What Does It Feel Like to Lose Your Mind?

One woman’s breakdown and recovery.

This is the story Jeannie told me of her nightmarish experience and of her gradual recovery.

Fake conversations

I was in my mid 30s when I became unhappy at work. I felt that people were ganging up on me. They had fake conversations to upset me. I felt my boss and others were making me out to be mentally unfit. And I became more and more scared that someone was trying to break into our house.

Because I was so distraught, my husband finally suggested I quit my job. He was always a good guy in all of this, but he did not know what to believe. After a while I was unsure myself.

CCO Public Domain

Source: CCO Public Domain

I began to hear voices telling me to travel, to leave my husband, who I loved and still love, and follow a blue grass band I liked. I especially liked the guitarist. When I listened to them, I heard the words of their songs talking to me.

$20,000 gone getting ready to travel

So I left my husband. I bought a wedding dress, and bridal lingerie, and spent $500 on a crystal vase as a wedding gift to myself. I thought I was going to marry the guitarist because the band had a song about a wedding. For a Halloween party at one of their shows, I bought a complete Miss Piggy costume including the wig. Altogether I spent $20,000.

When I got to the airport to fly out west to follow the band’s tour, I noticed a man following me, wearing all black like a priest. There were FBI men also. The voices began telling me to travel light. I started to shed luggage. I left a $400 coat in the airport bathroom. I was down to a backpack by then. From three suitcases to a backpack. I flew to Denver, to San Francisco, to South Texas, to Fresno.

Your brain can trick you.

In one city I was returning my rental car when the woman at the counter told me I could call customer service and give feedback. She winked at me. This is a good example of how your brain can trick you: I thought she was telling me to leave messages for the band with Hertz customer service. So I left a lot of messages for the guy I liked in the band.

I cut my hair and dyed it so the FBI wouldn’t recognize me. I bought men’s clothes. In Denver the voices told me to follow the next person who left the hotel. It was two guys. I went out and started to get in their car with them. The guys told me to get help from the hotel receptionist. She got me a cab to the airport.

It was all over in a month

There were two flights leaving, so I picked the one to New York. In New York I immediately bought a ticket for San Francisco. I was waiting for my flight and a man was mocking me. I felt like he was my protection against the FBI. He tried to get me on his flight to Sacramento. But the flight attendants wouldn’t let me on with my San Francisco ticket.article continues after advertisement

I told them they had to because I was being followed by the FBI. They called security and I ended up in a psychiatric ward at a hospital in Queens. That whole period when I was traveling and following the band was over in less than a month.

On the ward there was a fake patient who followed me around talking loudly. When they released me, Philip came and got me and I told him about the guy pretending to be a patient. I could tell he contemplated taking me right back. But he didn’t, he took me to the apartment I had set up for myself when I left him.

A few weeks later the meds finally kicked in.

CC0 Public Domain

Source: CC0 Public Domain

I felt like there was a bubble in my brain and it was pricked. I understood. I was shaking. I was shocked. Having taken in all that I had just done, I felt alone and scared of losing my reality again. I thought about all I had lost. I was afraid that my husband would take my son away from me. I was overwhelmed.

I decided what I would do: pay my overdue bills, get a doctor, let my friends know I was still alive, put on one more conference for the non-profit I had founded, and keep taking my medication.

The combination of six medications slowed me down a lot. I had been a dynamic person. A skinny, dynamic person. The medications made me drowsy. My memory was poor, I gained weight. 

Gradually I pulled myself together. I knew that if I was going to survive the personal failures in my life I would have to focus on my professional successes.

With the help of the talented people on my board of directors, I organized a workshop for the Character Education Center, a non-profit I had started in the years before my breakdown to support the work of the Jane Goodall Institute. I had some income from Philip for a time.  I took care of my son when he came to me.

Now I’m down to one medication. I’m working in the mental health field as an advocate for the mentally ill. My son doesn’t believe I have a mental illness.

About the Author

Ingrid Blaufarb Hughes is the author of Losing Aaron.

In Print:

Losing Aaron


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