What Schizophrenic Psychosis Feels Like by Mike Hedrick googletag.pubads().collapseEmptyDivs(true);

What Schizophrenic Psychosis Feels Like

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Imagine you’re living your life, everything’s normal until, one day; you come across a pretty significant coincidence. Maybe you moved to a new city and you don’t know anyone and then, one day, you’re at the coffee shop and your old girlfriend from high school comes in. You haven’t seen her or talked to her in years and you didn’t know that she lived in the same city. Imagine it’s a few days later and you’re at the grocery store and you run into her again, this time at the checkout. You might ask yourself why you keep running into her, but you excuse it with the notion that this may be a metaphorically small town. Imagine now that you’re going to work and you see her pass by in her car. Why does this keep happening, you ask? Is she following you? Did she put a tracker on your car? 

These may seem like over-the-top thoughts, but that’s the closest I can come to describing psychosis. The difference between that situation and living with schizophrenia, though, is that these perceived circumstances happen a lot and you come to some pretty out there conclusions about your perceptions. Maybe it’s just confirmation bias — like when you buy a new car and now you’re seeing that exact make and model everywhere you go.

Imagine that this confirmation bias occurs with every song on the radio, it’s talking about an instance in your life, and every commercial or advertisement you see, they’re talking about things you could work on, or it’s happening that you keep seeing the same red hat over and over and over and, in your delusional mind, you think that all these occurrences are connected somehow. In that respect, it can be dangerous to believe that “everything happens for a reason,” no matter how many yoga teachers and gurus are saying it.

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Before long, you’ve lost yourself in a fog of trying to interconnect all these messages and circumstances, and you come to the conclusion that the government is spying on you and recording you.  Not only that, they’re placing these ads — and even your high school girlfriend, and that same car — over and over in front of you, everywhere you look, because this is some sort of Truman Show situation where everything is staged to manipulate and control you.

I’ve been there, more times than I’d like to admit. I can remember thinking that the Truman Show was about me, and I’d watch it and cry because the same stuff was happening to me. People were sending me messages or tripping up on their well-orchestrated act of spying on me and doing everything as a production for me. It’s no wonder that I thought I was some kind of prophet. It’s incredibly easy to lose yourself in these thoughts when you’re first experiencing psychosis.

You don’t want to believe what these things are telling you, but they happen everyday — almost all the time. Every brief moment of eye contact, every word you read and every song you hear is about you or for you and is telling you something that you don’t want to hear. I referred to this phenomenon as reading between the lines because, essentially, you’d have to dissect everything to find out how it connected to the greater scheme that you were a prophet and you were tasked with saving the world from its evils.

I carried on like this for several months, stopping myself, at first, on Valentine’s Day at the airport and calling my mom and telling her that I was scared. Later, I carried out my mission by going to the U.N. in New York.

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It started with paranoia that people were out to get me, and I was afraid to leave my house.  This pretty quickly evolved into delusions that the TV was talking to me and making connections about aliens. I’m still not sure what my reasoning was but it became clear to me that, through these messages, I was supposed to go on a mission to save the world from its evils. I was convinced that, since the government was talking to me, I had to be incredibly important, a prophet or a king of some kind. I rode this delusion for a week as I travelled the Eastern seaboard seeking signs and messages in things that were completely innocuous. The U.N. was just a minor building block in the construction my mind was undertaking.

Psychosis is defined as a severe mental disorder in which thought and emotions are so impaired that contact is lost with external reality. Truly, that’s what it is, because in that fog of uncertainty you don’t know what’s real and what isn’t and navigating that alone is not something I’d wish on my worst enemy.

The word schizophrenia can be terrifying to a lot of people but many don’t consider the terror of actually living with the illness. Many times we’re more afraid of our own thoughts than “normal” people are of the label. Living with the constant threat of paranoia, which can easily lead to delusion, which can easily lead to psychosis, given an undue amount of stress, is something that we have to be cognizant of daily in our balance to stay well and to stay stable.

Psychosis can easily take a hold of you when you least suspect it. Last year I got into an online relationship with a woman that got pretty heavy relatively quickly. During that time I got so overwhelmed with the relationship that I couldn’t eat for fear of throwing up and I couldn’t sleep — all I could do was think about this relationship. It was “can’t eat, can’t sleep love” at its worst and, for weeks afterward, I would pull into my apartment complex every day worried that she had taken a plane across the country and was waiting for me to get out of the car so she could surprise me. She had my address because she had sent me something and I was more paranoid than ever about this girl that I didn’t really know invading my carefully regimented life and throwing everything into a tailspin.

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This sort of thing has happened on several other occasions as well and, while I’d like to believe that I’m a romantic, the idea of relationships that heavy can easily send me into a momentary psychosis. Each time I’ve had to carefully take the time, sometimes while staring at a wall for hours, to distinguish between reality and what was happening in my head.

Psychosis is like that though: it grips you so forcefully that you lose your concept of what’s real, what’s rational and you fall into a hole of thinking that someone is out to get you or that someone is spying on you through your computer or the appliances in your house. Once I found a wire in my sink drain and I was convinced it was a microphone. A couple days later a “Bug-B-Gon” truck pulled into my apartment complex and I knew that they were there to take out the microphones.

Suffice it to say that it’s a slippery slope between stability and psychosis and one instance can you lead you down the path of no return. Most of the time, reality is pretty boring and innocuous. Usually there are no connections between things and usually there’s not a very good reason for why things happen. In the last ten years I’ve come to recognize those facts and I’ve come to the point where I’m able to use what I know about reality in my attempts to quell the overwhelming thoughts that careen through my head.

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It’s a tenuous balance though and I’ve had to work to keep my life as predictable and as routine as possible, partly out of fear that something will throw me off and partly as a preventive measure in countering excitement and the resulting waterfall of thoughts that occur after huge moments. It’s boring, yes, but I’d rather have boring than psychosis. I take my meds faithfully, I go to my doctor and I know when things get to be too much — and that’s when I have to put on the brakes.

There are still moments though that I lose it a little bit and, when that happens, I know that I’m prepared because I’ve developed my tools for getting through a crisis with care. Along with breathing, I take the time I need to unwind and I practice methods I’ve learned through cognitive behavioral therapy to ease and dull the sharp end of the blade. These methods include finding evidence of reality and reframing my thinking when the need arises.

I will say this. It’s an experience, living with psychosis. It’s cemented in me a very firm expectation and view of reality that I’ve come to depend on in my most trying times. In that way, these instances of psychosis have helped me learn about reality. They’ve shaped my view of the world and they’ve given me a perspective most lack. Your bad hair day or your sports team losing isn’t that big of a deal. Come to me when you don’t know if reality is real and I’ll have something to talk about with you.

It’s a curse for sure, but it’s also a gift and honestly, I don’t know if I would actually choose anything different.

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EDITOR IN CHIEF: Bud Clayman | EDITOR: Gabriel Nathan | DESIGN: Leah Alexandra Goldstein
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Mike Hedrick

Michael Hedrick is a writer in Boulder, CO. He has lived with schizophrenia since he was 20 and his work has been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Scientific American and various other places. You can read more from Mike on his website theschizophreniablog.com and on his online writing portfolio at thehedrick.contently.com.

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  • Elisa Leibowitz

    Again, great! Thank you for writing this!!!

  • Publiceye

    Excellent column. Been there.

  • Dixie88

    Thank you so much for speaking out about this. I had a mania-induced psychosis after months of severe insomnia (due to the manic side of bipolar disorder). I also thought aliens were talking to me. The TV was speaking to me. I was awakened at 3:00 a.m. and told to go climb a certain tree, that a messge would come on how I could cause world peace. Meds are helping. But it helps a lot when others come out about their own experiences with this type of thing. Thank you, Mike!

    • Daniel Varela

      Are u ok now??

  • Homeward Bound

    Thank you

  • Pingback: When too many dots connect… | BMWolfen's Blather()

  • Eve Ellis-Carlson

    Thank you for your honest account. I have been hospitalized for psychosis twice in the last few yearsfor a combination of manic episodes, stress, and co-concurring illness problems. Paranoia and delusions are a terrifying part of mental illness but recovery and management is more possible than ever. The sharing of your story softens untrue blow that this experience is not unique…thank you.

  • Faith

    My daughter is going through a psychotic episode right now and is living on the street in Phoenix. She doesn’t trust me and my heart is broken. I don’t know what to do to help her. I found her yesterday but she was unwilling to trust me or let me help her. Any suggestions?

    • Daniel Varela

      Is she well now ??

      • Faith

        No she was arrested a few days i’ll go when she went to the Circle K, heard voices in her head and told people that she thought she may have killed somebody and she thought she had blood in her pocketbook. She went outside and was burning her pocketbook., someone called the police of course, she thought the police were trying to kill her so she picked up a rock to defend herself and they tazered her and she is now in jail facing felony assault charges…she belongs in a hospital..I am so as loss as to know what to do to help her. 🙏😥

  • stephen moseley

    Were not going to win with these mental issues until we have a success with the subconscious. Read the patients thought pattern aloud as they free associate, in brief word groups.Spread it out over three and a half months, so that they act out the repressed experience and relate it to you, get them to face it so you can reverse it. Make sure they follow through or they could end up in worse shape like me. Learn more schizophreniarepressioncured.blogspot.com There’s real hope for us now.

  • Tee Dubayou

    I went thru the exact same psychosis different story for over 2 years straight. I lost some memory in the process and I am just now realizing what happened. Sadning. But I’m happy I recovered mostly. But I follow signs to connect with meanings in part of my life. Am I still going thru it. My psychiatrist isn’t really giving me and results but bipolar, depression with a history of schizo effect and psychosis

  • Tee Dubayou

    I was follow the voices also. That’s how deep I was in it

  • Lisa

    I am 48 years old and am starting to have suspicious thoughts again. I read that it’s supposed to subside later in life, but I believe perimenopause may be making it worse. My first suspicious thoughts were when I was 15 or 16. I thought everyone was talking about me. Yes, growing up in a small town some were bound to be talking about me, but most weren’t. Fifteen years later, when I gave birth to my second child, 9/11 happened. It was then that I started having ‘funny thoughts’ again. It was a conspiracy theorists dream! All kinds of stuff was happening and people were writing all kinds of stuff on the internet. But I was just a wee bit too suspicious. I knew something was wrong. I was seeing a psychiatrist for depression and generalized anxiety and it was difficult for my doctor to figure out what was happening since it never happened before in our years of therapy. She figured I had postpartum depression and upped my meds. Deep down I knew it wasn’t just postpartum, but I went on. Now, another fifteen years later, it’s happening again. I’ve learned to balance the paranoia with facts, but sometimes I say stupid accusatory things to people that I regret later. I want to apologize, but how can you apologize for saying paranoid things? I mean, what excuse do you give? PMS? I really believe it’s starting to affect my career. I don’t know if any of you knows what I mean when I say one starts feeling almost a pressure. It’s almost physical. One gets fixated on things. Then they come out of the fog and want to go outside or whatever, but it starts again because you’re afraid you’ll say something stupid so you just stay home.
    What is most frightening is my twin sister ended up in a psychiatric ward after she accused her neighbours of sexually abusing their kids even though she hadn’t actually met any of them. I mean, you make up horrible stories and start living in an apocalyptic world!
    After my sister was committed, I was so frightened I would relapse as bad as she had. I remember back to when we were only 15, and we both fell into the psychosis within a short time of each other. I have since read that if you get it diagnosed and treated early you can ward it off for good. But sadly, both my parents suffered from it also, so my sister and I weren’t diagnosed or treated. We just tried to go on with life. It’s a horrible and lonely existence.
    Anyway, today I called my gp in order to make an appointment for her to refer me to a proper psychiatrist. I don’t like the idea of being put on risperdal or something, but it beats losing my career and being known as the ‘crazy woman’. It also beats harassing the neighbours then getting thrown into the mental ward for five months.
    I think critical thinking has helped me. Looking at the facts and comparing them to my feelings and thoughts. Is what I’m thinking plausible given what I can PROVE – not what I think I can prove or suspect I can eventually prove. I’d rather be wrong about my suspicions than right at this point. Because if I’m always ‘right’ no matter what the facts are, then I am very, very sick. Wish me luck at my doctor’s. I just want to feel better and get on with life. I just want to have friends and trust people again and enjoy the world and life. God bless.

  • Daniel Varela

    I have a brother that’s going through the same thing he has schizophrenia phycosis he sometimes goes off subject he’s been taking pills for 1 month and improved allot is it posiible for him to get back normal soon he’s way better then he was he eats allot allot and been gaining weight?????? Please help with answers

  • jim stretch

    I keep telling my son life isn’t all about him but maybe I’m wrong maybe everything IS about him.

  • jim stretch

    This happened to my brother in his early twenties. He ended up in the hospital on Thorazine. Everything that happened around him he interpreted as some kind of signal that somebody was trying to tell him something.

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