Trusting my mind again after psychosis failed it

Editor’s note: Healthy Debate has agreed not to publish the name of this author over concerns the diagnosis of bipolar disorder will affect future academic endeavours.

I hear a whisper. Am I hallucinating or is it real? Check the facts. Did the person’s lips move? Did others react to the whisper? After surviving multiple periods of psychosis where persecutory auditory hallucinations came as whispers, I react as if there is an immediate threat when I hear that sound.

Psychosis manipulates your senses. For me, vision, audition and general reasoning all can be masterfully manipulated by my mind when psychotic. Basic reasoning may be the scariest thing to lose. Believing running plot lines that my loved ones are out to get me; that in my sleep I’ll be drugged, transported and locked up in a cell. Believing that I’m living in a simulation, controlled by evil men. Believing I’m being watched by cameras everywhere I go, with nowhere to hide.

Paranoia can range from fixed false beliefs (delusions) to knowing that you’re having paranoid thoughts but not quite able to push them aside. The same range of belief certainty can describe auditory and visual hallucinations as well.

Becoming aware of your own psyche’s limits, that you’re believing something untrue but don’t have the brainpower to dismantle it, is horrifying.

Psychosis is like a childhood monster under the bed. Sometimes you’re absolutely positive there’s a monster, and maybe sleep in your parents’ bed for the night. Sometimes you must check under the bed to see if there is a monster, and even if you don’t see it, you feel its presence. And sometimes you can fall asleep without checking under the bed, but with an inkling that there may be something there.

Becoming aware of your own psyche’s limits, that you’re believing something untrue but don’t have the brainpower to dismantle it, is horrifying.

Five months ago, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Part of that diagnosis for me is the possibility that I will experience psychosis, an aspect that has caused me great shame and which I attribute to the stigma wrapped around psychosis.

When I first heard the word psychotic, I thought that meant crazy. The stark difference between a symptom of brain disorder and a judgemental adjective should be clear, but society’s portrayal of psychosis fails all those who live with the experience of it.

Language should not stigmatize mental illness, but instead create empathy for those living with mental health struggles. My illness is not your adjective. If you are acting unhinged, you are not “psychotic.” If you’re feeling unstable, you’re not “bipolar.” In the same way, if you like things neatly arranged, you’re not “so OCD.”

Living with psychosis means planning for the possibility that I will lose my autonomy. If I refuse medication while in psychosis, I could receive an injection against my will. I’m 20 years old, I want my independence more than anything. It scares me that I can be so blind to reality that it takes actions against my will to bring me back.

After experiencing losing touch with reality, I’m on a journey to trust my own mind again.  

Trusting my mind means leaning on my supports. It means explaining my hallucinations and delusions to my support network, no matter my internalized stigma.

Trusting my mind means accepting that I do have bipolar disorder, but that I am capable of being more than the girl in psychosis with adequate treatments. Afterall, psychosis is a state, not a trait. I am a university student, a research assistant, a writer, a daughter and a friend.

We need to start fostering an environment where people who experience psychosis can live without stigma. There should be no shame involved with a brain disorder – no one experiencing psychosis should feel stripped of their self-worth.

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