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Psychotherapist Joe Guppy Confronts His Own Psychosis

caption: Writer and psychotherapist Joe Guppy.
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Writer and psychotherapist Joe Guppy.
Courtesy Joe Guppy/Photo by Ernie Sapiro

Many Seattle-area residents remember Joe Guppy from his days as a performer. For years he was an improvisational artist and actor, and one of the minds behind the long-running television program "Almost Live."

That's where Guppy met his wife, the television host Nancy Guppy. More than 15 years ago he left show business to become a psychotherapist.

What people might not know about Joe Guppy is that in 1978 he spent several months in a locked psychiatric ward at what was then Providence Hospital on Seattle's First Hill.

That was the year Guppy calls "a really bad one." He'd graduated college not long before, but he wasn't working in his chosen field, writing. In addition to his under-employment, Guppy had just broken up with the woman he calls the love of his life.

So, he did what most young people do to forget: he decided to leave town. He headed to Mexico, and that's where his life really fell apart.

Guppy writes in his new memoir, "My Fluorescent God," that he ate something bad, and decided to take the prescription meds his doctor had given him before his trip.

"I thought they were just like ultra-TUMS," Guppy says. "Turned out they had this side effect called toxic psychosis."

Guppy began to hallucinate. Somehow he made it back to his parents' home in Seattle. Ultimately, he was checked into the psychiatric ward for a multi-month stay.

Once new drugs stabilized him somewhat, Guppy began to chronicle his experiences in a collection of notebooks. He wrote and drew about what was happening in the hospital, and then in therapy and finally in a halfway house for mentally ill people.

Slowly, Guppy recovered from his psychosis. He set out on a performance career then, when he felt that was over, he trained to become a psychotherapist.

Guppy kept his journals in a sealed box. He thought, someday, he might write about his encounter with madness.

Seven years ago, Guppy finally opened that box. He says it was terrifying: memories came flooding back. But he needed to confront that time in his life, to come to grips with his own experience and how it led him to a career helping other people with their own mental illnesses.

Guppy still has that box of journals. "I thought about burning them after I wrote the book," he jokes. But the memories the journals hold aren't so scary anymore.

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