I have bipolar disorder. As part of this disorder, occasionally I have psychotic episodes with hallucinations or delusions. Sometimes the hallucinations are terrifying, and sometimes they are so bizarre I find myself laughing instead of crying. I don’t realize until after the episode is over how “bizarre” I was acting.
College was such a rough time for me. College can be a stressful time for anyone; being in college while having a mental illness can be especially hard. No one seemed to understand me. So much was going on. I felt so different and alone; having psychotic episodes certainly didn’t help.
I was in an art class one time. I had been manic for a few weeks and had been creating all this art super fast, completing my paintings three times as fast as my classmates. I was happily painting one day and started having a bizarre episode where I thought the walls were caving in and the floor was melting. For some reason, I thought this was hilarious. I started laughing and telling my classmates that the wall looked like it was caving in and the floor was sinking in the middle. I kept laughing, but no one else was laughing and I didn’t understand why. A few classmates were whispering to each other and left, and I started to become a little worried I was going to slide through the floor as it melted. I had been standing at my easel and walking around the room. Now I sat down on a chair and watched the floor with concern.
My classmates came back with the head of the counseling center. I was still staring at the floor, and then suddenly there was this head right near mine. This serious, older man was crouched by me asking me questions. I was startled, then I snapped out of the hallucination and came back to reality. I felt my face flushing as I quickly told him I was fine so he would leave. I was completely mortified. He finally left, and I went back to painting, very quietly.
A week later, I was on Facebook and I noticed a few classmates making jokes about me on their Facebook walls. I was so embarrassed and furious at the same time. I messaged both of them, telling them I have a mental illness and it is nothing to make fun of. One classmate didn’t respond. However, the other sent me a very angry email about how I should be ashamed of faking a mental illness. He said I was making a joke of mental illness by the way I acted in class. He said he knew about mental illness. He said he could tell I was faking to get attention, and that doing so is offensive and wrong. I continued to email him explaining my illness, and his emails just got meaner and meaner. It is hard enough having an illness with psychotic episodes, but being told I was faking it and I should be ashamed was more than I could handle. It didn’t help that I had had a crush on him. I had thought he was amazing, and then suddenly he was a bully who was calling me names and didn’t understand me.
Finally, I stopped emailing him, and his words left a wound that took a while to heal. I forced myself to delete the emails so I would stop obsessing over his words. Maybe he will never understand. I know some people will never understand my mental illness. I am OK with that right now, but I want to keep telling my story so more people will understand. As a friend said to me once, “Psychotic episodes are no joke.” Psychotic episodes are serious. My psychotic episodes can seem scary or hilarious in the moment, but the experience is real to me.
I’m not faking. I am dealing with my illness the best I can. Be patient with me and try to understand.
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Thinkstock photo via alien185