August 14, 2019

By Andrea Paquette

I was diagnosed with bipolar I disorder with psychotic features when I was 25 years old. My mental health journey unraveled my life to the point where I nearly died. An entire year, spanning most of 2005, drove me entirely out of reality. It remains extremely difficult to explain how something called “psychosis” has affected my brain.

Most people understand psychosis to be seeing, hearing and believing things that are not real. Simple. However, it is not easy to explain what being in psychosis feels like, and truthfully, I feel inadequate in my ability to describe its entirety. After many years, I freely and easily share about my mental health breakdown, mania, depression and suicide attempt that I luckily survived. However, it is always difficult to capture the true essence and magnitude of my psychosis experience.

My First Psychosis Experience

In the winter of 2005, it felt like my eyelids were stapled open when I tried to sleep, and I was more energetic that I had ever been in my entire life. Mania and psychosis caused restlessness that overwhelmed me, and it felt excessive, uncomfortable and all encompassing.

My grasp on reality began to dramatically change. One day, I laid my head down on my pillow, and observed a picture of a white and pink angel on the wall in front of me. As I stared at the image, it would swirl and turn into the loveliest face of my best friend. I considered this to be a sign of something beautiful and perhaps this was a way for the “angels” to communicate with me.
That is the thing with psychosis. You cannot tell the difference between reality and non-reality. My hallucinations did not end there. In one heartbeat, I was standing and peering down at the floor, and then it felt as if I was plucked up and taken on a journey through the galaxy’s solar system. My stomach flipped with anxiety as stars appeared below my feet. I felt the pulsing energy of a blue and green earth that appeared in my gaze.

Would you believe it if I told you that I saw a globe of the earth in front of me as real as I could touch it?  It is the complete truth and to this day, I still cannot fathom how this is possible.

Receiving My Diagnosis

After that first experience, I plunged into a major psychosis episode due to my undiagnosed bipolar disorder. My friends assisted in my admittance to the local hospital when I was noticeably acting out of character. I had been alone housesitting for much of that time, so it took over a month for anyone to discover that my world had been toppled by mental illness.

Once admitted, it took nearly a month for the medications to regain reality, and I was devastated to learn that the entire experience was a mere misfire in my brain. Many parts of my psychosis were spiritual and beautiful, but I was also haunted by terrifying delusions and horrifying hallucinations. At the time, a diagnosis of bipolar disorder mixed with psychotic features was not a welcomed explanation, nor was it a relief, even though it shed light into my situation.

I attempted to rebuild my life for months, but the psychosis lingered and induced extreme paranoia and visual disturbances. I eventually plunged in the darkest depression of my life, and attempted to end the pain by suicide. It took me over 11 years of healing and the right medications to recover from the effects of psychosis.

Important Facts About Psychosis

No matter the circumstances, the experience of psychosis can appear very disturbing for those looking in. It can be difficult to understand. This is why there is so much stigma associated with people who experience psychosis.

In order to dispel the much unwarranted fear around this condition, it’s important to know the facts.

  • It can happen to anyone: Three in 100 people will experience psychosis at some point in their lifetime.
  • ​Psychosis does not mean that you are scary, violent and/or dangerous.
  • You can lead a fulfilling life because psychosis is treatable.
  • Psychosis is not contagious.
  • If someone experiences psychosis, this does not mean they have split personalities.

Scientists do not know the exact cause of psychosis, but it is important to recognize that medical professionals can help with its management.

The memory of it lingers, but I have now been psychosis-free for years. I was able to rebuild my life, create and lead my own charity named the Stigma-Free Society, and I found healing and hope by retaining medical and community resources. While I was experiencing psychosis, I believed the torment would never cease. But it did, and I want others to know that psychosis will not always persist. There is help and hope in all situations, and I am grateful to have eventually found continued stability.

Sharing these types of stories about psychosis ignites education around the topic and will eventually shed the stigma that so often clouds its truth. Psychosis is not something to be feared—it’s something to be treated. I encourage others to share because it may just shine a light where they only see darkness.
Andrea Paquette is Founder and President of the Stigma-Free Society, and she is also known as the Bipolar Babe related to her first mental health project in 2009. She is a mental health speaker, published author, advocate and above all a Stigma Stomper. She is grateful for having the opportunity to share her personal message that “No matter what our challenges, we can all live extraordinary lives.” Feel free to visit her website: Twitter: @Bipolar__Babe Instagram: @bipolarbabe

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