A Story of Psychosis

Updated: Sep 3


Despite affecting roughly 3% of the population at any given time, psychosis is still highly stigmatized. Psychosis’ association with dangerous behaviour, violence and drug use means that those experiencing it often fear seeking help. But, as our Anonymous Author explains, “It is scarier for people experiencing it than those witnessing it.”


A gracious Anonymous Author has decided to share their story of psychosis, which occurred from age 19-24–the formative years. This article is a part of the Toronto based Life on the Line youth mental health art campaign and


fundraiser for CMHA Toronto. In addition to the Anonymous Author’s story, we have included definitions, symptoms, and resources at the bottom of this article for anyone interested in learning more.

Without further adieu, this is their story:

 

Psychosis: what a scary word. It is hard for people to hear that word and not associate it with negative imagery and erratic behaviour. Unfortunately, that is the world we live in, a world that loves to sensationalize the negative.

Don’t get me wrong, psychosis is terrifying, but I would have to argue that it is scarier for people experiencing it than those witnessing it. Imagine waking up one day and having a slight change in your perception of things. You may not even notice the change because up until that point, everything you thought and felt and believed had been classified as ‘normal’. Days, weeks, months go by and these thoughts (unbeknownst to you) keep coming but you have no way to tell they are symptoms of something bigger—because how could you? Why would your brain lie to you?

'A woman pulling at her hair accompanied by a group of figures'; page 76 from the 'Images of Spain' album (F) ca. 1812–20 Goya (Francisco de Goya y Lucientes)

Then you mention something in casual conversation to a family member or close friend and you get a ‘look’. Sometimes that’s all it is, a funny look. Sometimes there is a concerning response challenging what you have said. And then the real horror begins.

The realization that you can’t trust what your brain is telling you.

If you are like me, you begin to question not just these new ideas, but every single fact of reality that you have ever learned. I was terrified that what I was thinking didn’t make sense to people, and even more terrified when I would have emotional outbursts or say and act grossly out of character. People distanced themselves from me.


I was apprehended by the police and taken to hospital (more than once), and believed I was a criminal, because I’d been handcuffed and sat in the back of a cruiser. That makes logical sense, doesn’t it? If you are handcuffed you are being arrested. That is what I thought…but then, my thoughts had been lying to me! So confusing, so exhausting, and so, so scary.

So, I saw psychiatrists every week for years. I tried medications, upwards of 5 before I gave up and believed that there was no help for me. And trust me, I gave them the good ‘ole college try. But nothing made me feel better, if anything, they made me feel even more disconnected and isolated from community and life.

I hit rock bottom, climbed out of it, and hit rock bottom again. And then I made a choice for myself. I thought, ok you can either keep going or quit, but whatever you choose you have to go all in. My dad always told me this phrase when I was a kid, “when the going gets tough, the tough get going”. Let me tell you: nothing in my life has been harder than surviving psychosis. So, I chose to try, to keep going, one more time.

'Corridor in the Asylum', September 1889, Vincent van Gogh

This I attribute merely to luck. Maybe it was because I had tried quitting and failed at it. For whatever reason, I decided to look up at the Everest in front of me and put one foot ahead of the other and pushed myself to try harder.

The reason I am still here today and able to reflect on that chapter of my life where everything shattered into a million fragmented pieces, is because I had people in my corner. I had parents, siblings, and a few rare friends that stuck it out with me through hell and high water. And man, do I owe them.

It wasn’t long before I started getting better (thanks to medication, psychiatric support, case management support, and CBT), that I realized I had traumatized those around me with my illness. I don’t mean intentionally, but I realized that for those who love me seeing me in this state was really hard. I try to remember that while it was probably harder for me, it was still very difficult for those around me to watch me struggle and feel helpless in their inability to reach me. I want to make it up to them but I know that is not what it is about. I understand me doing well is what they want, me being happy is what makes them happy too.

Please understand that this is a personal reflection of what helped me. If you do not have people in your corner, you can still get through it. There are good people who work in the mental health field who genuinely want to see you succeed.

Psychosis is so, so tough, but hey…so are you. Don’t let the way Hollywood, media, etc. sensationalize pain make you feel scared or intimidated to get help or open up to what is going on. Trust that there are good people out there. Believe that it will get better. Don’t ever give up, because there is no finish line.”


 

*Thank you so much to our Anonymous Author for sharing your story. It is a poignant reminder that recovery is possible for everyone. (This piece was created by someone who experienced psychosis from the age of 19-24).

DEFINITIONS

Psychosis is characterized as disruptions to an individual's thoughts and perceptions, which makes it difficult for them to differentiate between what is real and what isn’t. These disruptions can include seeing, hearing, and believing things that aren’t real, or having unusual, persistent and erratic thoughts, behaviours, and emotions. As the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) explains:

“Psychosis is a symptom, not an illness, and it is more common than you may think. In the U.S., approximately 100,000 young people experience psychosis each year. As many as 3 in 100 people will have an episode at some point in their lives.” An episode of psychosis can last for minutes, hours, days, weeks, or months. Identifying and treating psychosis early can shorten its duration and promote a faster recovery.

SYMPTOMS


As you can imagine, psychosis can be a difficult symptom for someone to identify in themselves. When everything feels real, it becomes hard to discern what is and isn’t. NAMI put together a list of behavioral changes to look out for in your everyday life:

  • Trouble thinking clearly or concentrating

  • A sudden decline in personal hygiene and self care

  • Suspiciousness, paranoia, or uneasiness about others

  • Self isolating or spending more time alone than usual

  • Strong, inappropriate emotions or having no feeling at all

  • A worrisome drop in grades or job performance

It is important to note that early action can help keep your life on track. If you find yourself experiencing any of these symptoms, please reach out to a mental health care professional who can guide you through it.

Psychosis often includes the following experiences: delusions and hallucinations. NAMI defines these as follows: Hallucinations are seeing, hearing, or feeling things that are not there. This can include:

  • Hearing voices and sounds

  • Strange sensations or unexplainable feelings

  • Seeing distortions or people or things that aren’t there

Delusions are strong beliefs that are inconsistent with an individual's usual character, and seem unusual to others. This can include:

  • Believing that external forces are controlling thoughts, feelings and behaviors

  • Believing that trivial remarks, experiences or events have significant and often personal meaning

  • Believing that you are on a special mission, have special abilities and may even be chosen by God

RESOURCES


Early Psychosis www.earlypsychosis.ca BC Early Psychosis Intervention Program They have a ton of great free resources, including the Dealing with Psychosis Toolbook The Mental Health Commission A great resource for the loved ones of an individual experiencing psychosis, including how to best support, deal with communications difficulties, and how to de-escalate: Psychosis First Aid Guidelines

Help for Psychosis www.help4psychosis.ca The Early Psychosis Intervention Ontario Network (EPION) provides support, information, and care for people suffering from psychosis.


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