Going Crazy and Getting Better Again

[Epistemic status: Processing after a long period of work and recovery, which is not yet over]


Four years ago, I was in university. I was a casual rationalist, having been introduced by HPMOR, been active on rationalist tumblr, and then joined a loosely allied fiction writing community known as Glowfic. Things seemed pretty okay. I had known for a while that I was not neurotypical, having been diagnosed with ADD in high school and also having been in a gifted program.

I was also familiar, casually, with weird things happening to me and people around me. I was active in the hypnosis scene recreationally, and was fascinated by how people transformed under the influence of trance. I am also trans, and thus had experienced a major identity shift from my “cis male” self to a transfeminine identity.

That feminine identity was based on a female roleplay character that I had played as obsessively for several years—not an uncommon occurrence in trans people. She talked to me in my head—not an uncommon occurrence for authors. Eventually I decided I’d be her because she was cooler than my (dysphoric, beaten-down) self. And so we went on in a new identity, changing from our deadname to our new name. There was an attempt at coming out which… did not go well. I’ll spare the details. I ended up closeted and under great stress to finish my degree.

I reached out to writing as my source of comfort, as I always had. I poured my hurt out into a newly-turned girl being abused by her vampiric sire. I started getting feelings and emotions from her—a sense of attraction to gothic and old-style clothing, a distinct fondness for lists and checkboxes. It was useful to me to like lists and checkboxes—after all, I was failing my degree from ADD—so I encouraged the persona, using a half-understood concept of Internal Family Systems and my experience with altered states achieved under hypnosis to try and develop the identity.

It worked! And we remain plural to this day, with a dozen or so other identities we’ve developed over time. We use these identities as different lenses to view the world through, ways of helping us not get too attached to any particular identity. We took the prescription to be a fox and not a hedgehog very seriously to heart. As far as we can tell this is both stable and useful; it’s not what this post is about. It’s simply necessary background so you can understand the level of weirdness in our life at this time.

So, here we were, trying to succeed at university, feeling like we didn’t have enough willpower to manage to apply ourselves to our studies. And we had previous experience with Applying Weird Shit To Get Things Done.

So when we heard about Mastering The Core Teachings of The Buddha (which I will refrain from linking) we were interested. There was supposedly a way to gain better control over your emotions and thoughts that had been theoretically refined for a long period of time and had been studied at least a little by mainstream science! Medication didn’t seem to work, so with a can-do attitude we set out to do some brainhacking.

In short, we got got.

The Psychosis

It is somewhat unclear, looking back now four years after my admission to hospital for acute psychosis, whether the meditation practices caused the altered states or whether the altered states caused the meditation practices. Certainly I had experienced many strange things in my life previously that are easily attributed to a schizotypal brain. Even before I picked up a religious bent and started fixating on ritual actions, I was having mood swings and feelings of distrust. What I can say for certain is that the ritual actions gave an excuse for me to experience all kinds of strange things, and as a result I missed many clear and obvious warning signs. So did all my close friends and family, even those I dragged into the ritual actions. Those who were skeptical were shut out; those who were credulous were let in. Towards the end, a few people close to me knew something was wrong; but I personally had considered the option of psychosis, noted that I had its symptoms, and discarded it as funny.

All the insight in the world doesn’t help you if you can’t act on it.

Eventually, I became so unstable that I had a fit. I lashed out against my family, thinking they were aliens and/​or satanic (the religiosity did not discriminate, that late) and I was institutionalized. Fortunately I live in a country with state-sponsored healthcare so this did not ruin me or my family. Very fortunately I did not seriously injure anyone, including myself.

The antipsychotic they tried me on did not work. I had serious mood swings, had delusions that changed by the hour, and a distinct manic energy in my voice and mannerisms. Many of the sounds I made in hospital I cannot reproduce now—the human vocal range has limiters on it normally that the psychosis broke. I wandered, I spun, I laughed. I thought I could time travel. I dropped off the side of a couch about a meter to the floor (lying horizontally) because I thought it was funny and probably wouldn’t hurt me. I did the worm spontaneously just because I felt like dancing. I kept my delusions to myself, because I actually believed them and knew that the doctors would keep me for longer if I said that I believed in them. My goal, quite plainly, was to escape the ward via the only mechanism I had—faking getting better convincingly.

Still, through this, I was able to semi-lucidly explain my condition via text to my girlfriends. I was able to keep to the ward’s rules, more or less. Hearing the other psychotic patients cry or scream from the locked portion of the ward overcame me with sympathy at one point, so I rushed in: after this incident I was seriously asked by a doctor if I thought I was Jesus. (I said no, though I had unrelatedly hallucinated being crucified.) It was hard to focus and control my behavior, but I somehow stumbled along. I consented to being treated with lithium on the basis that I had been struck by lightning, therefore a material used in batteries would clearly help. Eventually I faked semi-stability for long enough that the doctors released me.

Naturally the instant I left the hospital and met my family again they knew that there was something wrong. I had manic and paranoid symptoms still. I wasn’t okay; I was just faking being okay. And after a few days the illusion broke. I was sent back to hospital, where I had a breakdown on my re-entrance interview and confessed everything.

They tried me on a different antipsychotic, and that one worked. Gradually my symptoms faded away. I resolved that I would take nothing from the experience—that there was no spiritual lesson to be learned here, nothing of religious significance. I was unwell. The “messages” I had received, the religiosity, the manic fits—all of it was just a product of my fevered brain.

Recovery and Moving Forwards

I’ve stuck to that, since; but there’s still some things that I’ve learned from this. Foremost, that reality is that, which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away. Even when I was hallucinating, I couldn’t hallucinate my way out of my material circumstances (being locked in a ward with doctors and a bunch of other loonies like me). Even when I was delusional, I couldn’t create evidence from nothing. I could leap incredibly far from a single suggestion—the doctor’s nose looks a little weird in their mask, therefore he is an alien! - but there was nothing stable about it. When the antipsychotics started to work, mundane reality inevitably won out.

The road back after that wasn’t easy either. I was still on lithium, which is incredibly emotionally deadening and destroyed my libido. It took years for me to be taken off it and to recover to the point where I could function in daily life. In the early days after being released from hospital I would sleep, write for one hour, text a little with my girlfriends about the writing, eat, and go to the bathroom, and that was everything I could do. Gradually, life and color returned.

One of the things I have learned from that recovery process is that improvement comes in bursts, and compounds. I gained the ability to write (and nothing else.) Then the ability to write and handle a little social activity. Then I felt comfortable enough to sleep in my own room again. (I had associated it with going crazy and moved to a different room in my family’s house.) Then the lithium dosage was scaled back, and I gained some ability to care again. My libido became strong enough to support occasional intimacy with my girlfriends again. Each time, there was a sense of a new normal being reached, something that would normally be only a high point becoming everyday. And as the recovery progressed, those high points became closer together, as I became more able to actively self-modify. I incorporated elements of the therapy I had been unwillingly subjected to in hospital, mainly to do with compassion for oneself—a quality that I think is under-spoken to in rationalist circles, which emphasize heroic responsibility strongly. (Or at least did back in 2019, some work has been done since.) I learned to take slack seriously.

Somehow, though, I still had not actually learned the lesson. While trying to recover my sexuality, I became involved with a cult based on an imagined hypersexual transhumanist future/​heaven. I had gotten got again.

I met some lovely people there, but I also sacrificed some of my sanity to do it; I genuinely believed in the proposed heaven for a while, and changed my behavior to suit. Eventually, the cult’s founder proved unstable, so I left with one of their lieutenants who I’d fallen in love with. That actually turned out fine, as well; we left the cult together and gradually shed our old belief in it over a period of another couple years, before finally coming to a resolution to discard them entirely a few months before this writing.

What helped? Meeting another rationalist who took their craft seriously and cared about the truth. With someone else there to catch my errors, progress was much faster. I was encouraged to read the Sequences again on a date with them, and found myself wincing hard several times. I haven’t finished my reread: I really should finish it. In fact, I’m going to schedule that right now. (Okay, done that.)

Having someone else there to check you—someone you ideally don’t know well, who isn’t involved intimately in your drama, who isn’t compelled to care about you and soft-pedal things—matters a lot. That kind of relationship can be hard to find, because as soon as you trust someone to do it you’ve lost some objectivity. But I think that working together with other rationalists can get things done more effectively than any individual working alone. Sanity is unbounded alone; with a sane anchor you trust, you’re less likely to make grievous errors because everything has to pass both of your bullshit detectors.


  1. Just because your weirdness has not bitten you yet does not mean that you will not be gotten got.

  2. You can be gotten got for years of your life here. Take it seriously.

  3. Care about your mental health. Preserve your slack. Schedule maintenance or your body and mind will schedule it for you.

  4. It can be very easy to miss lessons if you are not looking for them. Get someone else to check your work. Someone you don’t already talk to all the time.

  5. When you improve, it’ll come in bursts. Don’t get discouraged by all the practice you have to put in; you will eventually see a breakthrough.

  6. It helps a lot to have people who care about you who will help you through serious problems. Get some.

  7. If you think you could have a mental illness, it is generally sane to talk to a doctor about it.

  8. If you don’t take actions based on the state of your evidence, your evidence is no good to you.