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My Voyage to Empathy: Psychosis and Star Wars’ Jake Lloyd

I love Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. Over the years, the Star Wars prequel films have faced backlash, but I have remained unapologetic since the film’s release in 1999. For a time, it was my favorite movie. I was eight years old, but it felt like I’d waited for the prequel trilogy forever. We had a VHS copy, and whenever movie night rolled around, I fought hard to watch it yet again. It drove my family bonkers.

Part of my enamorment with the film was my celebrity crush on Jake Lloyd, the young boy who played Anakin Skywalker. He seemed heroic, having beaten out thousands of other hopefuls to become an iconic character.

This year, The Phantom Menace celebrates its 25th anniversary, but there’s a player missing from the fanfare. Jake Lloyd dropped out of the spotlight after the film’s release. Like his iconic character in Star Wars, Lloyd’s future would take him to some challenging places.

In honor of World Schizophrenia and Psychosis Awareness Day, let me peel back the stigma that surrounds serious mental illness and share how my own journey with mental health has changed how I look at others who struggle.

© Lucasfilm

Phantoms of the Mind: Jake Lloyd’s Disappearance from Hollywood

I followed news of Jake Lloyd after Star Wars: The Phantom Menace got filed away as yesterday’s story. Though his acting roles slowed to a halt, he appeared at fan conventions and did interviews. I remember watching one video where the interviewer concluded by joking about child stars all “turning to a life of drugs,” and telling Lloyd “may the force be with you.” Lloyd seemed uncomfortable during that interview.

In 2015, after a long period of radio silence, I heard about Lloyd’s arrest for reckless driving and evading police. This bitter news was difficult for me to process. Someone I had once admired seemed to be acting like he had lost his way.

Later articles included that Lloyd was diagnosed with schizophrenia. He struggled with a common symptom of serious mental illness called anosognosia, where a patient doesn’t accept or recognize that they have an illness.

While I felt some grief and sympathy for Lloyd, I couldn’t comprehend how such a thing was possible. How could you fail to realize you were sick? Why would you stop taking medication if you had such a serious diagnosis?

Little did I know, just one year later, I would battle psychosis myself.

© Wondermind

Psychosis Strikes Back: My Own Struggles with Mental Health

In the summer of 2016, while in outpatient care for severe depression, I suffered my first psychotic break with reality.

For several weeks, driving to and from the hospital, my racing thoughts felt like revelations building to a crescendo. Insomnia kept me tossing and turning every night, contemplating the deep questions of life. Bizarre conspiracy scenarios wormed their way into my insights about myself, and they came with epiphany chills. I thought I was on the verge of understanding something fundamental about the universe and my existence. Then one night, alone and awake in my first apartment while rain raged outside, a clap of thunder sounded, and I knew the storm was calling to me.

At three in the morning, I called my parents, raving about destiny and soulmates. Realizing something was seriously wrong, they drove to my apartment and fought for three days to have me admitted to a psychiatric facility.

The first doctor who saw me when I was lucid said that I was probably bipolar and had just experienced my first episode of mania. My regular psychiatrist said schizoaffective disorder.

Hearing the word schizoaffective felt like the final nail in my mental health coffin. I had been clawing my way out of depression, and then out of nowhere, I was struck by a train. I had a deep-seated fear that I was irrevocably broken this time.

“When we cast a light on mental health struggles, including psychosis and schizophrenia, we can help those who live in that darkness feel more understood and less alone.” -Allison Marshall

In January 2018, I quit taking my antipsychotics without telling anyone. My reasons made perfect sense to me. I hated taking pills, I was weary of the side effects, and I thought I was better.

The most complex reason, and the one I believe those who have not experienced psychosis will find difficult to understand, is that I thought my psychosis had something to tell me. For me, psychosis feels like a flood of revelations leading to an ultimate answer. That feeling of having the secret to life right at your fingertips is deeply comforting. And deceptive.

I was fine for four months. Then a strange sense of déjà vu descended on my mind, along with the same epiphany chills I had felt before. After a week of reality-shaking alarm bells, I suffered my third psychotic break with reality in April 2018.

Wearing only a pair of shorts and red sandals, I left my apartment, got in my car, and drove until I ran out of gas on the access road.

I remember cowering against my steering wheel while red and blue lights flashed around me. At some point, I must have opened the car door. Iron hands pushed me onto a gurney, and I was dragged, writhing and screaming, into an ambulance.

I cannot stress how badly that could have ended. When Lloyd got behind the wheel of a car while experiencing psychosis, he led the police on a high-speed chase and then spent 10 months in prison while his mother, Lisa Lloyd, fought to have him treated.

Six months after my 2018 psychotic break, in South Carolina, tragedy befell another young man with schizoaffective disorder. Twenty-six-year-old Paul Tarashuk was found wandering around naked on the interstate, but the police and EMTs called to the scene mocked, berated, and finally abandoned him at a closed gas station. He was later struck by a vehicle and killed. Tarashuk’s family is still fighting for justice, and their civil lawsuit is slated to go to trial in September 2024.

After my 2018 psychotic break, my psychiatrist put me on a one-month antipsychotic injection, now administered by my doctor. With the help of medication and recognizing the warning signs, I was able to weather my fourth psychotic break in February 2021 safely at home.

© Scripps News

A New Hope: Lisa Lloyd Opens Up About Jake Lloyd’s Journey

As the silver anniversary of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace approached this past month, Jake Lloyd’s name caught my eye in a news headline. Lisa Lloyd, Jake Lloyd’s mother, recently spoke to Scripps News about her son’s struggle with schizophrenia. While it seems the road has been rough, filled with setbacks and personal tragedy, Lisa expressed sincere hope for the future.
I read this article from an entirely different place in my mental health journey. Before my own psychotic episodes, I thought of psychosis as though it were an alien monster. People who had it were dangerous, crazy, and unhinged. Most importantly, I thought they were broken without any hope of repair. But I see things differently now that I’ve been there.

Between 2015 and now, my heart has moved from detached compassion to true empathy. I see myself and my struggles in Lloyd’s battle with psychosis.

People who struggle with psychosis, whether they wander alone on the streets or exist in mental health wards, need us all to see things differently. Their experiences don’t have to be dangerous or scary. They can be amazing, insightful, and creative people. Above all, with treatment and support, they can lead normal lives—maybe even experience full remission from their symptoms.

© Lucasfilm

Awaiting a Jedi’s Return

Today, I am three years psychosis symptom-free, and by most measures of success, I’m doing well. I am employed full-time, and I live on my own. After my initial diagnosis, I was certain life could never be the same again. In many ways it’s not—I am still on an antipsychotic injection, and I’m very wary of déjà vu and epiphany chills—but I can still find joy, independence, and normalcy on this side of psychosis. I can go see Star Wars: The Phantom Menace on the big screen again and relive my childhood excitement and wonder.

I hope and pray that one day Jake Lloyd feels well enough to share his own story. When we cast a light on mental health struggles, including psychosis and schizophrenia, we can help those who live in that darkness feel more understood and less alone.

In that light—knowing I’m not alone—I have been able to move into a place of healing.

Allison writes web copy by day and traverses fantastical worlds in her fiction writing by night. Her work has appeared in the literary magazine eleven40seven and her short story “Get Away from the Water'' won the Helen Hamilton Award for Excellence in Creative Expression. When not writing, she can be found posing in ballgowns and flower headbands on her Instagram, @allymarshallunicorn.

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