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.
I saw my doctor today and I’m quite excited about the visit! We decided it’s best for me to cut my antidepressant Wellbutrin 150mg from my medications to take, which leaves me with only two that I now take for bipolar. Only a few years ago, I was taking five different medications for bipolar every day!
I’m now only on Lithobid 1500mg (Lithium carbonate extended release) and Abilify 20mg per day. It feels good to reduce the medications I need as I progress in my recovery and treatment process. It isn’t that I didn’t need all the medications before, but that I no longer need them at this point. I’m not afraid to add medications as long as I need them in the future, but I admit it’s wonderful that I don’t need as many atm.
I imagine if I start becoming depressed in the future, I’ll add the Wellbutrin back on temporarily.
I used to take a steady dose of Zyprexa as well, which I find to be a debilitating but effective medication for mania. If I start becoming manic, I add a small dose of Zyprexa temporarily.
The lithium acts as a mood stabilizer and is the foundation of my medicinal treatment.
The abilify prevents depression as well as mania and psychotic symptoms associated with both. Overall, I find it to be another miracle drug with no perceivable side effects at this point.
Well, that’s a snap shot of my medications as of now. Anyone else dealing with medication changes these days?
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?
A very high dose of patience
Do not isolate; open up to people I can trust
Embark on the medication journey. No one stands a chance without medications.
Find a good therapist AND psychiatrist who meet me where I’m at and listen to me
Taking care of myself – sleep well, eat well, exercise, take medications, and connect with other people
Journaling/coloring to express and process my feelings on paper
Music of all kinds – dark, bright, happy, sad, everything in between
Faith – in myself, in God, and other people in my life
Don’t beat myself up over mistakes I make… learn as much as I can and move forward
Remember, the recovery process is often one step forward and two steps back at first
Finding my own ways to cope healthily when the going is rough
Remember that it gets worse before it gets better – as time goes on, your efforts begin to blossom and things begin to fall into place
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.
Twelve years ago, I was newly diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, reminiscent of bipolar I. I’m now spending a little bit of time reflecting on what that was like at the time.
I remember that every detail had a purpose and God was in control of every aspect of every detail. Every detail, big and small, came from God and I denied myself in the process. It seemed like the Christian thing to do, to deny oneself and give the reigns to God to control.
This added fuel to the raging fires of bipolar problems I was going through at the time. My mood was varying between mania, hypomania, depression, and mixed, sometimes cycling multiple times a minute. One second I feel like things are looking up and God is in control and everything is going to be ok until it hits me and I get a sinking feeling that I will amount to nothing and the pain comes, which is darker than hades itself and all I want to do is kill myself and make it stop.
On top of that, I was extremely confused about who I was. I had no clue, other than that I was successful and intelligent at one point and I felt I was no more. I had lost everything and it wasn’t coming back ever again. I didn’t even like how I looked even though I was a very handsome young man.
My psychotic break was the cherry on top of this whole situation. My mind went places no one could understand. It left me completely and utterly alone, cut off from God. If I were to start thinking about religion or God or start praying, my delusions came back and my mood would skyrocket on the spot. Prayer was of no help. The Bible only fed my delusions.
I was lost in every true sense of the word.
Now, to give you an idea of how lost I was, bring all of the above to the forefront of your mind and don’t stray your attention away from it. All of it happens at once in varying degrees. This was my world, then. It was all I could know and experience for months if not years. Demons followed me and coerced me, God was there and all powerful but controlling and deliberate, yet oh so distant from my mind, heart, and soul to the touch.
I’ll try to put it all together:
I have no idea who I am other than that I’m a loyal follower of God that holds everything in his hands and nothing happens without his say so, but when I try to pray or talk to Him, my heart races and I get an adrenaline rush then my mind starts racing and I have to stop only to keep my head from going up Satan’s ass so to speak, who is also trying to convince me that I’m the second Christ or the antichrist (it sounds silly but all I have to do is say the words and I become more powerful than I can imagine) and he’s using his will power to coerce me into believing one of the two (or both), that is I’m the second Christ or the antichrist, and while all these things are on my mind, my mood is skyrocketing and plummeting by the split minute so God feels so close then so far away the next instant then my mind races again about how I’m such a failure and can’t go anywhere in life and I should just shoot myself now or slice my wrists, but my therapist reminded me that I’m a person who has people in my life who would miss me if I were to die, but it won’t stop and it needs to stop!
It hurt. This was only the surface.
My heart goes out to everyone who has just come out of a psychotic episode. You’re not alone in this experience, no matter how mysterious it was.
It provides a genuine glimpse into the mind of someone with undiagnosed schizophrenia. Connections were everywhere in the book, from colors to Facebook posts to random music on his iPod shuffle to people and events. All of them may be small and insignificant to the naked eye, but in his world, everything has meaning, often a double take, behind it. Every move he makes is watched, every thought monitored and the government is pulling the strings around him. A sense of desperate purpose and an unknown mission drives him blindly forward.
It’s a terrifying, fascinating world that Mike Hendrick brings the reader into. I could relate to a lot of what he described right before my two psychotic episodes, and it brings out the schizoaffective part of my disorder along with my bipolar. It is a vivid illustration of another person that was like me!
It’s truly inspiring to see a work like this published. I will be rereading it for sure, and it gives me a lot of things to think about with my own work.