Victor Barovsky: My Struggles

This is the ongoing tale of a man who communicated with an alien hivemind, became almost suicidally depressed, and returned to consensual reality to relate the story. 

After failing my second year university exams the idea of an all encompassing conspiracy slowly, piece by piece, took hold of me. I began to hear inner voices that were coming from outside my head. I was seeing symbols and signs everywhere.

The symbols I followed were clues to a divine truth. The bread crumb trail of delusion led to me standing shirtless on a rural train station platform, convinced that the universe was coming to an end in a couple of hours. The next train was to be the last train out of this universe. If I didn't catch that train, I'd be stranded alone in a dead universe forever. The last 2 trains had been expresses, hurtling through without stopping. I was terrified that if the next train was an express, I would have to jump. Luckily, the train stopped.

I was 20, and I was having a marijuana induced psychotic episode. After disappearing for 5 days without telling anyone where I was, I was picked up by the police, returned to my family, and eventually diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic. Over the years I would have 4 more episodes, the last one in 2008.

Being psychotic, delusional, and paranoid is a walk in the park compared with having severe depression. At least when I was psychotic I could leap out of bed in the morning with a (misguided) sense of purpose. When I suffer from it, depression is a black cloud over my life. On and off for almost 20 years it has sapped my energy.

When I'm depressed, the smallest task becomes a Herculean effort.  I can't imagine being ever able to keep the house tidy and the dishes clean. I won't change my sheets in over a month. I will feel like I'm on a one-way track to a squalid crackhouse, and there's nothing I can do to stop it.

It feels like I've been hitting the snooze button on my life. Every time an alarm goes off and I realise I should be doing something like studying or working, I hit the snooze button one more time. I avoid important tasks, by taking an afternoon nap, or watching yet another YouTube video.

At times I feel totally worthless. I feel I don't have the competency or motivation to hold on to an unskilled manual labour job. How could I make it through an 8 hour day for 5 days a week, when walking up a single flight of stairs feels like Mount Everest?

An office job would require me to have to talk to people all day, something that terrifies me. What if my job is to be in IT support, and the network crashes and I have no idea how to fix it? Everyone would find out that I'm a complete fraud, and I'll get fired.

My depression makes me feel like a moron. Sometimes I can't follow conversations. I get caught up in my own head, thinking about how stupid I am that I can't concentrate, and I'll miss the last 2 minutes of conversation. I often wonder why I am so dysfunctional.

"Normal" people look superhuman to me. How do they do all those daily tasks so effortlessly? Don't they feel terror and anxiety at the thought of talking on the phone? How do they have the courage to complain when their food doesn't arrive in a restaurant?

When I'm not severely depressed I actually enjoy life. I can be socially effervescent and the life of the party. When I am invited out to a party or something, I use a short cut to happiness and confidence: I drink lots of alcohol. I'm a happy drunk who makes people laugh.

Three years ago my drinking grew out of control. I was binge drinking once or twice a week, and was getting blackout drunk on the regular. I was going to wedding parties and drinking myself silly. Waking up in my bed with an empty bag of McDonald's next to me, not being able to remember how I got there, was scary.

Luckily I entered a relationship not long after, and I cut back on booze. That relationship ended. I still drink. I just don't do it to the degree I used to. I don't believe in the 12 step program of Alcoholics Anonymous. I am not an alcoholic, and I will not let a liquid define me.

In the last few years I've charted a course out of depression. I'm doing a few things to achieve this. Over 15 years ago I was introduced to "Cognitive Behavourial Therapy". It was something I tried and couldn't quite get to work. I kept trying over the years with different teachers. About 3 years ago I managed to be fairly disciplined about it.

I learned to examine my internal thoughts, and change them from being maladaptive to something healthier. I am a perfectionist when it comes to my own life. I was very judgemental of myself, and nothing I ever did would meet my high standards. Funnily enough, I am accepting of other people for who they are, and I do not judge other people negatively for their faults.

Unnecessary competitiveness is another facet of my self-loathing. I often compare myself unfavourably with other people. I often look at people who are successful and I feel like an inadequate loser. Such thoughts are a poisonous dead end. We live on a planet of 6 billion people, we can't all be Nobel Prize winners who look like Brad Pitt. 

Over time I have learned to silence or at least partially mute my inner critic. At first I had to do it in a thorough, disciplined way by filling out spreadsheets with my own destructive "self-talk", along with alternative, healthy pieces of "self-talk".  By now I don't do the written homework anymore, as I've internalised the methods, so that I try make adjustments in my own head. Diligently writing it all down may be better practice, but I'm lazy.

I also find that mindfulness meditation is quite helpful. I do it every other night before bed. It's calming and it quietens down the internal narrative. From time to time I find myself slipping into a state of mindfulness during the day. I feel good when it happens, because I feel I don't have anything looming over me.

I have also come up with my own techniques to cope. At the moment I am working on a self development game that uses "gamification". Influenced by roleplaying games, I have concocted a system of goal setting and reward. Essentially I am creating "quests" for myself to complete, and in doing the quests I give myself the reward of imaginary "experience points". It is a fun way of motivating myself.

I have achieved a few goals. This year I successfully enrolled part time in professional writing degree, and I have passed my first semester. For a year I've been doing amateur stand up comedy. In 12 months I've done 8 gigs. Although I did bomb on one occasion, it was not the end of the world. These small successes give me hope for much bigger ones in the future.

All in all, I just want to say that while I've suffered a great deal, I have also tried and struggled to become happier and healthier. Doing so has been a harder challenge than mentally healthy people realise. I have come a long way, but have much further to go. In spite of all my difficulties I plan to keep trying, as I hope you will too