Psychosis is a real illness hidden away by decades of stigma and misinformation – and buried further underground amongst the empty promises and platitudes of Mental Health Awareness Week.

TW: Psychosis

@mugamnesty’s #MadCovidDiaries 19.5.2020

The Mechanisms of Psychosis

Given that psychosis is one of the most ignored and maligned aspects of mental health knowledge amongst the general public, I’d like to offer you my take on the matter – by explaining exactly how psychosis took hold of my mind and turned the world upside down and inside out.

I can’t explain hallucinations and I do not know what happens scientifically, but I can look back on my own experiences of psychosis with renewed health and perspective. I can recognise disrupted processes and patterns in my thoughts that occurred as the illness went on.

Each of these disrupted processes represents one cog in the huge machinery of a psychotic illness. There’s a ripple effect; once a cognitive process is altered, so are your perceptions and sensory thresholds, and then your conscious and subconscious reactions. It’s very unsettling.

For me, this was exactly how my delusions about the world “being unreal” began. I was fixated on ordinary objects, hyper aware of what was going on around me and what that might “mean.”

One of the most unpleasant things about psychosis is that the mind spirals and sprints through the day, as opposed to an ordinary stroll or the sluggish treacle drag of depression. Running on adrenaline, I became constantly frightened but didn’t know what was frightening me. My mind is usually overactive, but here it went way beyond.

In trying to subconsciously figure out what was frightening me, my mind listed everything as a threat; from commonplace objects such as a chair to everyday details of the world around us (puddles, or a cloudy sky). This initiated a process – a fast analysis of said detail, followed by a realisation of how and why that detail was either a threat or a sign.

A pair of jeans draped (instead of folded) over a chair signified that someone invisible was wearing them, and that invisible person would try to hurt me in the middle of the night. A pair of spectacles left innocently on a windowsill were watching me – the owner of the glasses was using them as a camera to spy on me.

Even looking at a desk would fuel the delusion that the world didn’t exist – how could a desk, with straight lines, made from a tree, used for working, exist? It was too good! Too good to be true, which was to say it wasn’t true at all.

The formation of my delusions happened both quickly, leaving me no time to analyse, and slowly, to the extent that I didn’t know I’d formed these ideas but somehow they were there. Psychosis has no rules and no logic. When I first became ill I spent days being hit by “realisations” – flying ideas and thoughts that were both paranoid and grandiose at the same time.

I’d write on the walls and on my arms, because I thought that was the only way I’d keep track of it all.

Retrospectively, I think the second episode of psychosis was freakier than the first. It was as if the illness itself knew how to play the game; how to trick me, and what would scare me. The initial fear of knowing that my world had gone awry mutated into something much larger; lack of perspective led quickly to lack of control.

As is often the case with psychosis, I didn’t really understand that I was unwell. I knew I was thinking and behaving differently from my past self – but again, that fuelled the fire. I was no longer my past self, never had been and that particular knowledge was evidence. When people interfered because they thought I was wrong, that was evidence that I was correct and doing the right thing. I was lost in solipsism – my mind and I were separate from the entire world (which I knew didn’t exist at all). It was deeply confusing and distressing.

When the second episode hit, it was as if I was avoiding exactly what happened with the first. Instead of existing alone, I glommed on to characters that I thought were just like me. I felt the despair of Expressionist artists when they painted their depression to the world. I became drawn to Franz Kafka despite never reading any of his works – I felt as though I knew him and he knew me. As happened in his work ‘The Metamorphosis’ I was convinced that instead of being transformed into a large insect, I had been transformed into a new person and my personality had been taken away from me. I was a different person than ever before. This was followed by the arrival of Franz Kafka himself, in my parents’ home, living in the downstairs bathroom in the form of a faceless man with an axe.

I’m still haunted by the thoughts and images from that second episode. I can’t fully explain what happened, although I know it was triggered by stress and depression. Psychosis can happen to anyone – and in a multitude of ways, with a huge range of symptoms, co-occurring illnesses and presentations. It will blow your mind.

As a society we have to understand how psychosis manifests as a symptom and as an illness; that it happens TO a person and does not represent who they are as an individual. We also have to be aware of predisposing factors, the variety in quality of available treatment options and the barriers that may exist in accessing those treatments. The language surrounding psychosis has to change – psychosis does not make someone a psychopath, criminal, schizo, sociopath, or psycho.

Psychosis is a real illness hidden away by decades of stigma and misinformation – and will be buried further underground amongst the empty promises and platitudes of Mental Health Awareness Week.

If you’ve enjoyed reading this blog, please consider donating to our Hardship Fund for people with a mental health condition who are in financial need during COVID19. Mad Covid is an entirely unfunded group.

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