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Baby’s Got Back: Coping with the Aftermath of a Psychotic Break

I did not inherit Kim Kardashian’s butt. I inherited my father’s rear end – flat and wide. I passed this rear end down to one of our girls. The other lucked out and inherited her father’s butt – a cute pop-out affair from years of squats and deadlifts. Perfect for twerking, but her father and I have twerked more than she has. That’s a story for a different day. Today’s story is about my journey toward getting stronger after a psychotic break and looking a little more like Kim – at least from behind.

Just over 30 years ago, I met and married a big guy who loves to lift weights. At 5 or 6 years of age, he started working out at home with a weight set he received for Christmas. When he was just 14, he frequented Hector’s Gym in Tampa, where he met celebrities like Hulk Hogan and Joe Piscopo. He started lifting weights because he always wanted to be strong and was influenced by comic book heroes like the Incredible Hulk.

For 30 years, I told him no thanks when he lectured me on my need to lift weights as I aged. I was busy – busy with work, busy with our daughters, and busy with school. For 30 years, I was stubborn when it came to weightlifting. It took a combination of two life-changing events to change my mind – surgeries on my feet and legs and involuntary commitment for bipolar disorder with psychotic symptoms.

I picked up jogging when I was around 40 years of age, and I quickly fell in love with it. When I was manic, it helped me burn off the energy that had nowhere to go. When I was anxious or depressed, it gave me a sense of freedom and relief. Unfortunately, I was unaware I had a congenital defect on both heels and bone spurs that shredded my Achilles tendons after jogging for several years. In August 2018, I took what I did not know would be my last run for years. A searing pain shot through my calf, and that was the end of years of joy and freedom. That pain led to two surgeries that involved bone scraping and over a year of recovery for each leg. I am just now starting to run again.

Last summer, at the beginning of the pandemic, I decided to stop taking my medication for bipolar disorder. I was tired of the side effects, especially weight gain, and wanted to see if I could live life unmedicated. I lasted for roughly six weeks before I began to experience mania and psychotic symptoms. Eventually, I experienced a psychotic break, including auditory hallucinations that led me to behave in ways I never had before. After returning to a psychiatrist, I was prescribed medications that worsened the symptoms and led to two involuntary hospital stays lasting 19 days for mania, delusions, depression, and anxiety.

The second time I was committed, sheriffs took me to an assessment center, then to a treatment facility that primarily serves the indigent. There I was exposed to the realities of mental illness and treatment centers, including overcrowding, staff overwhelmed by need, and environments that lead to worse patient outcomes (Csipke et al., 2016). I was also harassed, threatened, left to lie in my own filth, woke up to the smell of semen on my hospital gown, and suffered having my arm pulled out of the socket by a mental health technician. In the treatment center, my clothes and glasses were never given to me, forcing me to walk for days through a haze of details that I could not make out due to my nearsightedness and eye disease. I was stripped of my rights and every shred of dignity and pride I had.

The whole experience made me feel weak and vulnerable. I have yet to recover from the trauma of being locked in and left to the mercy of others. However, EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy) has helped. In 2021, I started hanging out with my husband in the gym in our garage. I watched at first, but one day I asked him if he could train me like he had his mother years ago. His mother is now in her 70s and is one resilient lady. Boy, did his face light up. He had just won a 30-year battle. He was thrilled to put together a plan for me.

I started with a “lady’s bar,” a 15 lb bar, and built up over the weeks to squatting with over 70 lbs on my shoulders and deadlifting 77 lbs. I now lift weights 2 to 3 days a week in our garage with ‘the man’ – my favorite coach and lifelong best friend. The two of us have had a blast working out together. When I’m doing squats, bench presses, and deadlifts, I feel strong enough to protect myself from those who seek to hurt me. Plus, the squats have given me butt muscles for the first time in 50 years. Now all I need is Kim Kardashian’s money.

If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.

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About the Author: Moya L. Alfonso, PhD, MSPH, is a 22-year veteran of public health, a professor, an advocate for the voiceless, and an aspiring writer.  She is a mother of two daughters and Nana to seven grandchildren. She is from Tampa, FL but recently moved to 30 acres in rural Alabama with her husband of 31 years and their fur babies, Mr. Puggles, Bear, Chi Chi, and Kitty.  She enjoys running, weightlifting, painting with acrylics, and gardening.


Reference: Csipke, E., et al. (2016). Following the Francis report: investigating patient experience of mental health in-patient care. British Journal of Psychiatry, 209 (1), pp. 35-39.

Photo by John Arano on Unsplash

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