At the end of my mental health stigma presentations, I give everyone the opportunity to ask questions. I reassure the guests that despite the traumatic nature of my spinal cord injury and the psychosis that led to it, I am comfortable talking about all elements of my spinal cord injury or psychosis.
What people want to know
The most common question that seems to arise (other than asking if there is a history of mental health issues in my family (which there is)), is ‘what is the psychosis experience like?’
People are fascinated by what they don’t know or understand – and this is great! Because it is the first step towards removing stigma.
Psychotic is NOT psychopathic
So, contrary to belief, a psychotic episode and ‘psychopathic’ experience are NOT the same thing. We are not talking Stephen King horror films like the Shining, or Norman Bates in Psycho! These people are psychopathic or sociopathic.
A person experiencing psychosis is more scared of you than you of them! They are not dangerous killers!
For me, the experience was brief: 2-3 weeks, followed by full recovery. But believe me, it was horrific and at the time I felt trapped in a hellhole that seemed endless. Many others suffer for much longer than this, and some don’t respond to medication. 😮
Can you imagine your mind dragging you into your worst nightmare? Waking up in a new dimension and being held hostage in a world you barely recognise? I have no idea how the brain trips like this, and perhaps one day, I will understand a little more of how the actual process takes place.
Some people experience hallucinations, either auditory or visual. Imagine setting the dinner table and seeing a tarantula crawling across the tablecloth, only to be told by your family that they can’t see it? Terrifying! Or a voice in your ear of a man whispering, “excuse me, can you tell me the time?” But when you turn your head, he’s not there?
I was lucky; I didn’t experience hallucinations. However, I did experience delusions, paranoia, and complete and utter panic! People on TV were talking directly to me, and I even believed people could read my mind! I lost trust in everyone, even those I love, and believed someone/something was out to get me. Pretty crazy, I know!
There were obsessive delusions with colours, words, songs, and even childhood nursery rhymes. Everything in my stored memory banks seemed to open at once, which was information overload! Jewellery became an obsession, constantly changing from gold to silver, or moving rings from finger to finger. It was exhausting, a bit like OCD, I would imagine.
I had nightmarish thoughts that were intrusive and scary beyond belief; I still get flashbacks occasionally and it gives me the shivers. These thoughts are very hard to describe other than they were like scary premonitions and an impending feeling of doom.
Each time psychosis has happened to me, I shut down and stopped eating and sleeping. The fear was so great, I ended up in a catatonic state. I was terrified.
After a few days (or weeks), anti-psychotics pulled me out of that dark place, leaving me to fight with all my might for recovery. At this stage, it felt as if my head had been through a high spin in a washing machine. I can only describe it as coming back from hell!
But then, once recovery has taken place, there is another ‘hell’ to face. The world of stigma and judgement. Not anymore! I have faced that demon.
Who suffers from psychosis?
You may be surprised to learn, but conditions which can trigger psychosis are: schizophrenia, bipolar-disorder, Parkinsons, Alzheimers, HIV, marijuana smoking, brain tumour, or (as in my case), a stress-induced episode.
My last stress psychosis occurred in 2019, ending with the tragic fall that led to my injury. I have been mentally well for more than 2 ½ years now (apart from a brief spell of anxiety last year). I am confident that the psychosis won’t happen again, especially since I have removed a lot of stressors from my life that I believe contributed. Plus, I have an army of skills to tackle any signs of my mental health deteriorating, including an array of supportive friends and my wonderful husband.
Writing is therapy
A large part of my healing and treatment has been confronting the stigma and being brave enough to talk about the experience. Helping others has been a part of my journey, as has writing. The therapeutic benefit of writing is incredible, and I would recommend it to everyone. Keeping a journal, gratitude diary, or writing poetry has extraordinary results!
I never imagined I would be taken on the writing journey I find myself on – and I love it! My memoir has led to great things, including a new series of books. I am currently working on a fiction trilogy.
It is hard for someone who hasn’t experienced psychosis to understand what it is like, but believe me, it is a condition that deserves respect and admiration in place of fear and judgement. I believe, as with all mental illness, we need to see the person and not the condition/illness. Kindness should always prevail!
There are some people who struggle with psychosis as a chronic condition, and others who don’t respond to medication. I take my hat off to them and the horror they continue to face. True heroes.
If you have any questions about psychosis or would like to know more about my experience, please don’t hesitate to contact me, or comment below.
I am available for talks on mental health and you can find more about my experience in my book ‘Catch Me if I Fall’.