In the throes of psychiatric relapse and convinced of being the reincarnation of Ludwig Von Beethoven…
My mental illness has taken me on some wild rides over the years. Not to say that these rides have been fun – some of them have been downright traumatic. But looking back, I realize that my life story is an interesting one to tell. Taking an attitude such as this makes me think that all of my suffering was not in vain. I have even amassed a few humorous anecdotes worth telling, such as when for a period of time, I developed a British accent.
It was my worst breakdown, in the fall of 2012. I was in the throes of psychiatric relapse and deeply convinced that I was the reincarnation of Ludwig Van Beethoven. At the time, I was taking a fitness kickboxing class, and I had developed an obsessive crush on the instructor, a pleasant young man named Wayne2. This innocent crushed morphed into an unhealthy delusion where I thought I was Beethoven, and that Wayne was my soul mate, the “Immortal Beloved.”3
My obsession with Wayne prompted me to do a Google search in order to try and figure out who he had been in our previous life together. I started by looking up the names of women who have been postulated to be the recipient of these “Immortal Beloved” letters, according to historians. For whatever reason, my brain told me that the woman’s name started with a “Joo-“ sound, and so I gravitated to a particular woman named Giulietta Guicciardi. She briefly was a piano student of Beethoven’s in 1801, and he in fact had dedicated the well-known “Moonlight Sonata” to her. They were in love, and he proposed marriage to her. She was enthusiastic, but one of her parents, likely her father, was displeased with Beethoven’s lack of wealth and stormy character.
So I became absolutely convinced I was Beethoven, and Wayne was “my Giulietta.”
With each passing day, I spiraled further and further down towards rock-bottom mental ruin. The entire time, I had absolutely no idea that I was ill. Such is the nature of my psychosis. When it strikes, it lies to me, asserting that my delusions are actually spiritual experiences, and were indicating to me that I am becoming rapidly wise, soon approaching the state of Enlightenment, akin to the the Buddha’s Nirvana. But my mind was utterly confused and overwhelmed with information. It tried to put together all the pieces of this puzzle, a futile act being that the pieces all hailed from different boxes, metaphorically speaking.
And then something hit me. Literally.
I was helping my mother empty the trunk of her car, a white mini SUV with a hatchback trunk. As I was closing the trunk, the door hit me squarely on the forehead, perhaps where one would say is located the “third eye chakra.” It was quite painless, but rattled my mind to bits.
My obsession with Wayne suddenly became more dense and frantic. My thoughts raced, and my brain began to positively eat itself. I then had the sudden realization that I had to marry Wayne. Right away. Our karmic fates were at stake, and if we did not get married, we would never be able to enter Nirvana.
I remember stepping out of my home, the snow beginning to fall as the daylight faded. Going into the subway station, heading towards Rego Park in New York City, then emerging back onto the street. The sky was dark, the heavy snowfall blowing into my face, and I was walking against the wind – all for Wayne. This was our destiny. And the weather? Simply a dramatic drape which covered the entire scene.
As I walked towards the dojo, my English began to escape me. This was what I perceived to be happening, anyway. My thoughts started manifesting themselves in German, a beloved language I do speak somewhat fluently already. It became such that I was “forgetting” my English. To remain lucid, I tested myself by reading aloud the signage around me, but the words became harder and harder to read. My mind was becoming that of an old, agéd deaf German man, lost in the erased snowy streets of a foreign, futuristic country. Pitiful and helpless.
My survival instinct kicked in suddenly, and I remembered a specific British actor on whom I had a crush in high school. He was in a movie where he portrayed an actual actor from the Victorian era. And so I channeled this presence into myself, in order to try and “save my English.” I continued to read more signage aloud to stay grounded:
“A… Agora Restaurant…”
My accent was a bit off though. Ah-GOH-rah reh-steh-ROHNT.
“Barnes and Noble.” BAHNS end NOH-Bl.
And then the thought flowed into my head.
My goodness, I’ve transformed into that reincarnated old British actor indeed! Quite uncanny. Perhaps I am both he and Beethoven.
But then my language became German again. And then English. And then back to German. As I walked towards the dojo, I had no idea what I was going to say to Wayne. Or in what language. Nor did I even know who I was going to be. Beethoven? The English actor? And whatever happened to Neesa?
My heart pounded as I took the elevator up to the top floor. And then I saw him. There, in the office, writing in a notebook. Financial figures, terribly romantic It all looked awfully eighteenth century. My mind was putting me into such an embarrassing situation. And yet, I felt compelled to follow its every whim. I was convinced, I would be forever tortured until I did, both in this life and in my future lives to come.
“Wayne. Hul-lew.” I began the conversation with a curt greeting.
“Oh, Neesa! Nice to see you! How are you? What are you doing here?”
It was not time for kickboxing class. There was instead a class commencing for children with brown-belts. But he was unoccupied at the moment.
“Hul-lew. Ah muss tohk te yew.” Some sort of butchered accent was escaping my lips.
“Neesa. Are you ok?”
I spoke slowly, stuttering perhaps.
“Yehs. Iz theh uh pla…plaece wheh wee culd…tohk?”
I’m surprised he understood me.
“Ummm. Yes, yes. We can go upstairs.”
There was a balcony that overlooked the dojo training area. With my broken, accented English, I told him who we were. That I was Beethoven, and that he was my soul mate. I shared these supposed memories I had of our past life together when we were in love. All of it seemed so real to me, and I even managed to convince Wayne. He himself was a devout Buddhist, so this idea of reincarnation was realistic to him.
And then it was time to pop the question. I pulled out a little round metal box from my pocket.
“Wayne. Ah, Ah musst MAH-rry yew. Weh musst be too-GEH-theh.”
In forging this everlasting bond – tying the knot, sealing our fate – my gift was a small polymer clay figurine, a pendant of Chairy. Yes, Chairy, the blue, talking armchair from Pee Wee’s Playhouse. I had scored it on Etsy for two dollars.
He gave a light chuckle, obviously endeared.
“Oh, Neesa! How nice of you!” He took the charm and pocketed it. “But, I’m sorry, I’m in a relationship right now.”
So that was that. We would never be together.
There was no reason left for me to be there. I went back into the snowy abyss, and crawled back into the hole I called my apartment. In light of Wayne’s rejection, there was no longer any purpose to my life.
The next day, I went back to the dojo for kickboxing class. Simply because that was all there was to do. But the madness still haunted me. During the warmup run around the mat, it was typical for Wayne to put on some motivational music from his Ipod. But as the techno commenced, I fancied that the electronic music had entered my spine. I then lost control of my body, and started to run in all different directions. Then I veered off track, off the mat, into a separate room, straight into a corner. I curled into a ball, holding my knees in an attempt to simply restrain myself from further mayhem. After the class, Wayne approached me.
“Neesa. This is your last class. You can’t come here anymore.” It didn’t matter that I had already paid for an additional twenty sessions. I had to leave. Immediately and I was not able to ask for a refund before I left.
So now there was even less purpose to my life. I would never see Wayne again.
When I got home, I had this revelation that I was being followed by an evil cult4. I took a cab to the Emergency Room to report this conspiracy. I was accommodated, and found myself sitting in a room by myself.
Barack Obama spoke me.
Even stranger, the year was 2012, but I was hearing the Obama from back in 2008. Back when he was new on the scene, cool and hip, without a gray hair on his head. He told me he was the Antichrist, and I was his pawn in this biblical plan. He commanded me to retrieve my belongings, promising me I would transform into a beast. I would develop superhuman strength, and have the power to run straight from New York City to the White House within an hour. When I arrived, we would open the Book of the Seven Seals together.
Mission assigned, I stood up, and walked slowly to the security desk. I reached my hand forward, a zombie-like glaze to my eye:
“I need those books….”
And then I blacked out.
As I awoke I found myself on the floor. Writhing. My limbs, jerking underneath the grips of several people, holding them all down with all of their might. Perhaps seven people surrounded me in total. They watched my body moving in horror, unable to stop me from thrashing about. Was I possessed? Indeed, my body wanted to attack people, yet I had never given it such permission. Something within myself was still, yet pwerless.It watched my body move, as if it was not my own. I could not stop myself from moving.
And then, my throat. It emitted a blood-curling scream, that reached into every fibre of every cell in that room. Nonsense words flew out of my mouth:
“AAAAGGGHGHH!!! I am the reincarnation of Beethoven!”
I started singing the Ode to Joy, the chorale from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.
“Freude, Freude, Götterfunken!”
And then my voice changed.
“And I am Farinelli, the greatest castrato that has ever lived!”
Castratis were male baroque opera singers who were castrated before puberty in order to preserve their soprano range. A procedure exercised due to the Catholic church forbidding female singers within its walls. I suppose the concept inspired me.
Suddenly, I saw a needle by my head.
“Aaaaaagghh! I’m going to die! I’m going to join the twenty-seven club!”
“Stop moving, you’re gonna be okay….”
“If you inject me with that, I’m going to turn into an X-Man and bust outta here!”
I was injected. But instead of obtaining super-human strength, the energy was sapped from me. I was hoisted up by my limbs and put into a four-point restraint, leather straps around my wrists and ankles. Suddenly, I realized that I was in fact evil, fully deserving to die. And the cult that was following me, this was all in their plan. It was their desire for me to be destroyed, in order to ensure the survival of mankind. And all the people in this ER were in on it.
And so, as the last staff person left my room, I called back:
“Thank you! Thank you! I love you. I love you!” I did not want the world to die. If I had to die in order for the world to live. I was all for it.
I stayed in that hospital for about a month thereafter, where I retained the British accent for the entire time. I was literally unable to speak otherwise. When I tried to revert back to my American accent, I was forced to uncomfortably contort my face in the effort. The British accent felt more natural, and resonated more pleasantly in my face and throat. It also seemed to encourage this alternate vocabulary to emerge within me. I used different words to express myself than usual.
And to that effect, I developed this alternate, comically extroverted personality. Getting a new accent, it’s quite fun, and I highly recommend it. But you must hit your head. It’s the only way to keep yourself in it 100% of the time.
While hospitalized I was penning a poem here and there. It can get quite boring, sitting in the same hallway for days on end. But having a pen and notebook in hand pleasantly allows the time to fly by. My poetry was pretty wretched, yet the entire hospital staff thought I was a genius. Most likely because of that damned accent.
“Have you ever lived in Europe?” the head psychiatrist asked.
“No. Never. I visited France and Denmark both for ten days.”
“I see. Where do you think the accent came from?”
“Well, I listened to a lot of recordings of British singers when in high school. I must have internalized it so deeply, that it now reflects in my speech.”
Indeed. It is the most frustrating feeling ever, when one is entertaining enough to fool even the most “esteemed” of psychiatrists.
All of this was so idiotic. I kept telling the psychiatric staff, with my accent.
“I am very worried, I hit my head, and I got this accent. I need an MRI or a CAT scan. I might have sustained some neurological damage.”
Not once was I obliged. Instead, they asked me to read some of my brilliant poetry. Although, it was not so brilliant. What free-verse poetry is brilliant these days anyway? It was that stupid accent that made it good.
As I left the hospital, taking a ride in my mother’s car, I celebrated by putting on a beloved CD, a recording of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta, Ruddigore. British spirits, ah yes – time to soothe my weary spirit. But as the music penetrated my soul, my head began to rattle like a skull filled with not brain but marbles. None of this feeling was anything I could articulate to my mother. I figured it would pass over.
“Ma, let’s go to a restaurant.”
I suddenly froze in my seat. My American accent had come back.
In the end, none of my grief and rehabilitation from the previous month was of any use. I returned home and my mind was again in shambles. This time though, I thought I was the Antichrist himself. That very night, I found myself standing at a busy street at four in the morning, a voice commanding me to throw myself into the traffic in order to “save the world.” Desperate, I called 911, and ended up in a different hospital. During my additional two month stay, I was put on a new drug, which radically improved the quality of my life. So much so, that I am now able to work full-time. This utter dream was never possible for me previously.
Looking back on these experiences, I laugh. I can do so, because I am grateful I am no longer in such a terrible situation. My mind is now lucid, and I am able to think freely without psychotic influence. In fact, I no longer am that person I used to be. Previously, my illness served to erase my very personality. Having seen utter darkness in my past, I am now thankful for the sanity in my life. The only thing I miss a teeny bit…is that British accent.
Neesa Suncheuri works as a Mental Health Peer Specialist at a housing agency in Queens, New York. She is the founder of a Facebook discussion group for peer specialists and other recovery enthusiasts, entitled “What is Wellness? A Mental Health Discussion Group.” Much of her creative inspiration is rooted in her now-tamed schizophrenia. She writes poetry and fiction, and maintains a blog called Unlearning Schizophrenia. She is also a singer/songwriter, and an enthusiast for the German language and culture. Follow her on Twitter at @neesasuncheuri.
- Header art by the talented Sinfonia Eroica. [↩]
- All names have been changed in respect to all involved. [↩]
- After Beethoven’s death in 1827, a series of letters was found amongst his personal papers addressed to an unnamed recipient – Beethoven’s “Immortal Beloved.” [↩]
- It is certainly another story, to describe the semantics of this delusion. [↩]