On Psychosis

*** Defying Shadows turns Two this August! To Celebrate, we are going to spend the part of the month resharing some of our favourite posts! Enjoy! ***

Hollywood often paints a tainted view of psychosis, either making it a subject of terror by infusing the term amidst the crazed killer’s profile in horror films, or glamorizing it against the backdrop of an artistic film score with romanticized imagery and dialogue. In reality, psychosis looks different in every person that experiences it and it is hardly summed up by the depictions which film and TV have created.

Psychosis consists of hallucinations and delusions, hallucinations being a manifestation of something that isn’t real, and delusions being false or irrational beliefs. Psychosis often happens during mania, but can occur during depression as well. There are a number of illnesses that can cause psychosis, and it can also occur as a result of certain medications or drug use.

Examples of hallucinations include hearing voices, seeing figures, seeing the movement of inanimate objects, feeling as though someone or something is touching you, or smelling scents that aren’t real. Hallucinations can appeal to any of the five senses and range from mundane to grandiose or frightening.

Delusions may occur for a number of reasons. Sometimes they are a result of paranoia, such as believing that someone is following you. They may be extreme or dangerous in nature, such as believing that you are fireproof or possess the ability to fly.

During one of my worst psychotic episodes I believed that I was a prophet receiving messages from God. I went as far as to deliver these messages to people I knew and I destroyed some of my relationships in the process. I did not realize my thinking was irrational or that I had escalated into psychosis. Regardless of how irrational it may sound, to the individual that is dealing with psychosis, it is real in that moment.

There are ways that we can try to cope with psychosis, or even prevent it. There is no guaranteed method that works for everyone, and hallucinations or delusions may still occur even if you live a healthy lifestyle and do all you can to stabilize mood. But there are things that can be done to attempt to reduce occurrences.

  • Take all medication as prescribed. Skipping doses or stopping medications could trigger symptoms of psychosis.
  • Get plenty of rest. Sleep helps to stabilize mood. A lack of sleep could trigger a manic episode, which may also set off hallucinations or delusions.
  • Incorporate a healthy lifestyle. Establishing a healthy lifestyle helps with stabilizing mood, which can also aid in preventing psychosis. Along with sleep, establishing a proper diet and incorporating exercise can impact how we feel on a day to day basis.
  • Reduce stress. Stress can be a negative trigger for a lot of people. Overworking and overcommitting when it comes to how we spend our time can be a huge stressor, which could trigger an episode. Reducing stress may include eliminating unnecessary tasks and making other changes, both big and small. There is no cookie cutter answer to stressors and triggers. What causes stress or triggers one may not be a problem for another, so they have to be identified individually and dealt with.
  • Maintain a schedule. Keeping a schedule provides some stability, which can help with regulating mood. It can also provide feedback on episodes – taking on more than usual may indicate mania and letting responsibilities slide may signal a depressive episode is on the way. How detailed and structured the schedule is will depend on the person. I need a thorough schedule, and I also have to plan my time in short increments due to comorbid ADHD. Make a schedule that suits your lifestyle and helps you to maintain stability. You may need to plan daily, or perhaps weekly if you need a broader approach.

These tips aren’t a magic fix, and sometimes episodes happen no matter how hard we try to maintain balance. However, being proactive about maintaining stability can go a long way when it comes to managing and preventing irrational thoughts and experiences, including psychosis.

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Charlie is a graduate student pursuing a degree in English and Creative Writing. When she is not doing coursework or writing, she enjoys hanging out with her husband and dog. She writes both fiction and nonfiction, in particular essays and novel-length works. She blogs daily on her site Decoding Bipolar, with a focus on education and incorporating positive changes in order to live fully while coping with mental illness.

You can follow Charlie on Facebook, Twitter and her personal blog.

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