In the mental hospital, they consider my deodorant contraband because of its alcohol content.
In the mental hospital, they consider my deodorant contraband because of its alcohol content.
Looking back, I now realize that God has been silent in my mind for a very long time… years, in fact. I have heard God’s voice before in spirit, and I know my Lord’s voice. However, it is apparent I don’t know them well. I’ve been deceived by a number of different spiritual presences since, and I suspect the most pervasive one is my own inner voice.
In June 2016, when I drove myself to the mental health facility to be admitted as an inpatient, I was following something destructive. I ended up writing a few hundred pages in my journal while I stayed there, which I am still not ready to review as of today. That spiritual voice led me down some very strange rabbit holes. This included taking on the identity of the Angel of Death, drinking from cups signifying various things including the tears of the saints, and encouraged the notion of soul mates.
However, in the process of all this madness, I had a profound moment of deja-vu. I cannot tell whether I was sleeping or awake, but I remembered with utmost clarity a religious experience I had in 2003 after I blacked out then. A few months later, this recollection precipitated a chain reaction in my psyche. Under the guidance of my therapist, I revisited many angles of these experiences in my journal and have begun the process of unraveling the twisted rifts in my mind.
Why, I ask myself, is God silent now of all times? I can only speculate. I trust God will make it clear when He speaks to me again and reveal himself when I am ready. He must have a lot of confidence in me to be silent while I sort out a magnitude of burdens with the help of my friends, family, and therapist. While these are burdens, they are also some of my richest blessings and provide me with much wisdom and understanding.
Whether you are spiritual or not, what are some tools you have for sorting out your mind?
So, how does someone with severe bipolar appear to become psychotic out of the blue? Does one typically snap into a psychotic state or out of one?
The answer my therapist gave me is true to my experience: No. Psychosis is a long, slippery slope towards falling over the edge, and recovery is a long, gradual, up and down slope out of the pit for acute psychosis. The trick I found is to learn how to catch it earlier and earlier to the point where I can maintain and not have to worry about it happening anymore. A significant part of staying away from psychosis as someone with schizoaffective/bipolar I disorder is staying on my medication, no matter how unpleasant the side effects can be. I’ve had two psychotic breaks: first was when I was diagnosed twelve years ago and the second one five years later when I stopped my medications.
What are some general things that go through my head when I’m psychotic?
Fortunately, I do not experience anger or aggression for the most part towards anyone. The only way I can briefly describe it is that I feel like everything I can possibly conceive of is going through my head at the same time. It feels like I’m transported to a different reality, which is a wondrous new place, or hell depending on what episode I’m talking about. With all this information overload, little details begin to form more delusions: religion, personal, ideas, world events, and reality itself all become torn open and full of mysterious riddles.
While all this is going on in my head, what do other people see?
I remember leaving my physical body and conversing with other people around the ward, conversing with patients and staff, and visualizing unimaginable things. However, my hospital records document me sitting in my room those days scribbling away on papers about a girl I was obsessed with years ago at the time. I remember having glimpses of writing about her in what seems like my subconscious. True reality was a dream to me and I was living in a dream (the kind I have when I’m typically sleeping). I likened myself to the living dead at the time, awake and asleep at the same time. My friend also visited me in the ward and he later told me that he could see it in my eyes that sometimes I left and came back right in front of him. When I came back, he pleasantly said to me, “Welcome back!” Then we’d converse for a few more seconds before I returned to my psychosis trip. The same would happen with staff as well – I faded in and out and the staff were very excited to see me back when I came back, before fading again seconds or minutes later.
Another interesting note: as I fade in and out of reality, so to speak, what happens when I call someone on a cell phone? Well, I did… I called my friend, and I heard his voice loud and clear, then felt myself go to the other reality and all I heard was static coming through on my phone – with a full signal. I’d come back and hear his voice again, then fade away again. I wrote a post about this earlier.
I remember trying to tell myself and hearing other people tell me that all those experiences are in my head, and they may be. However, whether real or not, they are what they are. I’m not concluding that I merely sat in a room as an empty shell of a body working out my obsession with a girl in the hospital is the whole story of what happened there. There are many more precious experiences to be told.
Some day, I hope I can do justice to describing what it is like to go through a firsthand psychotic break. It’s like getting lost in a fractal without any reference points, then coming back out again and seeing everything so differently.
If I could do everything over again, I wish I had set aside my mission of interpreting my psychotic experiences aside for later to work on after I had recovered more. Think of it as allowing the fresh, immature flavors of the experience to steep for a while and come back in a truer form that turns into something remotely consumable.
A psychotic experience is inherently an experience so great that I can’t wrap my mind around it. As every month passes, I understand more of it, and every few years, my interpretation of it may completely shift in certain aspects of it. Not only can I not wrap my mind around it, I have no frame of reference within my experiences in real life to contain it or frame it or allow my mind to interpret it.
The stories of my psychotic experiences have taken years to unravel as much as they have and allowed me to start understanding them. I liken these stories to a fractal. I can zoom in on any part or aspect of it and it has a seemingly infinite number of interpretations and implications, no matter where I look, and I find myself getting lost in the beginning.
If I need to revisit my experiences before I’m ready to, I do it in two ways.
The first is to talk about it with people I trust, to vent and to describe to them what happened. This helps me expose some air to all those experiences I had.
The second way is to deal with them more in my journals. If I have problems obsessing about them, I write down the content in my journals, and develop a mental plan of action as to how I can ignore these thought patterns in the future and explain to myself why I need to do so. I need to focus on what is important, recovery, and deciphering fractals of psychotic experiences right after they happened is not the road to recovery. It only leads to more grief.
That being said, after I get to a point where I can handle doing so without triggering my bipolar symptoms, I find it helpful to write down snippets or stories in great detail of what happened during my episodes. This serves two purposes: 1. It helps provide a fresh look later on when I reflect on my journals and look to see and remember what actually happened during my breaks in the forefront of my mind. 2. It helps me process the experiences at face value and understand what content there is in my psychotic breaks to allow me to recognize thought patterns I need to avoid.
In both of my psychotic breaks, God did not abandon me. He was there on every level each step of the way. Sometimes I was aware at the time, sometimes I wasn’t. In any case, God gave me a lot to handle but never anything more than I could. The same is true today. Always.
Everything can be interpreted in my mind as spiritual, if I wish to do so. It could be God’s will that this timer went off on my phone right at this moment for a reason, possibly to call a girl I’m interested in, or a reminder from God that I’m loved by him. Perhaps the very numbers in the hour, minutes and seconds in accordance with the date mean God’s trying to tell me to do something extraordinary out of the blue.
Also, my disorder tries to tell me things as well. It really zooms in on seemingly insignificant details and makes them my entire world for minutes, hours, days, weeks, even months, years, a decade – if not in the forefront of my mind then lingering in the background, always. When I throw the idea of demons into the mix, things just seem to escalate, even to the point where I was afraid to look at myself in a mirror for fear of terrible things happening to me when I do so.
What is real? Where has my foundation gone if God is speaking to me in ways that are pathological? Why when I pray does my mood fluctuate and God become so close yet inaccessible? How long will things be like this? Forever?
First, I ask myself… what is important? What is not important?
What IS important? The answer to this, I know, is different for everyone, but some things are universally the same. For instance, getting better is important. Surrounding myself with people whom I love and trust is important. Finding out how to get better is important. Relearning how to become a happy, functional person is important. How does one get there? That is the journey. Embrace it, try not to dread it all the time. In the process of getting better, I have polished most of my life’s most precious gems and gone through the harshest of life experiences.
What IS important? Learn more about bipolar I disorder and schizoaffective disorder. Learn everything I can about it from the clinical side and personal experiences I can gather from people who’ve gone through it in books and conversations. This allows me to take ownership of my disorder and make it a smaller piece of who I am. When fighting mental illness, knowledge can have much power.
What is NOT so important? The number one unimportant thing for me is proving to myself whether something of questionable origin or reality is real or not. It may seem important to know whether what happened was real or not. However, trying to prove or disprove what happened is moot. What happened happened. For example, I will go crazy if I try to prove or disprove the reality of that experience of the boy teaching me real magic in the insane asylum. If it’s not real, then I’m crazy for thinking it in the first place… if I focus on it being reality, I will be sucked into the world of seeking real magic and end up back in the hospital. Trying to prove spiritual or psychotic experiences are real or not real is a lose-lose situation. Instead, I see them as being there as valid experiences I had and set them aside.
What is NOT so important? God speaking to me literally in my thoughts, ears, events, or random associations. The real truth is expressed and lived out, not a revelation straight from God. Does God communicate through the Spirit like that on occasion? Most certainly, but not all the time, to the point where I feel the need to witness to every weary soul on the face of the planet or have a detailed itinerary planned out for every moment that changes in a second’s notice.
So, what do I focus on? I focus on what IS important. I set aside what I cannot handle to deal with later. I figure things out by writing it out in my journal, so I can lay it out in front of myself. I apply what I learn to my mind. When I get a handle on it, I can start living it out in the world.
My apologies for taking so long to write. I hope to write again soon.
I remember twelve years ago, the men and women in white coats said to me that many people who are diagnosed with bipolar will live a normal life with medication and lifestyle changes. I chose to believe this idea, no matter how hard things got.
Today, I’ve conquered the medication journey, fixed my sleeping habits, lost a lot of weight, hold a full time job, made many new friends, figured out what my bipolar is, who I am, and put everything together to make me who I want to be. I feel like a normal person, which I thought impossible many years ago.
How did I, with such a bad case to deal with, get to where I’m at?
I now consider my experiences related to bipolar to be the best things that have ever happened to me. It refined my heart and my mind as gold ore in a forge in the end. I see the world from a different, deeper vantage point than most and I have taken ownership over my experiences. My hope is that I can share my stories with others who would like to hear them.
If you are like me and have been able to finally start moving forward again, my praises be to you! I would love to hear your story and how you got here.
If you are recovering from something awful that has happened, keep your head up and know there is always a light up ahead.
(Journal entry excerpts from today)
I feel pretty steady at the moment. Reading good material helps. My meds are kicking a little bit more as well. My mind still wanders when I’m alone, not to thoughts of despair and suicide, but rather of how I think about and understand the world, and reminisce about my past experiences.
I feel like my mind is sprouting and blooming again. Is this what the Christians call “faith”? One little spark starting a fire inside me? A spark small as a match strike, growing much like a forest of Jack Pines after a wildfire?
The turmoil inside of me is spinning down. I’m reconnecting with my dreams and ambitions. I’m starting to take better care of myself.
It’s a start.
One side of my extended family and my immediate family experienced severe drama shortly after I was diagnosed 10 years ago. It ended with my immediate family deciding to cut off contact indefinitely, and ten years later it’s still in full force. The oddest part about this fiasco is that everyone had their own good (never malicious) intentions about the entire situation.
My psychotic episode acted as a catalyst to enable a series of events to unfold, which brought up old pains and perceptions about family dating back to before I was born. My parents did the best they could to keep me out of the middle of it, and they did a good job save for what was pertinent to our immediate family and to me. I had enough trauma to deal with at the time, and I had to fight tooth and nail to keep my head above water. My parents were taking care of me, so it was in my best interest to side with them on everything. As a result, people got burned.
At the time of this whole fiasco, each party had its own agenda to try and remedy someone or something or another. I had many agendas in that I wanted counseling for a separate personal problem as well as counseling for my immediate family as there seemed in my mind to be issues there. My aunt shared many of the same beliefs that I did and wanted to help me bring those ideas forward. She offered whatever support she could give in the process, including an open offer for my sisters and I to stay the night if we needed to while everything was being processed. My grandparents wanted everyone to stop fighting, to fix the problem and move on.
In everything, no one was in a position to own up to anything, myself included, and that put gasoline on the fire. I wasn’t able to stand up for what I believed, either, partly because the truth may have destroyed my immediate family at the time. My immediate family was treading water, too, after the stress I put forward. I ended up turning on my aunt in the interest of self preservation and keeping my family together. In hindsight, I believe it was the right thing to do, but it is still a band aid, and that just may have to do.
What ultimately did our extended family in is that we decided against getting a professional third party involved. As a result, everything blew up in our faces. I believe that two things need to happen if there is any hope of reconciliation. One is that both parties (my family and everyone else) need to get to a point where they want to resolve the situation. The other is finding an appropriate third party to mediate. The second part is in place, as my therapist knows the situation very well, understands the complex dynamics involved, and she knows me as well, the catalyst. She does house calls and I have her cell phone number for after hours.
While finding the third party is the easier of the two, at least it is in place in case the miracle happens when everyone wants to give things another go.
To be bipolar is to be controlled by my illness. To have bipolar is to have control over my illness. The subtleties of language have great differences in meaning. I imagine to be diagnosed with any mental illness, the initial tendency is to slap the label on myself, saying I am ADHD, anxiety, depression, bipolar, BPD, schizophrenic, <insert mental illness diagnosis here>. Likewise, the initial tendency for a person not educated about mental illness is to label those people who have it according to their illnesses.
I suspect this is the case because mental illness has an effect on the mind, which is very near to our core being. When it spins out of control, it is magnified and shows up prevalently in the forefront of that person. In order to become diagnosed, this must often happen. In my case, I couldn’t help but look out through a looking glass shaped by bipolar, interpreting a lot of the turmoils I was experiencing along with my past according to what bipolar is and does. My family did the same thing.
However, just like someone who has diabetes doesn’t say he is diabetes, or AIDS, GERD, irritable bowel syndrome, cancer, COPD, whatever illness you can conjure up, he HAS that illness. It’s something he becomes educated about, receives treatment for, and he learns how to manage and cope with it.
Mental illnesses are no different. I imagine them to be more challenging than many physical illnesses as they are much more abstract and hard to understand. For John, his recent diagnosis of bipolar may feel like bipolar is him at first, right at the core of his being, but it isn’t. It’s simply got a grip on him.
So please, keep that in mind. To label mental illness as not an illness is incredibly destructive, and so is labeling the afflicted as the illness. In time he or she will take ownership of it, manage it, and cope with it just like someone who has type 1 diabetes, say. Help him or her along by referring to the illness as something he or she has, instead. If you have been diagnosed with a mental illness, tell yourself you have it, not that you are it!
A follow up to part 2 of “Bi-polarized Perceptions.” I remember especially right before my first break, after a manic episode had been revving up for 5 months and I was running on 2 hours a sleep per night for months, I experienced rapid changes in my perceptions of things. For 15 seconds, I felt like I was on top of the world, ready to change it, and then for 15 seconds all I could think about was cutting myself or worse, just to get rid of this unbearable pain.
My moods flipped back and forth rapidly: 2, 3, 4 times per minute: really manic, really depressed, really manic, really depressed. I forced myself to keep going. Often, talking to people such as the chaplain in my school helped me out and set my mood back up for a little while, before it crashed again. Still, it was some relief.
Along with my moods about things in general, specific things were stolen away with my mood shifts wherever they went. I’d love my mom, hate my mom, really love my mom, really hate my mom. I’d sense demons were there to overpower me, angels come and relieve me of my battle, then the demons would come back after the angels left, and so on.
I could make it through this calculus class, there’s no way I can do this class right now, I’ll finish my homework in about 5 minutes for calculus, I don’t understand anything that’s going on right now. Colors would become incredibly vibrant, then fade into almost gray tones; food became an amazing, delectable treat, then a cupcake tasted like cardboard after I chewed on it for a bit, and my mood plummeted again.
This phenomenon is called “rapid cycling” bipolar, and it’s a nightmare. I lost my reference points pretty quickly when I experienced it. Soon afterwards, around Christmas 2003, a family Christmas vacation made me snap when I couldn’t sleep for about 4 days straight. Mind you, I was not on medication nor was I diagnosed at the time.
Future parts may follow to “Bi-polarized Perceptions.”