16 People Describe What It's Like to Experience Psychosis

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Psychosis is a break from reality — a truly impossible phenomenon to imagine unless you’ve experienced it yourself. According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, approximately 3 in 100 people will experience an episode of psychosis during their lives.

But experiencing psychosis doesn’t make someone “psychotic, “crazy” or even dangerous. It’s a symptom of a mental illness, and should be treated like one.

To get a better understanding of psychosis, we asked people in our community to describe what it’s like.

This is what they had to say:  

1. “For me, it felt like I was watching a movie that was my life. I knew bad things were happening and I couldn’t stop it. ”

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2. “It feels like a complete loss of control.”

3. “I was driven by fear…voices…hallucinations. I felt chaotic.”

4. “Out of body experience. Excruciating sensations amplified by 1,000 at the tip of every sensor in my body.”

5. “Simply the most troubling loss of self you can experience.”

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6. “For me, it’s like an overwhelming feeling of fear and dread combined with an uncontrollable obession on one thing. My mind is stuck on that one thing and it races nonstop.”

7. “It’s overwhelming, and yet super realistic. It’s so convincing that you completely go along for the ride.”

8. “Drowning in a cesspool of confusion and chaos.”

9. “You’re sitting there, in that place you should be able to recognize. You don’t. Everything is unfamiliar, foreign. You’re grasping, desperately, for a comfortable place you aren’t in the moment able to identify. You’re missing yourself. Missing from yourself. Everything is fast — images and echoes. Somehow you feel slow and still. As though you’re out of your body but you can’t quite see yourself. Hurt. You hurt. You know you’re hurting.”

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10. “Your mind tells you something is true and your body reacts with animal instinct. You have to fight in your brain — to argue that what you’re believing instinctively is wrong.”

11. “It’s like being your worst enemy and the enemy is inside your head. Psychosis isn’t fun because your mind plays tricks on you, and this can be terrifying for the person.”

12. “It feels like you are outside of your brain, like there isn’t a problem.”

13. “It feels like you’re stung by a wasp in your brain.”

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14. “I felt like I was in control, but now I’m sure I wasn’t.”

15. “Every sense is heightened and colors are especially bright. The world is on a giant flat screen TV. Everything seems more crystal clear than you ever knew, but then it all becomes confused and muddled. You make your own realities, constantly decoding messages that seem extremely important, but are ultimately meaningless. They further the storyline in your head that seems so real.”

16. “Like a cataract of the mind.”

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I Was Left in the Dark After My Son's First Psychotic Episode

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My son did not wake up one morning and ask to have a brain disease. Yet, like unwanted weeds in a garden, this illness took root in his young teen years and overtook the fertile soil of our sweet son’s growing mind. 

When my son had his first psychotic break at the age of 18, we were shell shocked and devastated. How do you prepare for psychosis? Who do you call for help? What is psychosis in the first place, and what is happening to his brain? In our son’s mania, he ran through our neighborhood singing and knocking on neighbor’s doors, scaring them. Eventually he darted out onto a busy street with oncoming traffic. The police had to be called, and I will be forever grateful they subdued him before something tragic happened. Even after he pushed an officer down, they brought him to the hospital instead of jail because they recognized his illness for what it was. 

The very next morning I phoned the hospital where he had been involuntarily admitted by police. I wanted to check on him and speak with a doctor. Naive, I thought his illness was the worst thing we’d have to face. Then, I was met with an ice cold greeting from a staff member: “Ma’am, your son is a psychopath. Give him the number to a homeless shelter and pack his bag.” I hung up the phone and my heart plummeted into a dark pit of despair.  

Through a heavy fog, the next few days were spent immersed in information about mental health courts, involuntary treatment (something not available in all 50 states and counties in the U.S.) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which addresses patients’ rights to health information privacy. Because our son was legally an adult, doctors would not speak with us about his treatment, diagnosis or medications they were prescribing. Neither did they ask us information about prior history. We eventually learned we could give them information, but not one staff person explained this upon his intake.

18. That magic number. Culture and laws tell us that our kids are adults. By the stroke of a pen, 18 is legal. The invisible divide between your parent’s apron strings and freedom. 

Serious mental illness changes almost everything, but not love. No, you can’t change that. Not even when your kid turns 18.

Even though the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services has clarified that Health Care Providers may communicate with, as well as receive information from, family members, especially if it is in the best interest of the patient, no such reasonable attempt was initially made with us. We were terrified for our son and completely in the dark.

For example, our son had a rare autoimmune disease as a child. I wanted to request tests and engage in a discussion about possible connections. No such dialogue was sought or welcomed unless our incapacitated son would sign a release of information. As our son was transferred to a third hospital because his psychosis was difficult to treat and stabilize, finally, a kind doctor called my husband and I after his work hours to discuss our son’s prognosis and answer our fearful questions. 

I raised this son. Held him. Stayed up many sleepless nights. Taught him how to read and learn his multiplication tables. Kissed him. Read to him. Played at the park with him. Took him to church. Went to his ball games. Took him to the doctor. Got him all his vaccines. Laughed at his jokes. Corrected him when he needed it. Apologized to him when I blew it. Washed his clothes. Dyed Easter eggs on messy countertops. Stayed up late wrapping Christmas presents. Watched movies I didn’t like. Wiped his sloppy tears and icky nose. Went to his DMV races. Prayed for him and with him. Hoped for him. Cried over him.

But now, because he is over 18, we’re treated like we’re not on our kid’s side.

And we’re OK with this?

I don’t want your sympathy, I don’t want your money. What I would like is your attention, please. This system is horrifically broken. Let’s start here: No one knows my son like my husband and I. And no one loves him more. Turning 18 didn’t change that. The assumption that we merely want to lock our very sick kid away and go on with our merry lives needs to be the exception, and not the rule. 

Yes, we need help from our state. We can’t do it alone. But we also won’t let you do it without us. We’ve seen how that’s been working out. No thanks. 

Homeless shelters are not acceptable. I won’t pack my son’s bags. I drive around my state’s capitol downtown and see the men and women living in the underpasses and eating out of garbage cans. I speak with parents who are the only thing standing between their son or daughter being sent to prison, shelters and yes, maybe death. 

We’ve got to do more than talk and read blogs. We’ve got to support legislation that addresses our hostile mental health system and focuses meaningful change that helps the most seriously mentally ill. In my opinion, The Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act addresses the misuse of the HIPAA law by medical professionals and institutions within the psychiatric system of care.

It’s time we used resources to empower those who are some of the best advocates available: the parents.

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The 3 Things I Do When My Anxiety Comes Back

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Any of you anxious peeps will know that when anxiety comes to visit, it’s hard to get things done. Tasks that are normally super easy and short become complicated and drawn out. Decisions take longer to make, and your head and your whole being becomes wobbly and noisy.

It’s vital that you seek help for anxiety and that you learn to manage it as best you can. So what do you do when that old friend is in town? Well, here are three things I do when my anxiety comes back:

1. Accept it. My goodness, this one is hard, isn’t it? But it’s not going to go away just because you are willing it to. You have to accept it.

Two years after I was diagnosed, I spent several intense and exhausting months workshopping acceptance with my psychologist. I hated it because I had to really deal with some feelings and, well, feelings. Plus, I had to be comfortable with my life the way it was. Without changing it. Just accepting it as it is. But once I got through the tough parts, I felt heaps better. So when anxiety comes back to visit, I accept it quickly and acknowledge that, yes, my unwanted bed fellow is indeed present.

Acceptance doesn’t mean merely to tolerate but to embrace life. It literally means taking what is offered. So let it in. I don’t always want to let anxiety in, but when I do, I’m without a doubt calmer. This doesn’t mean that I like where I am right now (I’d love to be even more free from anxiety) nor does it mean that I intend to stay in this space, but if I more freely accept the reality of my situation, I have more of a chance of being able to take action to change it. Acceptance of the here and now is key to this for me.

2. Empty my head by writing things out. I recommend starting to write lists. Even if you aren’t a list-maker or even if you don’t want to adhere to a list, it might help to get that noise out of your head and onto a piece of paper. Sometimes it seems less stressful when it is on paper. The inside of your head can get filled with so many other emotions and little thoughts that the enormity of what actually needs to get done becomes completely overwhelming. So write it down. Get it out. Let it out.

You can also meditate to help empty your head, and this is especially powerful after writing a list. Try the Smiling Mind app to guide you.

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3. Give myself time. Then I move on. When I’m having a particularly gray period, I have a little chat with myself. I highly recommend you do this somewhere private because people will look at you oddly if you are just chatting away with yourself over your latte. Once I kind of get an understanding of what’s at the core of my worry and unrest, I give myself a set amount of time to deal with it. I may decide that I can have a day to wallow (this is a guide and is completely fluid, depending on your own head space) and then two days to take action on it. After that, I try to move on and put it behind me.

My management of mental illness requires a great deal of resilience. It is often challenging and always exhausting, but if in the end I feel better, it’s worth the discomfort of a bit of acceptance, list-writing and time.

A version of this post originally appeared on Colour Me Anna.

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The 4-Word Message on a Ribbon That Helps Me With Anxiety

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I’ve learned that anxiety and depression go hand-in-hand, and there is no shame in having either — although it’s tough for many people to get their arms around that concept.

Growing up, I had always been, quite naturally, the life of any party. But over a period of several years, I began to stay away from such parties. When I did go and fake my way through, I would usually leave upset, gripped by the weight of having been such a fraud.

When I struggled with anxiety and depression in my last couple years as the Texas Rangers’ baseball play-by-play announcer, the few people in whom I confided expressed genuine shock. “Depressed? About what? You’ve got a great job! Legions of adoring fans! A wonderful family! Dude, what’s your problem?”

At my lowest moments, everything and everyone in the world was a threat. Not just people I knew, but people I knew I’d never meet. Brad Pitt’s looks? A threat. Same for Peyton Manning’s arm, Josh Groban’s voice, Justin Timberlake’s talent, the neighbor’s house…they all felt like threats to me instead of things for me to simply enjoy.

In an anxious state, all I could see were the things I couldn’t do or didn’t have, and the person I couldn’t be. I had no appreciation whatsoever for anything I already was. No matter what I did, I had this foreboding sense that it would never be enough. And if the people in my life who mattered had the “gall” to appreciate or acknowledge the talents of others, I took it as a punch in the face. It was a scary, lonely, exhausting way to go through life.

The crux of an anxiety disorder is the complete inability to be at peace with the present moment — always expecting the other shoe to drop, waiting for something to go wrong. I’d be racked with guilt about things I’d done poorly and trembling with worry that I’d soon screw something else up, too. I worried that it would all come crashing down within an hour of air time. Quite routinely, I’d seek refuge in the press box bathroom, head in my hands, trying to remind myself, “It’s OK. I’m OK.” Sometimes I was… most times I wasn’t.

After a diagnosis of GAD (generalized anxiety disorder) and depression, lots of therapy (cognitive behavioral therapy) and hard work (self-help), I stumbled upon a small purple ribbon — 25 cents at a thrift shop. It’s for little kids who wipe out at field day, I’d guess, and it simply says “I Tried My Best.” But it works for me and, as odd as it sounds, there are still days that if I don’t look at that ribbon, I forget where this path to salvation is located. Finally, slowly, I am coming to understand and live that dynamic: All anyone can do is his or her best. No matter who’s suggesting otherwise — if it’s other people telling you or your own addled brain — that’s got to be the thing you remember. Live to your fullest potential and let that be enough. Whatever has happened is immaterial. Whatever might happen is rarely in your power.

What does the future hold? Who knows? What a scary thought for the already-threatened, but there are no cheat codes one can acquire and apply to real life. Will my kids turn out OK? Will my wife still love me? Will I stay gainfully employed? How scary, even to this day, to type the words “I don’t know.”

The fear of being “never enough” is a painful, full-body throb. With the Rangers, I had days where the gravity of that thought would keep me in bed, under the covers, unwilling or unable to get up. What a wasteful, unfortunate way to spend time. I beg anyone who has experienced worry, “lack” or “threat” to, first, get some help, and then go get a purple ribbon and fly it like a flag. If you tried your best, it is, indeed, enough. That’s all anyone can ever rightfully demand of you anyway.

The only thing I do control is to be the best possible version of myself. And to surround myself with people — professionally and personally — who are kind, nurturing and understanding. I have done that now, accepting a job with the New York Mets and continuing as the voice of the San Diego Chargers. I like the jobs, I like the people, and most importantly, I’m learning to like myself again.

A version of this post originally appeared on Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

Do you have a story about your experience with mental illness? We want to hear it. Please send it to [email protected] and include a photo for the story, a photo of yourself and a 1-2 sentence bio. More info here. Thanks!

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Ask Me, Not the Media, What It’s Like to Have Schizophrenia

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My name is Rebecca. I have paranoid schizophrenia. I am married. I have a home. And I have never been a danger to anyone but myself.

But the opinion that gets played out over and over in the media is that people with schizophrenia are dangerous. We are portrayed as crazed killers. The popular show “Criminal Minds” deals with the topic of people with schizophrenia, often casting them as murderers. And this isn’t uncommon. A 2012 study found in 41 movies released between 1990 and 2010 that featured a character who had schizophrenia, “most characters (with schizophrenia) engaged in dangerous or violent behaviors toward themselves or others, and nearly a third engaged in homicidal behavior.

It gets so tiring.

It is true that many people with schizophrenia are in jail, but that has to do more with a failed system of treatment than the fact that people with schizophrenia are dangerous.

I lived in the closet with the truth about my diagnosis for over 20 years. My husband and I created a bubble of isolation for ourselves that protected me from the harsh and cruel judgement of the people around us. I told my secret publicly less than four months ago, and there have been many supportive family and friends. But the people I have cherished the most through this process were the ones who dared to work up the courage to ask me, “What is it like to have schizophrenia?” More than the doctors, more than the media and more than the writers in Hollywood, I’m an expert. I live with the symptoms of a severe mental illness every day.

Despite what it looks like in the media, the risk of someone with schizophrenia being violent is small. The risk might go up if it’s paired with substance abuse problems. But sensationalism sells and people use it to benefit their ratings, while those of us who are hurt by the lack of hard facts go deeper and deeper into our own worlds, avoiding the terrible things society believes and says about us.   

Next time you see or hear the media try to make all people with schizophrenia look like wild and dangerous criminals, think about the woman you read about named Rebecca. She could be shopping for her groceries next to you in the supermarket. You’d never know about her diagnosis, but she trusted you enough to tell you. Try to handle that trust carefully. It’s not every day people give us the benefit of the doubt. 

Do you have a story about your experience with mental illness? We want to hear it. Please send it to [email protected] and include a photo for the story, a photo of yourself and a 1-2 sentence bio. More info here. Thanks!

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12 Things Only People With Anxiety Can Teach You

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The points that follow may not be relevant to every person with anxiety, but neither is the list of symptoms. Humans are complex, fascinating and frustrating, and between the heart and the head, there are countless versions of the human experience.

There are some things that all the books, lectures, courses and research just can’t teach us about anxiety. They’re the things that come from people – the ones we talk to, listen to, connect with, acquaint with, like a little, love a lot or fight with.

Here are the things that I wouldn’t have known – couldn’t have known – were it not for those who have experienced anxiety from the front line.

1. Anxiety is the fuel of contradictions.

Sometimes feelings that are on opposite ends of the feeling spectrum actually do coexist. Sometimes they even feel the same.

The first is craving solitude and craving people all at once. The second is having a fear of being seen and a fear of not being seen at the same time. If you’ve ever known or loved anyone with anxiety and found yourself saying to them, “But I just don’t understand what you want,” don’t worry. Chances are they aren’t quite sure either. And that’s completely OK. Be grateful for the opportunity to practice being comfortable with uncertainty.

2. They’re wise about who they choose to be part of their tribe.

Anxiety comes from a heightened threat sensor, and the threat of psychological harm (humiliation, rejection, shame) can feel just as real as the threat of physical harm. Because interacting with people can be so anxiety-inducing, people with anxiety are choosey about who they let close. They’re not rude about putting up the wall to those who don’t quite make the cut – not at all – but they’re decisive. If you’re one of the ones for whom the fortress is lowered, feel blessed, because you are. There’s something about you that feels safe and lovely to be around.

3. They’re awesome to have in your tribe, too.

People with anxiety are some of the most emotionally intelligent people I’ve met – they’re funny, kind, thoughtful and strong. They’re also very sensitive to what’s around them – it’s part of having a heightened threat sensor – and that sensitivity also extends to you and anyone else they’re around. They’ll think about what’s OK to say and what’s not OK to say, what needs to be done and what you might want.

Anxiety has a way of persuading people to try for as much control as possible over the “unknowns” in order to avoid potential chaos. This means they’ll be the ones who make sure everyone knows exactly where to meet, what time to leave to get there on time, what to take and the best way to get there. They’ll be the ones with the spare jumper, the spare coins and the spare phone charger. Just don’t forget to let you know how much you love them for it.

4. Thoughts have more pull than knowledge. Yep. They can run the mothership.

Thoughts stoked by anxiety can be frightening, frustrating and suffocating. Above all else, they’re powerful. They’re more powerful than a lifetime of knowledge and the collective knowledge of a group, so don’t even bother trying to reason – it’s pointless. “Knowing” there’s nothing to worry about isn’t enough. Once fearful thoughts are in full swing, they’ll run the show. They’ll drive behavior and bring feelings (fear, panic, anxiety) to life. All the knowledge in the world about what’s valid, real or likely won’t make any difference to those thoughts that are swelling. It’s the power of the mind against the mind.

5. Sometimes it feels like it’s all about the head and the stomach.

Anxiety can have a way of putting flashing lights around the head and stomach, as though they’re running the show – which, in that space of high anxiety, they kind of are. When anxiety is “on,” it can feel like the head and stomach are the only parts of the body capable of feeling, responding and being.

6. “Everyday,” as in “everyday things,” means something different.

“Everyday” doesn’t always mean “no big deal.” With anxiety on board, everything can feel like the biggest deal. What everyday means is “every day,” as in the things you do every day – today, tomorrow and the next day. As in, “Yes, I know I should be OK with it because I do it every day, but I’m not.” Anxiety doesn’t tend to keep a journal.

7. Thoughts that begin as little thoughts can change the entire day.

Did I lock the door? What if I forget his name? What if there’s an accident? What if we’re late? What if the restaurant runs out of tables under the heater? … It doesn’t matter how much effort is put into preparation; once there’s a worry, it can white-knuckle for grip. The thoughts are often rational, plausible and possible, but anxiety makes them overwhelming.

8. “There’s nothing to worry about” is the best thing to hear. Wait. No. It’s not.

You’d think it would be comforting to hear that there’s nothing to worry about, but it can actually be isolating.

Think of it like this: Imagine being at the side of a wide road you need to cross. Everyone is telling you it’s fine to cross and they’re all doing it, but you see trucks, cars, buses and bikes barreling from the left and the right. Nobody else can see them. You know the road is OK to cross, but you can’t – you just can’t. That traffic! So, not only do you feel panicked but you also feel like you’re in it on your own. It can feel like nobody else really understands, which they might not – otherwise they wouldn’t be telling you there’s nothing to worry about.

The truth is, when it comes to anxiety, it can be difficult for people who have never experienced it to understand – but that’s OK. You don’t need to fully understand something to be a comforting presence through the unfolding of it.

9. Anxiety and courage exist together. 

When it comes to courage, anxious people have it in truckloads. Just getting through the day can call on enormous reservoirs of courage that the rest of us might only need to draw on now and then. Anxiety and courage always exist together. They have to. You can’t get through day after day with anxiety blocking the path, without having courage to help push a way through.

10. Stimulation or isolation? Sometimes I’ll take isolation.

Anxiety can force isolation. Sometimes – not always, but sometimes – people with anxiety would rather sit outside in the cold on their own than inside with their favorite people, the noise and the lights. It has nothing to do with the quality of what’s inside and everything to do with the quantity.

11. Sometimes “I’m sick” and “I’m fine” means “I’m panicking. Don’t ask.”

Anxiety hates attention. When anxiety is triggered, the normal human response if you’re the concerned other is, “Are you OK?” or “What’s wrong?” If you have to ask, then no, chances are they’re not OK. Don’t worry – just be a strong, confident, loving presence. You’ll probably be told, “I’m fine” or “I’m sick.” It’s not a brush-off, it’s a protection. Don’t keep pushing it – just give a gentle “I’m here” squeeze of their arm or hand and move on.

12. Just because someone’s tired doesn’t mean sleep comes easily.

Anxiety is tiring, but sleep doesn’t necessarily come easily. Tiredness makes anxiety worse and anxiety makes tiredness worse – you would think it would be a union made in heaven, but no. It can look at little like this: “I have to get to sleep, otherwise I’m going to be out of my mind with tiredness in the morning, so I just have to go to sleep. But what if I can’t get to sleep? But I have to go to sleep. But what if I can’t?? Anxious yet?

As with any part of the human experience, there are so many things about anxiety that can only be understood by having it. If you love someone with anxiety, it’s important to pay attention. There will be wisdom and knowledge that only they can give you. Be open, and be grateful.

A longer version of this post originally appeared on Hey Sigmund.

RELATED: 31 Secrets of People Who Live With Anxiety

Do you have a story about your experience with mental illness? We’d like to read it. Please send it to [email protected] and include a photo for the story, a photo of yourself and a 1-2 sentence bio. More info here. Thanks!

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