Learning to Say 'Psychotic' Without Shame

All these years after my diagnosis of bipolar disorder in 2001, one word about my illness is still so hard for me to say: “psychotic.” But it’s getting easier. In manic and depressive episodes, I experience psychosis, and memories of things I’ve done and said haunt me when I am well. For a long time, I truly thought my psychotic symptoms were something I would have to hide from everyone in my life for the rest of my life.

Then, a few friends saw me through a psychotic episode. Psychosis and all, they met it with compassion and without judgment. One night, I sat on my couch with one of these friends and mentioned psychosis. To my surprise, it just slipped out. All the years of hiding came to my mind in that moment, as well as the realization that I didn’t need to be afraid of sharing the most “shameful” secret of my disorder anymore. I said to her, “I thought I would have to keep that a secret for the rest of my life.” She put her hand on my shoulder to say no, not anymore, and isn’t it wonderful?

Again and again, I’ve been able to say the word and be met with acceptance. Another friend said to me once, “You don’t need to be ashamed of anything, ever.” And I’m starting to believe her. My psychotic symptoms are the most confusing and frightening to me and my loved ones. They are also the most embarrassing once I am well enough to remember what I have done. Saying the word is one thing — I’ve gotten better at that. But not feeling the humiliation deep inside about the things I’ve done and said during a psychotic episode is another.

But again, I’m learning to let go of this shame as well. When people see you during a psychotic episode and show you they haven’t lost sight of who you are to them, you start to realize psychosis is a symptom, not an identity. It’s something you don’t have a lot of control over. Letting go of the shame gets easier — not that it goes away quickly or without effort. It takes time. But being told over and over that you are loved, that their love is not so easily lost — even because of something as overwhelming and powerful as psychosis — can begin to heal the pain of that silence.

You can say the word. You don’t need to be ashamed.

Image via Thinkstock.

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