It’s not just me; time stops when you arrive as a mental hospital patient.
I’ve been absent for seven months because I needed to be hospitalized for a manic episode in June 2016. I needed to distance myself from writing online as a result of this.
However, I’m in a good spot again and plan to start posting again, including more personal content. My hope is that someone may benefit in one way or another from these upcoming posts.
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’s good to be back.
A book I ordered from Amazon arrived today and I enjoyed a read of it. Connections: The Journey of a Schizophrenic by Mike Hedrick. The book can be found here:
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.
“It has been said that something as small as the flutter of a butterfly’s wing can ultimately cause a typhoon halfway around the world.” -Chaos Theory
I watch the neatly-kept houses and vibrant green lawns pass by my open front passenger side window of Dad’s sky blue ‘93 Intrepid. The gentle aromas of freshly cut grass, leafy trees, and vivid flower gardens breeze by in the sunny suburban neighborhood. We are on our way to high school during late summer for freshman orientation. The radio show host announces a commercial break and I tune out the bombarding advertisements so I can enjoy the beautiful day. Suddenly, a concerned female voice draws me in on the air speaks to me. The words make my mind unsettle and my heart sink.
“Do you have times where you feel extra productive, and periods where you can’t seem to do anything?” I often do all the homework I can for weeks or months in advance to work ahead, then fall behind when I don’t feel like doing it later. I tend to take advantage of my energy when it is there. When it’s nonexistent, I need to recharge, and I prepare for this. Rarely do I work at a steady pace, and I have the tortoise and hare syndrome, but that doesn’t make me abnormal!
“Do you have times where you feel euphoric, that your mind is sharp, or you have so many ideas and thoughts you don’t know what to do with them?” I often ponder the meaning of life, and if God really exists, or if I exist, and what about each atom? Does anything really exist? Then I just get tired, and then it all comes back again. I think about many things at once quite a bit. But isn’t that normal for everyone else too?
“Do you sometimes feel down, blue, low on energy, or hopeless?” There are times when I wish whatever this pain, this cloud, this guilt is, would just go away for good. When it’s there, I can’t seem to get any of my school work done, or anything done for that matter. I don’t want to get up in the morning for days on end. I cry myself to sleep over the littlest things that seem to mean the world to me. But eventually, it goes away. Isn’t that all part of life?
“These are symptoms of what is called ‘bipolar disorder.’ It is a severe illness, but very treatable with medications.” Bipolar. Isn’t that the mental illness that’s almost bad as schizophrenia? I’m a normal, functioning human being, as hard as it can be sometimes. My instincts tell me the problems I have are beyond normal, and I have been hiding this suspicion from everyone including myself.
“People can lead normal lives with treatment. Can you or a loved one relate to these symptoms? There is help.” Bipolar? Me? That’s crazy! I’m normal and just entering high school! My journey in life has just begun! I’m only hearing this and getting overly concerned, acting like a hypochondriac reading a textbook on mental illness and self-diagnosing. People would think poorly of me if I’m labeled bipolar. My heart gives me the notion that I’m bipolar, but I dismiss it in horror.
“I guess we’re almost there, Dad. Is there anything else I need besides what you said?” I said, as the radio voice reads the website address, contact information, and sponsor on the air…
Three years later at age 17, I find myself in a Crisis Stabilization Unit for two weeks of hell, completely psychotic, wandering an evil reality from beyond the other side. I’m transferred to the mental hospital after becoming stable enough, with an admitting diagnosis of schizophreniform. Dad explained that means schizophrenia-like symptoms and I need to be observed more before I’m considered chronically schizophrenic or something else.
I find myself at the mercy of the men in white coats at the hospital. They are my judges. I am on death row, awaiting my diagnosis. Schizophrenia is a crippling disease, and I show many signs of it. The medications turn me into a living zombie. They numb my heart, mind, and soul, yet I’m painfully aware of it all. I’d rather be dead, and seriously ponder suicide often. I overhear the staff talking about how tragic my situation is. How did I get here from having such high hopes and great potential?
The hospital has observed me for over a week now. The doctors call a meeting with my parents and me and we all sit down on cheap chairs in a small gathering room. One doctor introduces himself and explains what this meeting is about. I hang on his every word. “We want to hear your input about what you think may be going on here. You’ve had a traumatic past few weeks, and things seem to be settling down for you. I’m going to ask you a couple of questions.” He continues, “While you were growing up, do you remember having periods where you felt up and others down?”
My throat closes tight. “Y-yes, I think?” I stutter, unconvincingly.
I feel a panic rising inside of me, but the question he raised pierces through the numbing medications and points to that moment in the car three years ago, when I dismissed the notion from my heart that I have bipolar. It comforts me, and I throw my pitch. “I remember hearing a radio broadcast about bipolar and I thought that I had it… but that seemed crazy.” I stammer through everything I remember hearing and thinking about on the radio three years ago, pleading my case for bipolar.
I brace myself for his response. I have spent the last three weeks in a very dark place. I’m admitted essentially as a schizophrenic and I would think the same if I were a doctor, considering what unspeakable horrors must be in my chart from the crisis unit. What if they diagnose me as that and I’m stuck on these God-awful meds for the rest of my life? Am I doomed to be psychotic or a zombie forever? Will they think I am bipolar and not schizophrenic after all?
“Because you believe you had mood swings, and your thoughts are connected though loosely associated… and what you have just told us now… we don’t believe you have schizophrenia. You have bipolar, a disorder that is very treatable with medication. As you have heard, people who have it often lead normal lives.” There is a long pause. The unexplainable expression on his face with his glasses and dark hair, my open chart in his hands, becomes ingrained into my memory as he looks up at me. Words fail me.
Tears begin to trickle as I rapture straight from this hell in a steady crescendo. I never cried so hard from within, and I soon find myself going someplace else, feeling my front shirt collar and chest becoming damp. I am confused beyond my understanding, experiencing so many emotions at once I never thought possible at the same time. Shock, disbelief, anxiety, sadness, relief, clarity, and joy overwhelm me. My thoughts, feelings, emotions, and memories well up in small streams flowing from my broken soul out of my eyes. My head becomes silent for once and my pale, bleeding heart warms up and settles down inside my chest, the throbbing infection washed away with saline from my soul.
Slowly, my mind speaks: “I’m bipolar… and I can lead a normal life someday.”
My heart realizes: “It all makes sense, now.”
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!