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What Psychosis Taught Me About Reality

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I don’t remember the first time the world felt out of place. It happened slowly and all at once. A thought there, a sound there. A voice, narrating my day-to-day, asking me my opinions, and sending me into hours long periods of daydreaming.

Slowly, the world began to feel scary. Suddenly, certain people could read my mind. My boss, Uber drivers, checkers at the grocery store, and most upsettingly, my own father. There was a conspiracy, you see, among these special people. I thought this was normal. I thought it was OK. I left my nearly decade-long career due to my delusions and paranoia. It seemed that there was my reality, and everyone else’s.

My voice, named Chris, was benevolent. He began to visit me most during COVID isolation. He would interview me as if I was on a talk show. He would say soft, affectionate things to me. He would provide fantasy — we’d jet off to other cities and countries. He was there when I watched movies and TV. He was there while I did my dishes and took showers. He loved my singing voice.

Then came my first psychotic break. My first real visual hallucination. I woke up around 5 am and saw the universe crack into two and spin away to infinity. I suddenly knew all its secrets. The biggest secret of all, was that I needed to hurt the ones I love.

Through all of this, I was still there. There was still a part of me, in the back of my swirling brain, shouting “This is not right!” I ran across the park, to the ER of my closest hospital around 5:30 am. My running was stunted as my body leaned to the left without explanation. I was startled by a collie in the park. It could read my mind, but not only that, the dog could control my thoughts. I continued to run towards help. To run towards reality.

When I arrived at the ER, I told them what I knew to be true: “I am having an acute psychotic episode.”

Reality hit me like a bull in a China shop.

I was strip searched and searched with a metal detector. A social worker was assigned to stay in my room 24/7 because I was deemed a danger to other patients and staff. I was “voluntarily” committed to a psychiatric facility.

I was finally placed on antipsychotic medication. But my diagnosis was wrong. My medication was wrong.

I spent two more years in my own reality. A dulled, mundane version of it. Chris had long since left me. But a new person, a real person, entered my life. We were happy… until it all fell apart.

A new trio of voices entered my head. Twin sisters and a brother. They were horribly mean, deranged. They’d fuel my fear and paranoia. They told me cameras were watching me. They’d tell me to hurt myself in my house. One time, they told me there was a bomb in my entertainment center.

I began checking my surroundings for cameras. My office, my boyfriend’s bedroom. I grew anxious about using public restrooms, fearing that someone might stick a mirror under the bathroom stall. I heard strange noises, most of them mundane, almost daily. They seemed to fit into my life as a soundtrack that only I could hear.

Then one day I just… woke up.

Reality is a bulldozer.

I awoke to all my delusions, paranoia, and hallucinations. I suddenly had insight into my symptoms. Something was terribly, terribly wrong.

Reality is a ball of yarn.

I began the process of untangling, unlearning, unpacking. There is no word in the English language to describe the ache of knowing your reality is different from the rest of the world’s. There is no way to adequately describe the longing to be well.

Reality is a trigger on a gun.

My reality check sent me into a tailspin. I had my second psychotic break, was hospitalized, and finally properly medicated and diagnosed: schizophrenia, it seemed. Plain as day. So many years of suffering for something that seemed so blindingly apparent.

Reality is a sigh of relief.

After eight days in the hospital, I had survived. I had survived years of torment at the hands of my symptoms. I had survived misdiagnosis, had survived suicidal ideation, had survived fear and heartache and immeasurable amounts of pain.

Reality is the feeling of water-packed sand underneath my skin. The taste of salty air. The smell of waves over rocks and the sound of the ocean in the distance. Reality is sea birds and yellow irises and agates. Reality is kite flying and pedal carting and stargazing.

Reality is a bull in a China shop, a bulldozer, a ball of yarn, a trigger on a gun, a sigh of relief, and a cushion, a gentle reminder, when I fall.

There is now my reality. With everyone else’s.

Getty image by Mostafa Ghroz / EyeEm

Originally published: August 16, 2022
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