What It’s Like to Experience Psychosis.
Mental health stigma is something many of us are working hard to fight against. No matter what illness it is, there’s always a good amount of people who believe that if you simply have the will you can wish it away. Fortunately, disorders like depression and anxiety are far less stigmatized than they used to be.
Along with some seriously sucky anxiety disorders, I live with Major Depressive Disorder which means that my worst case scenario of symptoms is experiencing a Major Depressive Episode, more commonly referred to as a nervous breakdown. As of today I have 7 of these suckers under my belt and believe me when I say that the older I get, the worse they are. In fact, I’m part of a rare percentage of people who not only experience these episodes, but also get to have the un-fun experience of full blown Psychosis when they happen. I like to call it a bunch o’ bullshit!
There are many misconceptions about what it’s like to go through a psychotic break. The symptoms appear scary and even the name of the disorder can cause a few chills to run down your spine. It never surprises me, then, when some people begin to treat me like I’m sub-human when they have to deal with my daily doses of crazy. Inevitably, when the psychosis subsides my body hits a recovery period and it’s at this point where I have to apologize to literally everyone for the things crazy me did that un-crazy me would never do.
Many of us who struggle with mental illness also struggle with the judgement of others. Society doesn’t hold people accountable for having cancer, but we are held accountable for mood disorders. Part of understanding serious conditions like psychosis starts with recognizing a single, simple truth: no one, and I mean fuckin’ no one, would ever choose to go through it if the choice was up to them. And guess what? That choice is never up to us!
On November 9, 2018 my mother unexpectedly passed away. For me, this experience was a trauma and my nutty noggin was immediately and permanently injured. To make matters worse, I was already in the middle of a Major Depressive Episode so there was literally no hope that I wouldn’t experience full blown psychosis when it happened. Of course psychosis is always a sneak attack and it’s never until I’m properly medicated and in serious treatment that I understand what’s going on.
Symptoms of psychosis are different for all kinds of people. Some of us have visual hallucinations, others of us don’t, and most of us look like we’re a hot friggin’ mess when it happens. Regardless of individual experience, the bottom line is that the way this particular pile of symptoms presents is heavily behavioral so to anyone with a healthy brain everything comes across as next level crazy… because it is!
Here are some of the most common symptoms of psychosis and the ways they effect me:
When my brain hit the unhealthy highway on this journey I immediately started hearing things that weren’t there. Auditory hallucinations super suck because your brain is playing tricks on itself! One of my most common symptoms was hearing the voices of my loved ones repeatedly telling me things while other people were talking to me. This makes it, as you can imagine, incredibly difficult to hold a conversation because I never knew exactly who I was responding to.
For me, background noise is usually something that soothes me. But when I’m hearing things in those sounds that aren’t really there I’m incapable of feeling safe. Since the voices seem real I believed I was never actually alone and therefore felt unsafe every single second because I thought I had no privacy. You can imagine, then, how literally relieved I was when my symptoms broke and I realized I could go to the bathroom in peace!
I had so many delusions this time I don’t even know where to start! Somewhere deep in my brain I held some negative beliefs and when my psychosis hit the fan I decided that those beliefs were fuckin’ facts. The hardest part of believing in a delusion is when people you trust the most in the world tell you the truth and you refuse to believe them. My poor husband tried to be logical with me as much as he could but I was unable to understand where he was coming from since I believed I knew what was true.
One of the best ways I’ve found to break through delusions (other than talking them over with an excellent therapist) is to force myself to look at evidence about them. With the guidance of doctors I learned how to put my trust in the right people and to straight up ask them if something was true. If it wasn’t, it was my job to journal and talk it through so I could understand where the underlying belief had come from.
I always experience some seriously severe paranoia when I get super sick and it usually centers around technology and personal safety. For whatever reason I always believe that my computer and electronics have been hacked and then do something stupid like, oh, I don’t know, binge listen to a podcast all about cyber security and buy into conspiracy theories that big tech companies are listening to my phone calls. That fucks me right over and I become convinced that someone somewhere is watching everything I do.
The worst part about this is that I get to a place where I’m afraid to talk on the phone, send a text, or even open up my social media. I usually end up changing passwords and not remembering them which ultra sucks in the end. This time, however, I had a plan in place and a beautifully bearded husband who helped me through this part so that by the time the delusions began to fade I hadn’t fucked everything up the way I usually do. Mostly!
Normally my anxiety is pretty under control. Sure, I have negative thoughts and have to talk myself out of them, but it’s been years since I’ve had uncontrollable shaking, random vomiting, and panic attacks so severe that my legs don’t work after I have them. But when I hit psychosis, all of those things happen and more. It’s super not fun.
At one point my shaking was so severe I couldn’t hold a cup of coffee without spilling it. I have nightmares, become sleepless, and am utterly convinced that I’m dying to the point where hospitalization is necessary. Medication and therapy is the solve for this one and I have to say if anyone has ever judged you for the meds you take, you can tell them to straight up go fuck themselves because that is how lives get saved when brains are broken.
This particular symptom is uniquely frustrating because my short term memory goes out almost completely. From forgetting whether I went to the bathroom to asking my husband where I left my phone every five minutes, memory loss makes me completely incapable of taking care of myself. When it comes to important things like showers and taking meds on time, I need assistance like you wouldn’t believe.
One of the scariest parts of psychosis with memory loss is when you aren’t sure if you took your meds and then you have to figure out whether you need to take more. This is why it’s so important to seek inpatient treatment or to have a support person with you who can help you until you get to a place where you can handle it on your own. I did both and believe me when I say that it’s the reason I’m literally living today.
Disorganized Motor Skills
This part is one I loathe the absolute most. From going full on Catatonic for hours upon hours to losing functionality in my limbs, I can’t even express the frustration I feel when I can’t so much as raise my arms to put on make up. In fact, there were long periods of time where I had to simply lay in a bed and stare at the ceiling because my legs were too shaky to walk on.
One of the worst parts of this particular symptom is that they can make you look drunk or drugged out. You can’t move the way you ought to move and people who don’t understand what it’s like judge the absolute shit out of you. The downside is the humiliation but the upside is if you’re a caffeine whore like me people will always be willing to give you a cup of coffee!
While these are only a handful of symptoms of psychosis they’re my most prevalent ones. If someone you know has gone through anything like this take some time to do your research so you can learn how to better support us because folks, believe me when I say this: