In this ex­clu­sive ex­tract, with recipes, from her new mem­oir-cum-cook­book ‘Recipes For A Ner­vous Break­down’, LIFE colum­nist Sophie White re­veals how one Ec­stasy pill at the Elec­tric Pic­nic in 2007 led to a cat­a­clysmic shift in her life

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Life - - COOK YOURSELF SANE -

Be­fore go­ing mad, I didn’t re­ally give mad­ness that much thought. It seemed like a dis­tant con­cept that had ab­so­lutely zero bear­ing on my life. A life that had been pretty av­er­age up un­til that point. I was born in 1985 in Dublin’s Ro­tunda Hospi­tal, the first and only child of Kevin and Mary (aka Her­self ). So far, so good.

I grew up. I went to school. I played with my friends. I watched

Bosco, Zig and Zag, Blos­som, Saved by the Bell, Party of Five.

I loved draw­ing and mak­ing things. I loved read­ing and telling sto­ries. Up and up I grew. I played Mrs Ben­net in Fifth Class. I went to sec­ondary school. I wore black, I lis­tened to Green Day. I did rea­son­ably well in ex­ams.

I still loved art and started to do pho­tog­ra­phy. I had a small group of re­ally close friends. I kissed boys. I was fat but not as fat as I thought I was. I wasn’t pretty but I wasn’t as ugly as I thought I was. I wanted to be an artist. I grew up and up. I did my Leav­ing Cert and went to art col­lege.

I drank wine and smoked. I did drugs. I made sculp­tures. I hugged a tree the first time I ever did magic mush­rooms and cried be­cause the stars were so pretty. I worked in a restau­rant. I worked at the dogs. I was heart­bro­ken and I fell in love. I lay on a blan­ket un­der a tree in the gar­den and loved a new boy. I went to par­ties. I read books and drew pic­tures. I wrote my the­sis and ate take­aways. I drank too much and got sick. I had a bath­tub be­side my bed and lay read­ing in the water.

I got my First at col­lege and worked in a book­shop. I won­dered what to do next. I bought a plane ticket but ended up miss­ing the flight. I was go­ing along, liv­ing the life that I knew. I thought go­ing mad was a grad­ual kind of state af­ter all, that’s what the phrase kind of sug­gests. But for me it was an in­stan­ta­neous trans­for­ma­tion. Poof and you’re mad. Most peo­ple have wa­ter­shed mo­ments in life, the events that di­vide the life they had from the new re­al­ity, and this was mine. Elec­tric Pic­nic, Sat­ur­day, Septem­ber 1, 2007.

Wake up one morn­ing in a field with your friends with no idea that by the next morn­ing, ev­ery­thing will be changed ir­re­vo­ca­bly. Poof and you’re mad.

Fun­nily enough, the mo­ment when my life made this cat­a­clysmic shift ac­tu­ally felt phys­i­cally like a shift. I had taken a pill about an hour ear­lier and was walk­ing through a field when I felt the fa­mil­iar un­bear­able light­ness of com­ing up on Ec­stasy. Then I felt an un­mis­tak­able jolt, like an abrupt jerk in the Earth’s or­bit. I was un­nerved but shook it off. I’d had the odd bad trip be­fore on mush­rooms and knew that en­ter­tain­ing the seeds of doubt can vir­tu­ally bring on the bad­ness, but if you brush them off and fo­cus on pos­i­tives some­times you can es­sen­tially style it out.

If all this is mak­ing me sound like a sea­soned drug­gie, be­lieve me, I was not. To my mind I was very mod­er­ate in my drug-tak­ing. Though, with hind­sight, my frame of ref­er­ence might have been a bit skewed, as I had just come through art col­lege, where the at­ti­tudes were pos­si­bly a bit more le­nient than your av­er­age cam­pus.

Any­way, back to the ‘Poof and you’re mad’ bit. I soon re­alised that I would not be shrug­ging off this bad trip. It was tak­ing com­plete hold of me by the time I man­aged to make my way back to my tent. A bad trip is dif­fer­ent for ev­ery­one, but the gist is this: ex­treme an­guish, pro­found ter­ror, with or with­out au­di­tory and vis­ual hal­lu­ci­na­tions. Fun.

I lay in that tent for hours and hours, racked with ter­ror. On many lev­els I thought I was go­ing to die and had full-blown hal­lu­ci­na­tions of talk­ing to my par­ents about this. But some­where I had an el­e­ment of con­scious aware­ness. I felt I would sur­vive. I just needed to re­hy­drate!

I had a few litres of water in the tent with me, and as I rode each wave of anx­i­ety and black­est fear I clung to this one act of try­ing to cleanse my­self of the drug and get to morn­ing. At some point near dawn, I fell asleep.

Upon wak­ing I ini­tially felt pro­found re­lief. I had sur­vived the night, the drug was wear­ing off and we were head­ing home. I still had the un­easy feary feel­ing of a bad, bad hang­over, but I was glad to be out of that tent. I dis­tinctly re­mem­ber think­ing that I would never take drugs again. What I didn’t re­alise then was that I would be re­liv­ing el­e­ments of that first night over and over for the next few years. That it would be four years be­fore I would feel sta­ble enough to have even a glass of wine with din­ner and that I would wind up on drugs of a very dif­fer­ent va­ri­ety.

The first few days af­ter the trip I no­ticed that the per­sis­tent fear and anx­i­ety were show­ing no signs of abat­ing and ap­peared to be get­ting worse. I was also hav­ing strange vis­ual and au­di­tory dis­tur­bances. I found watch­ing tele­vi­sion ab­so­lutely un­bear­able, as the on­slaught of sounds and im­ages felt like an at­tack on my fraz­zled brain. Trips to the su­per­mar­ket or other crowded places were such an ag­gres­sive as­sault on my senses that I avoided them at all costs. I had be­gun to no­tice that ev­ery­day ob­jects looked un­fa­mil­iar to me. This is hard to de­scribe, but com­pletely in­nocu­ous things like sham­poo bot­tles and boxes of ce­real would ap­pear al­tered and fill me with dread. Even my own face and hands were fright­en­ing to me.

One night, as I was wash­ing dishes my left arm sud­denly felt like it was not my own. I stopped what I was do­ing and touched it with my other arm. I could feel it, but I couldn’t shake the sense that this arm was alien and not re­ally a part of me. I pre­tended to con­tinue with the dishes while care­fully watch­ing the arm out of the cor­ner of my eye. It too con­tin­ued wash­ing the dishes. The strangest thing was not the mis­trust of my own arm but that some part of my mind could still recog­nise that these were not nor­mal thoughts.

I be­gan to be plagued by the sen­sa­tion that I was go­ing mad. Dur­ing this time I ex­pe­ri­enced a lot of ob­ses­sive thoughts. The thoughts felt to me as if they were un­con­trol­lable, that they were not my own, and I was ter­ri­fied of the im­ages that would flash across my brain. All the while I still had a scrap of ra­tio­nal per­spec­tive that I tried to use to talk my­self down. A

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