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Paranoia Is More Than Just Being Nervous


“Oh my gosh, I’m so paranoid my mom is going to find out I was drunk.”

“I’m so paranoid I’m going to get caught cheating.”

“I’m really paranoid I’m going to get lost in the city.”

When it comes to mental health, there are lots of words we try to get people to stop using casually. Bipolar. Crazy. Psychotic. I could keep going. We work to get people to understand that being sad is different than being depressed, and being anxious isn’t a lack of effort to fight off worry or deal with daily stressors. But we don’t talk much about how using the word “paranoid” casually could hurt someone.

Just like when people misuse words like “crazy” or “psychotic,” I don’t think people mean to be offensive or insensitive when they say they’re paranoid. So all I want is for people to hear me out and understand what real paranoia can be like and think before they use the word.

Paranoia is hiding under your bed because you think people are going to break in and kidnap you. Paranoia is sitting in your car for an hour because someone behind you left their lights on and you think someone is hiding in there, waiting to get you. Paranoia is not eating because leaving your room or apartment is just too risky. Paranoia is being convinced you just saw a car pull over next to you and its passengers are now planning to attack you. Paranoia is not trusting the campus police department to walk you back to your dorm because they might try to kill you.

I lived like that for about a week. After a few days, my friends and counselor convinced me to go back to the hospital for outpatient treatment and get my medications altered to help make it stop. It eventually subsided, and I was able to see just how absurd all of my delusions were. I was able to see I was delusional.

A psychotic episode is a scary thing. People can’t talk you out of it, and all sorts of fake ideas and experiences seem real. There are lots of pieces to an episode and not everyone’s experience with psychosis includes paranoia. But mine did, and just as I get hurt when people misuse words like “bipolar” and “psychotic,” it’s hard for me when people toss the word “paranoid” around. It’s a symptom of my illness, and it is perhaps the most debilitating.

I feel for everyone who has dealt with paranoia. It’s hard and scary and really misunderstood. I don’t mean to be someone being upset about people using all sorts of words that aren’t P.C. All I ask is that people remember how it might be upsetting for someone to be reminded of their paranoid episode or have it compared to a menial experience, and think twice before calling themselves “paranoid.”

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Thinkstock photo by Wavebreakmedia Ltd