The Crazy Naked Truth

Thoughts on finding possibility in the most difficult times & oddest places.

Posted Dec 19, 2017

Mipham/Unsplash
Source: Mipham/Unsplash

Ah the holidays, they're over! For any of you who are not feeling the excitement of “a-new-year-new-you-kind-a” feeling, who are feeling overwhelmed and not rested from the holidays. Who are facing down the goo monster of insecurity and struggle – this post is for you. To remind you that things do change; things do get better.

I’m posting this 9 minute talk I gave about possibility and the Crazy Naked Truth. These are my thoughts on finding possibility in the most difficult times, in the oddest places - like an office hallway or even a room on the psych ward. Watch below or read the transcript here.

Picture it. It’s 1992. I’m running: up West 10th, past Safeway, beyond that Starbucks. I’m running like an exploding jack in the box. I’m running past a laurel hedge, past a fire hall and I am naked. I’m NAKED.

I am in a manic psychosis. And I happen to be looking for God. Colours are blurring by: green leaves, orange sun, gray concrete. Then I see the Beloved -- God -- peeking out of a juniper bush. He’s beckoning me forward. And then before I can hop into the shrubbery and meet God, I realize, I am, somehow, in a stranger’s bathing suit and wrapped in a towel. A policewoman is leading me gently into the back of her patrol car.

Months earlier, after a 6-week psych ward stay, I was diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder with psychotic features and generalized anxiety disorder. I was given the labels and prescriptions and I refused to accept any of them. The pills left waiting in my cluttered bathroom drawer.

Stigma is tenacious. It took 4 more psychotic episodes, 3 additional hospital stays and 5 more years before I was able to accept what I call, today, the ‘CRAZY NAKED TRUTH’. That yes, something was amiss. I needed help.

Since then, after I accepted the diagnoses, found the right treatment and got better, for the last 15 years, I’ve been speaking and performing my 1-woman shows about mental illness across Canada and the States. Specifically, about my bipolar disorder and psychosis, my return to work and my road to wellness. 

It takes courage sometimes to tell my story, but it’s also essential for my healing. I also knew I had a pretty good story – something about a woman, naked, running down the street is pretty catchy.

What gave me a sense of future was other people: the way they listened and responded to me made all the difference in the world.

When I was in that police car, in that stranger’s bathing suit wrapped in a towel, shivering … I didn’t feel full of possibility.

When my dad had to coax me through the automatic doors of the hospital emergency, locked me in an interview room and was forced to commit me… I didn’t feel full of possibility.

When I ran around the emergency ward trying to escape and heard a nurse yell – “catch the crazy woman” … I didn’t feel fully of possibility.

When I was tied to a gurney – left wrist strapped, right wrist locked, with a nurse standing holding a needle and a security guard who wouldn’t make eye contact… I didn’t feel full of possibility.

I felt afraid, alone and powerless.

What gave me a sense of possibility? Others around me. People who saw me, not my illness. People who genuinely listened and responded and reflected back my reality. They didn’t need to change my story. They respected my truth. And our truth is subjective. But that subjectivity is what gives our lives meaning.

When I skipped down that street ‘naked’ hoping to meet God and instead met two paramedics (two really cute paramedics actually), it was their compassion and their kindness and the respect they showed me. Like how they introduced themselves with their first names and looked me in the eye...that gave me a sense of something good, glimmers of possibility.

When I refused to take my medication and a nurse sat on my hospital bed, listened with a gentle ear, and then just nodded when I told her my story  … the door of possibility opened a little further.

When I told my new psychiatrist about the profound spiritual insights I had within my psychoses and he said he understood, that I made sense (because he had been a beatnik in the 60’s and suggested I read Carlos Castenda)… the door of good possibilities opened even further.

When my dad, the irascible Jack Maxwell, and my mom, Velma (who’s as neurotic as a hummingbird on cocaine) invited me to move back home with them because they knew I could get better but that I needed support…  the doors of possibility were blown open.

I felt afraid, but I also felt love and hope.

It was up to me to walk through those open doors. It took courage, humility and hard work. I chose to do it.

You can find possibility in the most difficult times, in the oddest places – like the acute psychiatric ward.

Thanks to the collective support from all those people – I walked with really wobbly legs through the doors they opened, hanging onto what THEY thought was possible for me. They held the vision for me until I could hold it myself.

An uncomfortable truth is that sometimes no matter how much you listen, how much support you give, people can’t or don’t walk through those open doors. But that does not mean your efforts were ineffective. There is a mystery to the journey of healing and our picture of what healing means isn’t often what healing is.

I embarked on the road to wellness not knowing what the outcome would be. There are no guarantees. My fear was that I would always live at home, never keep a job, never get married and all my friends would be alumni from the psych ward. That future never happened.

I don’t live with my parents anymore. They’re happy about that. So’s my husband. I’m married. I have a job – a career really – one that I wouldn’t have had I not gone nuts in the first place. And I have really good friends – many of whom are in this room today.

Twice a day I take a clutch of pills. Taking my medication could make me feel ashamed but it doesn’t. Because when I take my Epival and my Zoloft what runs through my mind is not self- judgment but images of kind eyes, love and support from people who chose to listen with their hearts. Just like you are doing now. From now on, you’ll be part of those memories.

You can change a person’s perception of what’s possible in an instant. Just take a moment. How do you interact in a 30 second conversation in the hallway (or on the edge of a hospital bed)? Is it with empathy and openness? Curiosity and respect? The way you respond to your co-worker in a meeting, a cashier at CostCo, that parent at your kid’s soccer game or your family at the dinner table; the way you respond makes a difference.  

I’ll leave you with this: The Crazy Naked Truth is not some pithy book title or ironic company name. Not yet anyway. The Crazy Naked Truth is the way you listen and respond either creates possibility or destroys it. It’s that simple. Create possibility. Always.

© Victoria Maxwell