It started off as fun. Everything was easy, everything was magical and everything was glorious. It was this magnificent euphoria that clouded my decent into a furious psychosis. I found myself in a psychiatric hospital, where I remained for two months.
That was my first psychotic manic episode.
I have bipolar affective disorder, a psychiatric condition characterized by uncontrollable and extreme mood swings. Typically sufferers swing from mania to depression and some, like me, can become psychotic when experiencing these extreme moods. Psychosis causes people to lose touch with reality, resulting in confused thinking, delusions (false beliefs) and hallucinations (seeing, hearing, smelling and tasting things that aren’t really there). Three in 100 people will experience psychosis at some point in their lives. Psychosis doesn’t discriminate.
I have been psychotic three times: twice when manic and once when depressed. Although each time was extremely different from one another, they were all frightening.
The psychosis crept up on me during each manic episode. Both times, everything was exhilarating and fast-paced — I felt like I was on top of the world, and I believed it, too. My euphoria was uncontainable and most of the time it felt like my chest would explode to sweep everyone up in my unbridled elation. I was unstoppable and no one could tell me otherwise. I thought I was incredibly intelligent, funny, creative and brilliant. I started to believe I was a creative genius. I spent all night filling book after book with poems, lyrics and drawings and spent all day writing music. I was obsessed with the mysteries of the universe and was convinced I could solve them all. The beauty and wonder of the night sky would make my mind boggle unbearably.
However, these delusions of grandiosity soon turned menacing and deadly. During my first manic episode, I thought nothing was real and that everything was a dream. I started to hallucinate and could see each individual atom. I could also see a middle-aged man dressed in a tattered suit that no one else could. He looked like he had come right out of the 1920’s and I thought he was my ghost of a guardian angel.
At the time I didn’t know they were hallucinations. I felt so confused, isolated, misunderstood and out of control I became suicidal. It wasn’t long before I was hospitalized. Very soon after being admitted and treated the psychosis thankfully cleared up.
Recently, I had a second manic episode that also included psychosis. This time I thought I could see people’s auras and that I could heal people if their auras seemed “sick.” A voice told me wonderful things, one of them was that I could fly and to do this I had to jump from a great height. I believed this. Needless to say I was hospitalized for five weeks.
I wish I could say I have only experienced hallucinations twice, but I haven’t. During one particularly severe episode of depression I had visual hallucinations and though they were awful and revolved around death, I knew they were hallucinations. The hallucinations also came on suddenly. However, I was delusional and paranoid. I thought people could hear my thoughts. Again, I was admitted into hospital and again, the psychosis quickly cleared.
Psychosis is poorly understood by the general public and this leads sufferers to experience stigma and discrimination. Adding to the stigma, films and TV shows often misrepresent what psychosis is really like, making it something to be feared. I was guilty of not having an accurate understanding of psychosis. However, that quickly changed after my first psychotic episode. Although for a small portion of that time I may have been feared, I can guarantee I was the one who was terrified. Terrified of the unpredictable turmoil in my head, I would have harmed myself well before harming others.
Unfortunately the stigma attached to psychosis can prevent people seeking help because they are too embarrassed or ashamed. Untreated psychosis can cause further psychological decline, and in some cases, people may become depressed and suicidal, like I did. The longer psychosis continues, the harder it becomes to treat. However that’s not say it can’t be, and with proper help most cases can be effectively treated.
It was awful to experience psychosis and I wouldn’t wish it upon my worst enemy. However, because I was treated quickly and effectively, the psychosis was fleeting and hasn’t troubled me since. There are many who have had similar experiences and you probably wouldn’t know it. So next time you see someone who might be experiencing psychotic symptoms, put yourself in their shoes. They’re probably scared and confused and in need of care, not judgement.
If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.
The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.
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