Personal Stories

31 Stories, 31 Days: Paton Blough

Paton Blough

It’s hard to describe mania to someone who has never experienced it. One minute I’m so high that my mind and body enter a nirvana-like state with feelings of ultimate power and supreme authority. And then in the next minute I feel so paranoid and scared that I think my heart will thump out of my chest.

In 2005, my mania escalated to the level that I believed a police officer was trying to pull me over to murder me. I took the police on a high-speed chase and was arrested for the first time in my life. A couple of days later, I believed I was waging nuclear war with China and President Bush was obeying my signals from my jail cell. I thought a microchip was implanted in my lung and the evil forces of the government were trying to control my actions. I was eventually placed in a mental health hospital and remained there for nearly a month.

My stay in jail and the hospital set off a chain of rapid-cycling; I was experiencing a manic high every six months alternating with depressions so severe I would beg God to end my life. I experienced severe delusional paranoia during the high times, and every time the police confronted me I was convinced they were there to kill me. People would inevitably call the police because of my erratic behavior during my times of psychosis, and I was arrested six times during those three years. I never had a criminal record before my manic episodes, but I ended up receiving multiple misdemeanor and two felony convictions—one for assaulting (spitting on) a jail intake officer and a second for threatening the life of a public official, both while incarcerated.

When I got out of jail, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Greenville allowed me to share my stories of police interaction and to act out scenarios as part of a 40-hour crisis intervention team class. When I present, I want the officers to understand how bizarre psychosis can be. I go into detail about how your head gets to that point. I don’t want to scare anyone, but there are so many people who have had this happen to them and don’t want to talk about it. I want the officers to have this insight into psychosis so they can keep themselves safe, but keep people like me safe too.

Perhaps the biggest turning point in my recovery story was in 2009, when 30 officers applauded after my first ever presentation in a Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) class. One of the officers who had previously arrested me was in that class and we hugged in front of everyone. Since that time I have been involved in the training of more than 250 officers.

The biggest shame of my life has been my criminal record—now I get to take my experiences and help save lives in my community.

Paton Blough is a mental health advocate living in Greenville, S.C. Paton is the founder of and on the board of NAMI South Carolina. He lives with bipolar disorder.

This profile is part of a series that will publish 31 stories in 31 days during Mental Health Month. See how NAMI is working with others on The Stepping Up Initiative to reduce the number of people with mental illness in jails.