Light For the Midnight

Al Spx on relearning how to care for herself and her career after being misdiagnosed as schizophrenic.

As a musician, you don’t really earn money unless you are touring. I was always touring. The system is incredibly flawed and you often have artists coming back from tour emotionally and physically drained. It can be an exhilarating experience, but if the album is not doing well and the shows are not selling then it is a total disaster. As was the case with my Fool’s Paradise tour. 

It was November 16, 2017. I remember the day specifically because I was playing a show and it was the first time that I had openly discussed my delusions with my band members. I was on a tour of North America and started to believe that popular artists were communicating with me via subliminal messages on Instagram. As the months went on the delusions got worse. I began believing that I was being recruited into the Illuminati. 

The psychosis began on tour. It was a long, grueling North American tour playing to empty crowds. We were in new cities every day. The pressure of the album failing was overwhelming. There was little to no time scheduled for sleep. We were five people and a pile of instruments crammed into an SUV. With the toxic tour dynamic within the crew, the lack of crowd attendance, and the dreadful schedule, it was a recipe for a mental breakdown. 

I was in deep psychosis from November 2017 to August 2018. During that time, I was living in my studio. In March, I moved into a condo. By then I was very ill. The walls were covered with newspapers, as I was trying to hide non-existent cameras; I believed I was being monitored through mirrors. I was hallucinating at times and spent the majority of my time by myself in this newspaper covered apartment. My family got involved and had me hospitalized at the leading mental health facility in the country, where I was misdiagnosed. 

I was placed on the schizophrenia spectrum. I was told since it was my first episode of psychosis that I only needed to be on meds for two years. I complied with the treatment plan and went off meds in 2020, and I was stable up until August 2021. With the pressure of my album’s recording delays due to the pandemic, I began crumbling. 

I started to get manic and depressed and then entered into a six month long deep psychosis. The delusions were exactly the same the second time around. I believed I was being recruited into the Illuminati by leading pop stars. I was rejecting the whole thing and began communicating back on Instagram. I broadcasted my entire hospitalization while in deep psychosis. I believed I was being monitored through mirrors, and hilariously that Drake was trying to recruit me into the Illuminati alongside artists like Cardi B. I believed they were communicating with me through song lyrics. And that I was about to enter into an elite secret establishment. Everything was organized into colors. I believed the CN tower was being lit up and glowing only for me. Screaming sirens currently haunt me. I can’t hear one without shuddering. During my episode, I believed they were communicating with me. 

I also started investigating a possible misdiagnosis, after reading a study done by Rutgers University that highlighted the fact that bipolar Black people are often misdiagnosed with schizophrenia. I called a psychologist who was a woman of color and began the process of getting reassessed.

While in the hospital, it turned out that I had been on the wrong meds during my three month hospitalization and had been given an incorrect diagnosis. I was still battling mania and crushing depression as well as a deep psychosis. It wasn’t until I got a female doctor at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, who herself was Black, that I was really fought for as a Black woman. She diagnosed me as having bipolar type I with psychotic features. She provided me with a great treatment plan. She never gave up on me. 

I had my first episode when I was 29, my second when I was 33. I lost a total of 15 months to psychosis. My early 30s were spent dealing with severe mental illness. I can’t explain what it feels like to be living in a different reality for that long. I lost a great deal of my life to this illness. I’m completely dedicated to managing it properly. I shall never go off meds. 

I am also in a place where I am learning to manage my career in a way that does not lead to complications. I will never do a grueling tour. I will play select cities and treat it like a vacation. I now know that I must be kind to myself.

Al Spx, formerly known as Cold Specks is a Toronto based musician. Spx is signed to Mute Records and will be releasing her album Light for the Midnight that is Mine later this year.