By: Allan G. Cooper
Do you know what it feels like to help NASA calculate the speed of light? Or, maybe you know what it’s like to find a formula that makes nuclear fusion possible. How about being the sole person responsible for averting a disaster that would crash the entire internet. Do you know what that’s like? I do. Well, I know what it’s like to believe I am going through these experiences would be more accurate.
I have bipolar 1 and these are all examples of a type of psychosis called delusions that I have had. Delusions and hallucinations are forms of psychosis that people with bipolar disorder may suffer from during full blown manic episodes.
I had my first episode at the age of twenty-five when I was living in Japan teaching English and working on my goal to become completely proficient in Japanese. During a period of considerable stress, I started to believe that I had achieved Enlightenment and I had been gifted unbridled intelligence and the power to heal people. My family was forced to come to Japan to bring me home. I lost all of my money, my career and all of my friendships.
Psychosis scares people. The media often reports stories that make a connection between psychosis and violence which in my opinion contributes to the problem. People with mental illnesses are no more likely to be violent than the general population. All of the regular stuff we do just isn’t interesting enough to put into a news story.
When you’re psychotic you are not in a hazy dream state. Your bipolar brain is telling you that what is going on around you is completely real. Eventually, you end up on the psych ward trying to explain to everyone that they don’t understand that the world is going to end. You beg the staff to let you go because the results will be catastrophic if they don’t. Then, one day you wake up and the world did not end and you’re left trying to make sense of the fact that the organ that controls every aspect of your life has let you down.
To recover from this type of episode is not easy and it requires work. I know that is not what I wanted to hear when it happened to me the first time but that is reality. The physical recovery from the episode is a challenge and you will likely have a depressive episode when you crash and you will need time to deal with that as well.
Once you are physically back in the game it’s time to pick up the pieces. A nice way to ease back into society is by doing volunteer work. This gives you the opportunity to make new friends, gain work experience and it provides structure to your day. People are happy to have your help and it’s pretty hard to get fired from a volunteer job. You can control your hours and if you are physically not able to work on a bad bipolar day you can take the day off without any hassles.
Therapy can also play an important part in rebuilding your life. It can help you process the potentially traumatizing experience of going through psychosis. Also, it can provide tools that can make managing the chronic symptoms of bipolar disorder more manageable.
I haven’t had a manic episode in 8 years now. I take my meds, I have a routine that brings me joy and I have an exceptional psychiatrist. I have an outstanding group of peers that help me stay well. My friends who have bipolar are the most non judgemental, genuine and gentlest people you could ever have the pleasure to meet. Because we know what it’s like to suffer in ways others cannot even fathom, we have a tremendous capacity for empathy.
My peers and I are obviously not afraid of each other so our discussions about our psychosis are really extraordinary. Sometimes we burst out laughing at some of the ridiculous behavior you see when people are experiencing psychosis. There is the guy who bought a horse when he knew nothing about horses and he lived in an apartment. The fact, that there is always one guy on the psych ward who thinks he’s Jesus is kind of funny too. Of course, there are stories that are not the least bit amusing but at least we can talk about it openly and comfortably.
I strongly suggest that if you are struggling with trying to deal with the shame, loss and guilt that comes with dealing with the aftermath of psychosis you go find a group of your bipolar brothers and sisters. Unfortunately, we have an illness that has unusual behavior as a symptom and some people may not be capable of separating that from who we really are. We are responsible for cleaning up the mess that our Illness can create but we need compassion from those around us and ourselves to do it successfully.