What Paranoia Tells Me

I’ve tried to write about paranoia before, but the paranoia tells me it’s unsafe to do so. The less people know about me, the less material they have to use against me. Paranoia directs me to avoid the main street in town because too many people will see me and my face will become recognizable. It says when I stand at the bus stop, people driving by in cars are keeping track of my routine. I scan strangers’ faces for cues they’re a threat.

My struggle is that often when I have these thoughts, they don’t “seem” like a mental health issue. I feel like I’m just taking the precautions necessary to prevent people from harming me the way I was harmed in the past. I believe having thoughts that seem real is common to many experiences labeled as “mental illness.” If a thought came into my mind and I was immediately able to recognize it wasn’t realistic, then it wouldn’t interfere with my life. As it is, I spend each day in an exhausting battle to determine what is and isn’t true. I fight to extend moments of insight.

We all view the world through our own lenses, but paranoia is a particularly lonely filter. When I’m suspicious of someone, the last thing I’m willing to do is tell them. I also fall into the trap of thinking everyone is having the same thoughts as me but just hiding them well, which “confirms” it’s unsafe to disclose them.

I’ve heard people say believing everyone is watching you is self-centered. I don’t think this is true for me, nor have I found others with paranoia to be particularly selfish. Living in fear of heightened scrutiny can be part of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). For many years, I actually was watched, and I could be punished for doing anything from chewing to using the toilet “incorrectly.” Although I’m no longer in an abusive situation, breaking the automatic habit of acting like I’m being watched is a long process.

I want others to know when someone has fears that seem exaggerated or bizarre, often they reflect an emotional truth for that person. I also appreciate when people without PTSD recognize they and I may experience the world differently. Please, let me trust you at my own gradual pace. I’ll do my best to respect your boundaries and seek to understand your reality as well.

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.

If you or a loved one is affected by domestic violence and need help, call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

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