Getting My Life Back
The sickness and redemption of a paranoid schizophrenic.
by Michael Mulvihill as told to David Kidd
I sat in a corner of the mental hospital, my legs shaking up and down. Diagnosed with alcoholic’s psychosis, I was considered clinically insane. I thought the nurses were trying to poison me. I had hallucinations of the Virgin Mary and would make the wildest religious statements. I could barely walk and could not speak sense. I often shouted hysterically, rolling around on the floor. Sometimes I threw my clothes off, ran around naked, and jumped into the swimming pool.
I’d missed friendly human contact, having spent many cold winter nights on the streets of Melbourne, Australia. Though I enjoyed being cared for at Hillcrest, in my mental condition I didn’t trust the motives of nurses, doctors, or anyone else. Everybody’s out to get me, I thought. Helping hands around me sprouted claws; friendly faces grew fangs and horns.
Still, I welcomed the warmth. And occasionally, amid the evil voices in my head, I heard a friendly one say, “As long as you keep in contact with God, He won’t let you down.”
For a long time I ignored God and lost control of my life. Because of my alcoholism, I distanced myself from my mother, father, and eleven brothers and sisters in Ireland. I needed to leave my country, to escape — even from myself — so I moved first to London. Inside there was an emptiness that somehow needed to be filled, even if it took traveling to the other side of the world. That made me travel thousands of miles away to the “land down under.”
I was a crazy, frightened Irishman. Mad Mick, some called me. I did the typical things drunks do, like joking around to impress my mates and saying and doing idiot things. I argued a lot with people. My life made no sense.
I wasn’t a bad person; I was never violent. From an early age in Ireland, I loved to read the catechism and walk the beautiful green fields, praying to God. But inside constant fears plagued me about anything and everything. I was frightened of school teachers, priests — anyone in authority. I was frightened of people in general, life, and the world. Being a loner, I preferred to keep these things to myself. Maybe I didn’t want to bother my parents. They had a lot on their plate trying to feed twelve kids.
As a result, I became an alcoholic by age 15. Heavy drinking provided escape from these unwelcome fears and made me the life of the party.
I coped reasonably well for a while, despite the excessive drink. When I lived in London, I even got a job as a trainee psychiatric nurse in a mental institution. I felt at home among the patients there. For a while in Australia I worked as well, but it wasn’t long before I was drinking myself stupid, traveling from city to city.
At age 27 I drank day and night — 20 or so beers at the hotel, then a carton all night. I searched for more booze before the sun came up. I made myself so sick that I could not stomach food. For weeks I didn’t eat, apart from a few scraps I found in rubbish bins, yet my body kept functioning.
I felt lost, not knowing how to fill out a form to get Social Security payments. The doctors told me later that as a psychotic derelict, I was close to being brain dead. I began living on the streets because of my mental helplessness, sleeping in parks, under bridges, at the beach — anywhere. I thought the moon and the whole of the heaven were going to fall on me and bury me. I wanted out of this life so desperately that one day I waded out to sea to drown myself, but I decided not to carry through with it.
My scariest experiences were waking up in a police cell, my clothes covered in blood. What’s this blood all over me? I wondered. Have I hurt someone? Or have I just fallen down the stairs or been bashed again by the police?
I knew I had to get help. It hurt so much not knowing how the blood got on me, but I’m sure I did not hurt anyone. Each time I was released just like the other poor drunks once I had sobered up sufficiently.
Crying out to God
Aching with despair, I went into a nearby church, got down on my hands and knees, and cried out to God like a helpless child. “God, help me! I want to do the right thing. Please help me!”
God answered. Days later I been admitted to Adelaide’s Hillcrest Hospital, a mental facility 700 miles away. A fellow Irishmen, with whom I had shared many a drink, had seen my desperate state and given me money to buy the ticket to get to Adelaide.
Being diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic helped explain many things that had happened in my life. I was also diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and dementia and was put on 700-800 milligrams of chlorpromazine a day — a very high dosage.
Learning to pray
A therapist, also a Christian man, spoke to me about prayer when I was in Hillcrest. “As long as you keep in contact with God, He won’t let you down,” I remember him saying. These precious words have stuck with me constantly. In the Alcoholics Anonymous program he shared about believing in a higher power who had a plan for me. I copied the way this man prayed by cupping my hands together close to my head. I begged for God to help me. “God,” I said, “I have suffered enough.”
God reached me through this Christian man. The doctors had virtually given up on me. “You will never be able to leave the mental hospital,” they had said. They had considered putting me in the back wards, where people stay until they die. But God heard my cries and delivered me from the shocking state I was in.
When I came out of Hillcrest, though, I still had some brain damage. I wasn’t completely healed. My schizophrenia had not been totally removed, but at least it was controlled and my drinking stopped. You could bring around a pint of Guinness on a hot summer’s day, and I wouldn’t be tempted in the slightest to have a drink.
Today at age 52 I am still on medication for my schizophrenia, but the mental problems I suffer now are mild compared to what I endured before. I have been cured of the shaking associated with Parkinson’s disease and of my dementia. I live independently in my own flat and love inviting friends over to cook a meal. I also attend the Church of God (Seventh Day), where I continue to learn more about God and Christ.
I now get the greatest satisfaction from the simplest things: seeing God’s beauty every day all around me as I walk along the streets, looking at the trees outside my flat. Instead of being haunted by demons, I sense God with me wherever I go. I thank Him for giving me back my life — for peace of mind, food in my belly, and friends who care about me. In addition to these, my contact with my family back in Ireland has been richly renewed, and I hope to have the funds to one day see them again.
I never want to forget where I’ve come from, and I’ll trust God for where I’m going.