TRIGGER WARNING: If you have experienced psychosis or get scared easily, these pictures could upset you.
Everday Life With Psychosis
I put these pictures together to create something that was similar to what I saw and felt when I was not yet in recovery. I shard these so that others might understand. Psychosis is not uniform, logical, and cannot be made sense of. So, too, these photos vary in style and mood.
One day things were clear. The next, my world was cracked and inaccessible. Conversation with others felt shallow and forced. I often felt like I was watching everyone else live out in the real world, while I was trapped behind a glass wall, stuck in a bad movie with too many plot holes. Life didn’t make sense.
When I was younger, I was silent out of fear and confusion. Then I was silent out of an inability to put into words what I was experiencing. Now that I am in recovery, I wanted to take a look back at what life was like when I was at my worst.
First Signs of Psychosis
The first time I hallucinated, I was in 4th grade. I had moved schools, was living in a new home, and I had no friends. The stress got to me. I couldn’t sleep, but this was nothing new. What was new were the shapes and colors that shifted before my eyes at night. The bright blurry shapes changed into bears, vampires, and witches. As I grew older, my hallucinations began to resemble the villains in movies and books. My fear attached itself onto images I’d seen in movies especially, and my secret world was born.
These pictures are not exactly what I see, while these words are not exactly what I mean. The hallucinations are more of a feeling than anything else. The people I see are fragmented and blurry, not clear like these pictures. But it’s an attempt to bring you into my world so that you might understand not only me but others who also experience psychosis.
By high school, my life had completely crumbled and turned into a nightmare. I looked around at the world my mind had created, and I was terrified. I didn’t know what to do. When I found Sylvia Plath at 15 years old, I did not know that I was experiencing psychosis. All I knew was that the world was a scary place that made me sad. And I related to Plath’s sadness. Her words echoed in my head then as they do now…
Can you understand? Someone, somewhere, can you understand me a little, love me a little?
The hallucinations began to appear slowly. I would have a bad feeling that someone was in my house. My skin began to crawl. My heart raced. I didn’t feel safe. I yanked back the shower curtain and there she was.
Her name was Martha. She was an old lady, probably a ghost or zombie. Her identity changed. All I knew was that she was seething with rage. She hated me and wanted to kill me. She reached out, knife in hand, trying to cut my throat.
I have been in two bad car accidents, and the fear is the not the same, but it is similar. I froze in terror, unable to run. She was killing me right then at that very moment. I could see the blood draining from my neck. The world felt darker and colder. My mind tried to fill in the blanks, bridging the gaps in logic.
I was no longer in my bathroom, but in some alternate universe where Martha lived. She lived in my bathtub, but she was from a different dimension. I could only see her because I was special. She had traveled to my world to kill me. She brought my spirit back into her world, and I knew I was dead, dead, dead… I was done for. I knew I was in Hell. I looked around me and knew I was in the alternate universe, stuck with her forever.
I cried and screamed and ran. Down each step across the living room out the backdoor outside into the fresh air. My thoughts spiral as I look into the forest behind my house.
Why did my family leave me home alone again? I know I am 18 years old, but I am being killed all the time. How could they let me be killed like this?
Because they don’t know. They don’t understand. I hold the key to the other worlds, and it is my job to keep my family safe from the bad people in these other places.
The delusions explained the hallucinations. It was a cycle that I could not think my way out of. One justified the other. Outside, I sucked in air. I did my mental routines to close back the gap between Martha’s world and mine. Counting, praying, stepping in a certain place again and again, tapping my teeth together. My OCD and psychosis exacerbating each other. Then, I began rewinding time with my mind. Back, back, back up the stairs to the shower. There, I killed Martha with my eyes before she could slit my throat. I stared her down until she was gone. I repeated it out loud like a spell, whispering, “Gone, gone, gone.”
Now I am alive again. I have saved the world. I have saved myself.
Later, I was hanging up my clean clothes. All at once, there was a dead little boy standing in my closet. He was murdered. I knew this somehow. By who? Did I kill him? I think I did. He was mad that I killed him. Now he wanted to kill me. I pleaded silently. I prayed. I gasped. I trembled. I spoke to him with my mind. I don’t remember killing you! It must have been an accident! Please! Please! I didn’t mean to. I didn’t mean to. I didn’t mean to…
He turned me into stone. I could not speak. I could not think. I was frozen in time and space, invisible to the naked eye. He killed my physical being, and now I could only exist as a shadow of who I once was. I am dead. I am gone. I am dead. I am gone. I knew what I had to do next. Dead people are supposed to be buried. I had to bury myself. I picked up my dead body, and I looked out my bedroom window. I looked at the ground and thought the dirt must feel so soft and cool. I thought of what Sylvia Plath said:
Death must be so beautiful. To lie in the soft brown earth, with the grasses waving above one’s head, and listen to silence. To have no yesterday, and no tomorrow. To forget time, to forgive life, to be at peace
I looked around me, and I was covered in darkness. The boy stared at me. He stood tall and proud. He knew he had killed me. And I knew that I must bury my body if I was ever going to make it to whatever lies beyond death. I walked down the stairs into the garage. I looked for a shovel.
I heard a car door slam. I looked out the garage windows and saw that my family was home. I should have just gone to the football game with them. I hate football, but I should have just gone with them. Now I am dead. My world was dark. I could smell my corpse. I panicked. My eyes were scanning the garage for a shovel when my mom found me.
“Hey, we brought you some lunch home. What are you looking for? Your bike?”
She looked at me, and the world was getting lighter and brighter with each word she spoke. I saw clearer. The air felt fresher. The brain fog was lifting. I knew I was safe now. I was alive. I was here. I was whole. I am not dead. What a silly thought. The boy was gone. The lights were on. I felt calm and safe.
I looked at my mother, and I wondered if she could ever understand me and my dark, secret world.
But I just say, “What’s for lunch?”
Life Before Recovery
That is how life was for me. I kept the world turning on its axis by counting and praying in my head. I concentrated as hard as I could in order to keep the world going. It was all up to me. I locked the doors between alternate universes by closing and reclosing the kitchen cabinets until the world felt right again. I was being killed all the time, but I came back to life. I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what it was exactly.
I look back now and wonder how I hid it so well. I wasn’t in any real danger, but my mind and my body reacted like I was. I had crippling anxiety. My eyes were constantly dry and my eyelids twitched from stress. I had daily headaches that turned into weekly migraines (I still get those). I washed my hands until they were cracked and bleeding. I bit my nails and could never kick the habit. I couldn’t control the world I fell into when I was alone, when I was stressed, or when the sun went down. Darkness enveloped me and my mind. They were my triggers that transported me into my strange and terrifying world.
I did not know what was happening. And it got worse and worse until I was no longer hopping in and out of the strange world my mind created. I was stuck there. That is when I would have a psychotic break. When the dead people multiplied until they followed me behind me wherever I went like I was Queen of the Dead. They stood around my bed, while I tried to sleep. They sat behind me in class and watched me cook dinner until I couldn’t hold this secret world upon my shoulders any longer. I collapsed. It was only then that I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and hospitalized for psychosis.
Not all my symptoms have gone away completely, but I am in recovery. When I am alone, scared, or stressed, sometimes I still experience paranoia or delusions. When stressed or upset, I have trouble remembering words and articulating my thoughts when I’m speaking. I still see things occasionally, but it’s manageable most of the time. My biggest accomplishment had always been hiding how scared I was, how unsure I was because I didn’t want people to know. I didn’t want others to be uncomfortable. I still care. I still hope relatives and employers won’t find this.
Will people think I am an evil, scary person because I have experienced psychosis? Will they want me to stay away from their kids? Not sit next to them in class or on the bus? Will they think I am violent even though I have never been? The vast majority of people with mental health problems are no more likely to be violent than anyone else, according to Mentalhealth.gov. Click To Tweet
The truth is that I am brave online (where it is easy), and only sometimes in person. Being an advocate can be exhausting, especially while battling a chronic illness. As a good friend said, “Every moment of our existence should not have to be about the war we are fighting.” I am speaking out and sharing my experience, but to be honest, I am terrified of the possible repercussions.
About The Author:
August Blair is the founder of Survival is a Talent. She is a freelance writer, blogger, and social media strategist. She is passionate about health and wellness, social issues, and the environment. She studies Communication at The University of North Georgia.
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