themighty logo

How DBT Helped Me Separate Reality From Delusions With Schizoaffective Disorder

I thought I would be stuck in paranoid psychosis forever. Three years of my life were spent in and out of psychiatric programs with no end to the delusions and hallucinations in sight. Then I began to change the dialogue with the unwanted voices in my mind. I came back to reality with the help of dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) and a convincing inner realization the delusions were a symptom of my mental illness.

The diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder came after several years being told I had bipolar disorder by doctors. My illness is bipolar type I, so it wasn’t exactly a far stretch from the initial declaration from medical professionals, but I can tell you it sounded so much scarier to me. I thought it was a death sentence, a life without much hope for a flourishing future. I thought I would never reach the goals I set for myself before my mental illness broke through. My prognosis seemed bleak.

During the first three years of my new diagnosis, I suffered great grandiose delusions and audio-visual and tactile hallucinations. The worst of it were the physical ones. I honestly believed my soul had been ripped out of my body, that a void where my spirit should be was removed. I spent three years with this empty, missing feeling. I also described some physical pain seeping through my veins in my legs on a nearly nightly basis. I couldn’t think of a better description for it than the feeling my blood was curdling and my legs were being “microwaved.” Frightening.

It was a long road and I was going deeper and deeper into delusions and experiencing greater paranoia and depression because of it, but I finally woke up from the zombie-like life I was living by separating reality from delusions. My support team was immensely patient with me and therapy provided safety for my mind to release everything that had been plaguing me with the schizoaffective disorder symptoms. It took my mother telling me in plain terms that what I was experiencing was just that: symptoms. I had spent so long stuck in this vortex of unreality that I forgot to use the DBT skill of checking the facts and rationally separating my emotions from what is true by using my “wise mind” skill.

After this epiphany moment, I have spent the last few years feeling 99% better mentally and getting stronger each day. I still have moments of paranoia, but I have practiced reminding myself reality is true and real, and the most simple answer is what we all see in the world, not the jumble of confusing delusions. With this practice, I haven’t gone into an episode of psychosis since and I plan on protecting my brain at all costs by building my strength with therapy, medication and physical wellness.

Life has been getting better with each battle I face with honesty in therapy and reminding myself what is logical is what is real. Chaos used to feel good, and psychosis sometimes felt exciting because of my emotional mania and my desire to control what was happening to me. But hard work continues to pay off. I practice and teach yoga to keep my body and mind healthy. And I practice patience with myself and what I go through. It’s not perfect, but it’s progress. Life may not be a fairy tale-like I once deluded, but I can safely say it’s OK and worth it if you keep going.

Getty image by Victor_Tongdee