“I prance down the runway like a queen, my body dripping with jewels. Like a lioness, I sway from side to side, moving to entice all who look my way; I am the beast who no one can touch, and no one can tame. As I glance at the rows of curious faces, however, the darkness begins to take over. Before I know it, my worst nightmare has returned: the demons have revealed themselves, with their black eyes and mouths full of jagged teeth. I cannot escape them; they are my masters, and I am their slave.
Voices command me to keep moving. Look forward bitch and keep walking. Don’t screw it up! They’re all going to laugh at you. I force my head higher and put my shoulders back as I push through the noise and approach the end of the runway. As my feet carry me to the edge, I hear no sound, experience no sensation. Despite the music and commotion, I am lost in a dreamland.”
- Washed Away: From Darkness to Light
The above is a snippet from my upcoming memoir, Washed Away: From Darkness to Light. The scene describes a runway show in Miami, one that was supposed to further launch my career as a model in 2009. However, I had been suffering from a variety of mental health issues since childhood, mainly eating disorders, PTSD from sexual and physical abuse, addiction, and, unbeknownst to me: psychosis. I was constantly paranoid, to the point that I heard voices telling me what to do, and it hindered my work and relationships with others.
On the night of the important show, as I walked down the runway, I lost my focus because of the voices in my head. I began to hallucinate, and I became delusional. The people in the audience morphed into monsters, and I was sure that they were laughing at me. I completed my walk the best I could, but my mind literally felt on fire; by the time I exited, all I wanted to do was escape. No one seemed to notice, though; all the other models were cheering me on. I was trapped in an illusion, a hell that I couldn’t escape. I called a taxi to my apartment, and binged and purged to “rid” my mind of the pain, but the voices only became louder.
I was officially diagnosed with psychosis in 2015, and it helped to clarify many of the horrifying and confusing experiences that have haunted me for most of my life. Psychosis is a set of symptoms and it can be a part of a more specific psychological condition, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. My psychiatrist has been a great support. He listens to me as I describe my episodes and memory loss, although he has not diagnosed me with any definite mental health condition in relation to the psychosis. It has been rather interesting ever since I found out the “label” of what I have; personally, I believe that we are healthier as humans if we choose to not attach ourselves to labels, but finding out has educated and empowered me, whereas before I lived in fear.
Because I have been in recovery for the past few years, and practice mind, body and spiritual wellness, I don’t have as many episodes as I once did, but they still happen. Sometimes I am aware that I am having an episode, but most of the time, I am not. Later, as part of my dedication to self-awareness, I retrace my memory steps and think, “Was that reality, or was that my reality?” With hallucinations it is getting easier to discern, but with paranoid delusions, those are more difficult. The interesting thing is that I am a fully functioning adult, and extremely intelligent. I advocate for mental health and go around and tell my story; as an author who tries to relay my experiences about recovering from serious mental health issues, I find that there is great beauty in being vulnerable. Like Brene Brown said, “Vulnerability is not weakness. And that myth is profoundly dangerous.”
And in spite of courage, vulnerability, and intelligence, even in spite of the fact that I had a career as a model, I think it is important to point out that mental illness can affect anyone, at anytime. Let’s all educate ourselves and show compassion to one another whenever we can.