What I Want Others to Know About People Who've Experienced Psychosis
“That face. . .Look at it!” I didn’t question the voice. I leaned in until my eyes crossed and my nose touched the mirror. My glasses began to fog from my breath. The voice continued, and then another voice joined it: a giggly, female voice. “Four eyes! Loser. No one will ever love you. What an ugly thing you are. I can’t tell if you look like a girl or a boy. Get to work fatty! Change that face. Don’t stop moving until it’s done. You can win, you can be the winner!” — “Washed Away: From Darkness to Light”
In my newly released memoir, “Washed Away: From Darkness to Light,” I discuss many of the graphic events that led to my mental breakdown in childhood. I think that sharing our stories is critical because there are many hurting people in the world who will benefit from our experiences, and also the more we share, the more we continue to heal and grow.
The first time I heard The Voice, it sounded masculine and angry. I was 9, and had already been binge eating for about a year to cope with the trauma of being sexually abused by a male figure. I’m now 31 years old, and in 2015 I was diagnosed with a set of symptoms known as psychosis, as well as major depression. The treatment regimen that followed was heavy trial medication; I was put on antipsychotics in addition to my antidepressants and anticonvulsant drugs, the latter I’ve been taking for years to help maintain my recovery from eating disorders.
Psychosis is widely misunderstood as many might think an affected individual is “crazy” or “dangerous,” but the reality is the individual is often confused by their experiences, frightened and paranoid.
I remember seeing shadows, “ghostly” figures, hearing musical loops and constant voices as early as 4 years old, but I wasn’t able to discern those from my psychosis because we lived in the South, an area notorious for ghostly apparitions and hauntings. My mother worked in a mortuary when I was a baby and developed a genuine interest in the supernatural; she also had bipolar and dissociative identity disorder and saw “shadow people,” too. As a result, I grew up thinking I was “spiritually gifted,” could talk to ghosts and had a strange attraction to the dead and mysticism. Even though I was raised in a strict, Christian environment, I couldn’t stop obsessing over the dark side, and was convinced people on television were somehow giving me secret messages. I was also extremely paranoid due to the abuse I endured. Every day the abuse became worse, so did my psychosis.
It wasn’t until last year, when my psychiatrist officially gave my hallucinations and spirits a name, that I began to understand I wasn’t, in fact, a “lunatic.” I’ve had to do a lot of backtracking and decipher if I am “spiritually gifted,” or if I’m on the verge of schizophrenia, but for now, I’ve left that in the doctor’s hands and am doing the best I can to practice self-care and continue my role as an author, speaker and mental health advocate.
The most important thing I think for others to understand is that people experiencing psychosis are not insane, and that more than anything they need love and support. For those who suspect they may be experiencing psychosis, screening is available online. Please see a mental health professional as soon as possible, and always know you are never, ever alone.
For more resources regarding psychosis and where to get help, please visit:
If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.
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Image by Maruska Mikulas