corner of my eye, but nothing I identified as something that turned out to not be real. They were just those flitting little shadows that could be anything.

Emotions get weird, stronger. More volatile.

And things that should be obvious are just….not.

When I was doing cocaine in college, I would take benadryl at night when I needed to sleep for work. I was very proactive about this, but somehow it just…. Never once occurred to me to do this during those couple of weeks in 2017.


So. My timeline might be off here, but my guess is somewhere around day 6 I started hearing things that had not been said.

The next day is a blur. I have a few isolated, disconnected memories.

I was with that guy, the one who’d made me feel so alive again for the first time in so very long.

I don’t remember getting there, but we ended up at the bathrooms in Pan Pacific Park, LA, with a group of people. All men, I think.

One guy there, his name was Whisper. Manipulative, but in a clumsy way.

That wasn’t what scared me about him.

I told that friend of mine I was with that while Whispers attempts at manipulation were blunt, and obvious (ostentatiously pulling out wads of cash to count in front of me, reciting poetry about girls with the color hair that I had at the time, etc)-

he seemed like the kind of person that would not let failed attempts at manipulation stop him from getting what he wanted.

And this turned out to be true.

Wanna know what it feels like, what it looks like, to go insane?

Read on.

Easily upset?

Please, turn back now.

You have been warned.

The next thing I remember, I was watching a movie, or TV show.

It was very detailed, I remember it clearly.

Game of Thrones-esque, it was…darker.

Visually, and contextually.

I remember dark, ancient looking woods. Foreboding, but in the kind of way that seems permanent. Eternal.

At some point, my POV switched.

I was in it.

I was help around the keep. Run by a petty, violent member of the royal family- I remember his face.

It was not Whisper, not then.

I remember him raping me, though. He was especially violent and sexually aggressive when he’d just burned a village, murdered the inhabitants.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but i suspect something like this might be happening with some of the people you see on the street, so angry or so scared.

I don’t know what my body was doing during this time, not at first, anyway.

Don’t know how I ended up in the park at night with Whisper.

I became lucid in waves; recognition of where I was coming slowly, and in pieces.

That character in the show, he became Whisper. Fucking me, alone in that park.

Even then, there were remnants of delusion; someone was watching us from a ways off.

I thought it was my friend, or a person sent by my friend.

That they were coming to rescue me.

They were not.

It was some guy, just… Watching the show.

Another guy, months later, told me he’d walked by that night as well.

Told me I was motionless, with Whisper on top of me.

When I fully came back to my senses, I pushed him off of me.

I hated him for a good period of time after that, but I kept not sleeping. The hate took a while to set in, because I spent another few days mostly lost in delusion.

One of the days, there were monsters in that park. I remember them very clearly, too- and what the bodies of my friends looked like after they’d been killed.

These monsters, they were alien creatures that had nested in that park.

Black, shiny, huge.

They looked like giant scorpions, but with flat, round bodies. Their tails were many feet long.

They would grip the heads of people, and rip their spines out, Mortal Kombat style.

In that park, there are a couple little cuts lined with large posts.

These monsters, they would whip those spines along those posts, skulls vibrating like some kind of eerie xylophone.

Mating call, I think.

My one saving grace here is that when I went crazy, I did not get violent. I ran around the park trying to get everyone to evacuate; I was trying to save them.

I also called 911. EMTs showed up and then my dead friends became bushes once again.

That was far more upsetting than the thing with Whisper had been. To be confronted with that kind of evidence of having lost my faculties, so…stark, before me.

My biggest fear, when I was lucid, was that I would not have another lucid moment in which I’d be able to kill myself- that I would just be wandering around, so vulnerable to any and every predator, real or imagined

forever.

 


Finally, I slept. The hallucinations went away.

I realized many things directly due to this experience.

One is that I could have taken benadryl at any point, and avoided the whole thing. I knew the importance of sleep, it just never occurred to me to do something about it.

That particular realization is what led to me eventually letting go of my hatred of Whisper.

I can’t do anything about who he is, about what he chooses to do. But I can protect myself and my mind, and that was something I had not been not doing, then.

Taking back my agency has, in every case, eliminated my feelings of victimhood.

When I had things stolen from me on the street, there was always an element of me not being careful enough- about where I put things, about who I spent time around.

I had always been a relatively strong person. Relatively empowered- but I had a couple real set ideas about the kinds of situations in which there are clear victims and clear…bad guys, for lack of a better term.

These were deeply held enough that it took the most extreme kinds of events, happening to me personally, for me to overwrite those beliefs.


The other really powerful lesson I drew from this experience was, like the above, one that took quite some time to form.

It has to do with the simultaneous fragility and incredible strength of the brain, of the mind.

And, perhaps, some of the delusional behaviors of people on the street in general, but my thoughts on that are mostly vague observations at this point.

I was much more careful about sleeping after that.

Not careful enough, though; there were a couple times where I realized I was hearing things people weren’t saying, moments where I could tell from that face people make when they think you’re crazy.

I started having a visceral reaction to that face, that look. That mild, hesitant fear and trepidation, where you can tell people are trying to find ways to interpret what you’ve said or done in a way that makes sense and….can’t.

Whenever that happened, I’d go get some sleep, no matter what else I had going on.

And whenever I did that, things would okay again in my brain when I woke up.

After a while, I started feeling grateful for that early incident.

See, those moments, they didn’t always happen after days straight with no sleep.

More frequently, they happened after too many days of just… Not enough sleep.

Most people, when they get on the street, start using methamphetamine- they don’t go nine days without sleeping, right away.

They’ll go a day or two, then get a few hours a night for a long time. Occasionally pass out for a day or two, but it’s not enough to keep the brain from getting weird.

When hallucinations and delusions are as real as mine were, it takes strong evidence to internalize the awareness that it isn’t real.

We have a tendency, all of us- to trust what we see, hear, feel, and smell over any other evidence.

I saw my friends on the street, over and over again, getting lost in the kinds of initial, mild, delusions I was beginning to recognize as a warning sign of more extreme problems.

But I could only do so because I’d seen, first-hand, where that goes, and where it comes from.

A situation so extreme and so sudden I could not realistically entertain any other potential explanation.

But when it’s mild… When you start hearing things, but then get a little more sleep, and it goes away for a time- it’s not so obvious that it isn’t real.

I also witnessed how much those delusional break downs were instigated by emotional distress, and how they could diminish just with the influence of a friend who was a grounding influence.

Patterns emerged, over time.

People who were sometimes okay would lose it for a bit when something upsetting had happened. Start blaming shadowy forces at work to make their lives difficult.

People who had been okay when around me, months later were significantly worse off – then would improve, become more lucid when I saw them again and spent time talking to them as a friend, being honest with them about what I thought was happening (and what I thought wasn’t happening).(edited)

What all this gives me is hope.

Hope that there are solutions to even the problems that seem most overwhelming in this life.

Hope for a day when no one feels like a victim to uncontrollable circumstances or evil people any longer.

Hope founded in a deep seated belief that just the simple action of treating even the people who seem the most lost, the most broken, as human beings has a far greater potential for healing than anything we’ve tried so far.

Reach out.

 

When people seem to be in trouble or lost, listen to them. You don’t have to agree with everything, or even anything they have to say.

Sometimes it’s enough just to feel heard.

brooke

I spent three years living on the street in Los Angeles. I came out of that, changed. This is my story.

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