Breaking Down


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The Diary of a Survivor
By Maureen Oliver


ISBN: 978-1-904610-05-1
Published: 2006
Pages: 27
Key Themes: schizo-affective disorder, depression, activism, spirituality, diary


‘Breaking Down’ is the personal record of a ‘psychotic’ breakdown. The author was, at the time, a single mother and lesbian activist campaigning vigorously for gay rights. She faithfully recorded her visions and voices, and the diary shows her desperate attempt to make sense of, and to survive, mental disintegration and schizophrenia

About the Author

Maureen Oliver is a lesbian artist and poet, a mother and grandmother, and a psychiatric survivor with a current diagnosis of Schizoaffective Disorder.

Book Extract

I keep arriving at the FIRE. Voices urge me to enter it – say I must enter it – that I am already starting to go into it. I stand in the enclosed space of the tunnel, surrounded by damp, dripping rocks. I am naked and vulnerable – the fire burns before me up into the darkness, across the pathway. Its flames are blue-green tipped, orange at centre, the pathway to one side slips away to bottomless depths where I feel dark water flows – the other side is the solid rock – I can see the pathway continuing on the other side winding on and on, twisting slightly – far in the distance is turquoise light – a black, eye-like sun blinks through a tiny opening – golden rays – like shining lashes radiate from it. I am cold – the fire does not give off warmth – I am icy-cold, ice burning in the darkness.
Voices: ‘You see what you’ve done Maureen?’
What have I done? I don’t see at all.

‘You can’t see us but we are here, we can read your thoughts’. These voices usually come from behind me. When I hear them I am also (usually) experiencing a numb sensation spreading from the right side of my head to the right side in the front of the face – forehead, cheekbones. Also a floating sensation and a sense of unreality? Though the world presses in on me – hyper-real.

It occurs to me later – Maureen is me/Anu – is she also me (my second name is Ann). Marina? My Grandad used to call me something like that when I was a child. So Marina and Anu are related to my own being/participate in/are connected to me/my life/my experience. The balance holds as long as Maureen has control most of the time, which she does at present/if Anu or Marina took over, if Maureen became less it would be a DISASTER. Marina is connected to the girl in the enclosed cavern who cries out naked and alone in the room without doors.

They placed me in the fire – chanting, taunting me. I was consumed by the fire. Then I was not Anu – or Maureen – I was in a vacuum. The vacuum was in me. It was utter, outer darkness. I had consciousness without existence. I was emptiness, nothingness, the void. It was terrible. It went on and on – timeless, spaceless, formless.
It was hard to come to. I was in my body without feeling my body for a long time. When I first came back I was Marina – weak and afraid. I aroused disgust in S (note: my partner at that time) Now I feel true solitude and the edge of icy despair.

I try to get through my work and be fully tuned into the material plane. It is difficult. Doctor Aru says I should go back on major tranquillizers. What shit! This is surely no way to solve the problems. Should I try to find a counsellor? Is there a way through and out of the tunnel? Susannah was clearly a gateway. Since she left me, cold and empty and sad, I have not been there so often. I still feel its pull and I have been called back by unseen forces.

I am concentrating to stay on the material plane – but am not working as well as before. I have to find some healing to make me strong and able to work well again – people expect it of me – it is my Karma to help and heal others yet this battle of my soul makes it all so difficult. Part of me wants to find a physical cause. I am having blood tests. I was beaten by the police on a demonstration 3 weeks ago an still can’t straighten my left leg.

I feel a clear passage of white light from Heaven through me to the earth below. Energy returns to me- I must use it rightly.

Within me is the Spirit of Hecate – Goddess of Darkness and the Moon. The ancient priestess – death, rebirth and regeneration.
My foolish enemies were moths flying into a candle flame.
A new direction awaits me – and the Ace of Swords.
I must follow this pathway of my spirit and learn to loosen the ties of temporal power.
If I must go alone then Blessed Be.

Towards the end of last nights ACT UP – my mind kept going completely blank – embarrassing and difficult. I feel as though I’m slipping, sliding, trying to climb a glacier. Last Thursday I was arrested on an ACT UP demonstration – held three hours in Bow Street cells – I felt faint and dizzy. I wasn’t allowed a drink of tea or to see a doctor. I was charged with obstruction.

The illness I suffered before hangs like some dread curtain in my mind. Also, I mentioned to some ACT UP women that I had been on a ‘psyche ward’ and caught looks of horror. I told Dennis (co-worker and friend) and he said they would automatically fear unreliability.
But haven’t I proved my reliability over and over again?
Must I be judged for this illness and found guilty? I have vowed not to hide it in the same way I vowed not to hide being gay. But the punishment and prejudice are everywhere. I didn’t do anything bad, or wicked or irresponsible. I was ILL. I hate the new idea that there’s no such thing as mental illness because it makes us out to be wanton, bad people.

Having recieved the Talisman from Kevin (Quiveen) note: my brother, have now comprehended something VITAL. ISIS my goddess! The Bright Fertile Mother who contains the DARK MOTHER also…represents a perfect balance of spiritual manifestation. He has linked the Talisman with my NAME – Maureen – linking me to the spiritual forces implied. DARK PURPLE (I see purples and reds).
Later, I got so carried away with this feeling of POWER that I was rushing around on a DIFFERENT DIMENSION to people – I’d dressed in PURPLE and put on RED lipstick (purples and reds)…

I am still trying to work…



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