Living with psychosis is like being at a jam-band concert and drinking random red-solo-cups. It might just be water, it might just be beer, but there’s also the outside chance that there’s a hallucinogen in there that will cause you to trip out of your skull. It might be a good trip, one that makes you feel like a God. Or it might be a bad trip, one that makes you hallucinate zombies. Either way, good trip or bad trip, you’re tripping.
Thanks to psychosis, I’ve been the billionaire CEO of a major media conglomerate, had psychic abilities including telekinesis, and at one point was immortal. I had a bunch of other superpowers, abilities, and possessions too. Unfortunately, I’ve also had my mind read by anyone within 25-feet of me, been singled out by the government as a man wanted dead or alive, and believed every movement and sound I made was recorded and broadcast. I had a bunch of other super insane delusions, hallucinations, and paranoid beliefs too.
Thanks to modern science, psychiatry, and a bunch of medications, though, I’ve finally accepted that all of the aforementioned experiences was simply in my head. I don’t think such thoughts anymore. Rather, I’m pretty grounded in reality, as boring as reality often is. For me, being psychotic was always like returning to a state of childhood. It was like being a child with an overactive imagination, one that swept reality from under my feet and left me with only the vivid thoughts, feelings, and visions my mind cooked up.
I feel as someone who has experienced psychosis and can also write, it is my duty to write about psychosis, which is an oft misunderstood phenomenon that is stigmatized, with patients being ostracized, to a crazy degree. In fact, I’d say the amount of ignorance and stigmatization that surrounds psychosis, which is often but a symptom of something else (bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, etc.) is crazier than many of the delusions, hallucinations, and paranoid thoughts that one experiencing a psychotic episode develops.
To give a couple of real world examples of how my psychosis worked, I offer the following anecdotes:
1. I remember being in a crowded bookstore and nodding to strangers. This is nothing out of the norm. I generally nod to strangers whenever I make eye contact. The difference this time, in the bookstore, though, was that every time a stranger returned my head nod with either a head nod of their own, a little wave, or a “Hello,” I thought it a sign, a code. They got it, were in on it, a part of it. A part of what, I wasn’t really sure, but as I was leaving the bookstore, it hit me that I was the leader of some sort of underground anarchist group à la Fight Club. Needless to say, I got in my car and headed home from the bookstore feeling pretty badass.
2. I remember a time when I was on a date with a girl, a rather good-looking girl too (how I managed to land a date with a good-looking girl while I was psychotic is way beyond me, but then again, bursts of superhuman confidence are a part of my illness-at-large). By the end of the date, which by all outward appearances went well, I was convinced she was a male government agent, convincingly disguised as an attractive woman my age, who was gathering intel about me. A day or two later, my psychosis had hit its peak, and I was scared to go outdoors because I thought I’d be assassinated. What I did to piss off the government so bad that they’d assassinate me is, to repeat a phrase, way beyond me. But there you have it. That is the beast that is psychosis.
I could go on and on with such stories and examples, but I wanted to write a bit about psychosis itself rather than simply a handful of psychotic memories stored in my brain. My psychoses occur as a result of my bipolar 1 disorder (manic-depression). Now, not every person with bipolar disorder experiences psychosis. In fact, not every person with bipolar disorder even experiences full-blown mania. But some bipolar people experience both full-blown mania and psychosis. (Psychosis is more common in mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, brief psychotic disorder, etc.) And though I feel bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and mental illnesses at large are talked about and written about quite commonly these days, psychosis is not.
A single, brief encounter with someone experiencing psychosis can scare the hell out of someone who has never encountered it before. Psychosis can ruin friendships, make work impossible, and absolutely destroy one’s reputation. The truth is, people experiencing psychosis are, to use a medical term, “psychotic.” To be blunt, they’re utterly insane. But they’re also about dangerous as the non-psychotic average-Joe. A psychotic individual is probably just as confused and scared, if not more so, than those around him or her. And their psychosis, now matter how intense and terrifying, is something that can more often than not be fixed with a simple shot or two, and proper medication.
A common misconception seems to be that a psychotic person is always psychotic. Or, once psychotic, is always psychotic. This is almost never the case. In fact, such an idea could be described as an egregious falsity. A psychotic person has the mental equivalent of a high-temperature flu that leaves the patient babbling nonsense and seeing things that aren’t there. The only differences, to me at least, are that one is considered physical, the other mental. And that the person recovered from the flu will be treated as someone who got sick and recovered, whereas the recovered psychotic person, though he or she should be treated as someone who got sick and recovered, will likely be treated as a complete maniac before being ostracized and forced to become a pariah. And I don’t think that’s cool. Imagine how bizarre it would be if we turned sufferers of the flu into pariahs. The idea doesn’t even seem to make sense. It seems psychotic.
To return to myself, though I’ve been in states of pretty severe psychosis, now that I’m properly medicated and receiving proper treatment, I rarely even experience residual type symptoms of psychosis. But, that said, I’ve definitely been there. And even today, with my meds and my treatment, I occasionally have to fight off funny thoughts that I know to be delusions from the get-go. I still have to risk facing triggers, i.e., I still have to take the occasional sip from the random red-solo-cup at the jam band concert if I want to lead a normal, functioning life in society.
But if I get the flu, I get the flu. If I lose my mind, I lose my mind. After a few days of either/or, I’ll be back to my normal self, unlikely in a state much different than prior to. And that’s the key: psychosis is not a human trait or characteristic, it’s an illness that is treatable and manageable in both the short and the long term. To think of a person as part of a disease rather than a disease as part of a person is a gross misunderstanding. One could even call it psychotic.