Psychosis is a word we hear more and more of these days. Many young people suffer periods of psychosis and for a variety of reasons, but anyone can experience it, at any age, no matter race, religion or class. It is more commonly experienced by young people and the majority, if treated, will recover. Some drugs might increase your chances of having what’s called a ‘psychotic’ episode. On this page you will find information, news and links to resources to support you or someone you may know who has or is at risk of psychosis. In Self Help Psychosis you will find exercises you can do to reduce the impact of the symptoms of psychosis and lower risk of trigerring new attacks.
Psychosis could include a whole range of symptoms but most people who experience it, will at some stage, appear to lose touch with reality. During a psychotic episode, the brain mis-fires and sends inaccurate or incomplete information to our conscious selves. As a result, we become bewildered and our mental state becomes unpredicatable. Our world looks and feels like a very different place, compared to someone who is not psychotic. This experience can be very distressing and will impact on behaviour and feelings in ways we can’t predict. Family and friends will begin to worry and the sufferer will become more confused and upset by the strange unfamiliar way people behave towards them.
Early symptoms to look out for in your friends and family or even in yourself:-
- Increased anxiety
- Lack of sleep
- Dramatic mood swings – manic to quiet to manic…
- Staying in bed
- Isolation and seclusion
If you or your friend is experiencing some of these symptoms, then at this stage it’s a good idea to talk to someone else about your concerns. Stopping the use of recreational drugs and alcohol could delay/stop a more acute phase from occurring. A lot of people are reluctant to ask for help with their psychological difficulties and in some cases are by the very nature of the event, unable to. It should go without saying, but this is not the time to be shy if you think there’s a problem – if you’re unsure then just ask someone who you think will take the issue seriously. Inaction could be a dangerous option to take.
If you reach an acute phase of psychosis, it’s likely you’ll be experiencing hallucinations of some kind, hearing noises or voices or seeing people who are not there. It’s not uncommon to feel ‘heroic’, full of love, responsible for saving the planet – in this quest there is the added stress and distress of dealing with enemy forces who could be out to prevent any action on your part – the classic story is set up of hero versus villain, or Jesus versus the devil, or peace monger versus the CIA or the Met or Cyber Killers. Lots of sufferers sense they are being followed. It’s very common to believe that someone has put a transmitter in your head and is listening to all you say and think. You may believe the television is interacting with you psychically – all of these symptoms are very common. The distress can be quite overwhelming and laced with fear all through. As well as hallucinating strong lights and smells and seeing people move through walls and buildings, the sufferer may also see things disappear, believe they have super human qualities (required to fight the enemy) and conversely feel disempowered and suicidal. The dramatic structure of a psychotic attack can be paralleled to the origin of ‘story’ in that there are protagonists and heroes etc the art of story is hardwired into our brain from early infancy.
It is always best to treat someone in a psychotic state with love and kindness. It is useful to find out from them the nature of the struggle that is overwhelming them. If you are accused of being in league with the enemy, it’s probably not a good idea to openly or secretly collude with any authority who wishes to restrain the person, fill them full of drugs and lock them up. Better to accept that you/your friend is ill, declare your innocence and ask if, when and how you can help. You might be insulted, shouted at, criticised – but keeping lines of communication open is an important support for people who suffer with psychosis. It’s sometimes very difficult for friends and relatives to do this – but turning your back on a person who is all is also hard isn’t it?
More flags to look out for…
- Are you/your friend not eating properly?
- Are you scared to eat and drink in case someone is poisoning you?
- Are you happy to take clothes off all of a sudden – not worried about people seeing you naked?
- Are you talking very fast or have you begun to talk very very slowly?
- Are you too scared to go out in case you do something stupid? Or look stupid? Or say something stupid?
Symptoms are like flags – they tell us something is not right – if you see the flags, ask for help.
Julie was 25 when she suffered her first bout of psychosis. She used to smoke weed very heavily. She also had a history of taking other drugs, including cocaine, acid, speed and MDMA as well as alcohol. Julie was fun loving, work shy and bright. A graduate she had a job working for a large media organisation in central London, in a typesetting department. She called in sick a lot. She had to recover from the after effects of very frequent all night parties.
The first symptoms of her psychosis began when the love of her life left her, to go and live in another part of the country. The rejection affected her deeply and she took to smoking even more cannabis than was usual. She stayed in a lot and read strange books. She became interested in ancient scripts and calligraphy to the point of obsession and spent many many hours in the library reading up on the subject.She believed she would have to save the world from itself and harness the support of all good people to support her in this task. It was a responsiblity that weighed heavy on her mind. Soon she was beginning to ‘hear’ African voices telling her the secrets of the planet. Then they began to scream at her for she was not working hard enough or fast enough. The cast of East Enders spoke to her and the Queen came to see her for tea. She saw people from the street walking through walls. And from the sky, the relentless noise of helicopters, the police were waiting to capture her. Soon, Julie refused to go out and couldn’t eat. At her bravest she ran through the streets naked, ‘to show the Lord how much courage she had.’ At her weakest she attempted suicide.
Julie spent the next two years in recovery. To recover fully, she had to change her lifestyle. She stopped taking chemical drugs early on – cocaine, speed, ecstasy. That was easy. These drugs came in powder form, wrapped in newspaper. Who’s newspaper? Who concocted the dose? Ingesting, inhaling, snorting or injecting chemical substances of dubious origin was a risk she couldn’t afford to take anymore. She valued her mind more than she valued the hit. But cannabis was much harder to give up. She’d enjoyed taking the drug almost every day for a decade. But whenever she smoked it (or ate it), the feelings of paranoia were so overwhelming, she felt sick with worry she’d go back to becoming a psychotic wreck again. It took her more than twelve months to admit to herself that feeling mentally safe was better risking her sanity and street cred (which was high).
Julie does still have a puff for old times’ sake but gone are the days of waking up to a spliff in the ash tray. After 5 years, she made a near complete recovery. She knows she is one of the lucky ones.
- If you feel worse after a joint /spliff, or alcohol, then don’t smoke or drink anymore and let your brain recover.
- If you feel worse after seeing certain people, avoid them and get counselling help/support or go and tell your doctor.
- If you feel worse at particular times of the day, exlplore why this time of day distresses you? Then try to avoid the stressors.
- Get rest – tiredness exacerbates the symptoms.
- Eat – dehydration and starvation also exacerbate the symptoms.
Recovery may be quick, may take weeks or months. The more quickly you get help, avoid triggers and seek support, the more likely you will recover quickly and completely. However, some people will need medication for life in order to feel OK again.
There are some some self help exercises on Storyjug to help you cope with your psychosis. Click here to go to the self help pages.