7 Things That Happened As I Recovered from Psychosis
First of all, I must start by saying this article is entirely subjective. I can only speak from my own experience of psychosis and subsequent recovery. The symptoms of psychosis vary wildly between individuals, as do experiences in recovery.
A majority of these list items are things I struggled with in the period after I was discharged. They detail some of things I found most difficult to live with and process. Recovering from a severe psychotic break is hard and I was incredibly lucky to have a very supportive family and employer. It takes time and a lot of patience.
I’m publishing this in retrospect having written this article about one year ago. At the time of writing it had been 8 months since the beginning of my illness, 6 months since I was discharged from hospital and around 3 months since I came off anti-psychotics.
1. My sleep schedule was whack
I spent over 2 months in hospitals. At the height of my psychosis (a majority of which I don’t remember), time didn’t really exist. I just was. Floating around, interacting with things, exploring. The last couple of weeks in hospital, I do remember. By this point, I was going to bed in the evening and waking up in the morning. However, I would get incredibly tired after dinner and go to bed at around 7pm. I would then wake up around 5am.
This continued when I got home from the hospital, much to the inconvenience of my family, who I stayed with during my recovery. After a few weeks it gradually shifted back to normal.
2. Everything was about my illness
Having spent 2 months in a psychiatric unit, my most recent life experience was made up entirely of my time on the ward. Not only was it the only thing I really had to talk about, I needed to talk about it. In addition to this, I was having daily check ins from a home treatment team to talk about how I was feeling and to monitor my condition. In the early stages of my recovery, I was taking a cocktail of medication four times a day, each dose a firm reminder that I was seriously unwell.
Conversations revolved around organising therapists, booking blood tests and collecting medication. I felt completely wedded to the upkeep of the treatment. Of course this is necessary and I wouldn’t have it any other way, but the constant reminders felt relentless.
3. It takes a long time to process
A vast majority of my spare moments were spent thinking about being in hospital. Trying to claw back memories and separating residual delusion from reality. Grasping for images and connections that would help me make any kind of sense of my experiences.
Just who exactly was the nurse with the red hair and the distinctive tattoo on her hand? Why was it the same tattoo as one belonging to a friend of mine? What was her name? Why did she wear pink scrubs? Did she wear pink scrubs or did I imagine that? Why didn’t she like me?
And the questions would go on and on. As I’ve mentioned in another article, part of the psychosis experience is that everything has meaning even if it doesn’t make sense. Colours, TV programmes, sounds, words, music, people — anything has the potential to pop out and present significance. For example, I had a ‘thing’ about the colour purple. It was as if purple represented a level or a place I wanted to get to. Now I’m sure that doesn’t really make much sense to you, but this is precisely my point, things have significance without meaning.
I spent a lot of time turning over these ideas and memories in my mind trying to make sense of them. I still do. Especially when I’m trying to get to sleep at night.
4. I didn’t know if I’d ever feel normal again
Although I was discharged from hospital I was far from ok. I was no longer acutely psychotic, but I was horribly paranoid and still suffering from delusions. About a week or so after I came home from hospital I went for a short outing with my mum. From the outside I seemed relatively normal, but I was a nervous wreck. I felt like graffiti and billboards were about me because they contained my initials. During this period I also thought I was the target of a new TV show by magician, Derren Brown (because we have the same birthday) and he had subconsciously programmed me into suddenly taking action and committing some kind of dramatic criminal act.
The delusions eventually faded a few weeks after I was discharged, but I still felt like I was living behind glass. I was going through the motions of living, but I didn’t feel like myself. The world was tainted now. There was this awful feeling that my life was divided by my episode — pre-psychosis and post-psychosis. And I couldn’t take it back. I couldn’t undo it. Whether I liked it or not it had changed me.
I like the idea of being able to take things back, the option of reverting to the familiar. The idea of permanent change, particularly of the psyche or the human body (the human condition in general) completely terrifies me. And here I was, a changed brain. I felt different. Damaged.
Unfortunately, no one could give me an idea of when I was going to feel ‘normal’ again. Which fed my fear that I just, wouldn’t. I just had to wait until I was tapered of the anti-psychotics and hope for the best.
5. I couldn’t engage with people properly
My emotions were dead. As described by my doctor, the medication was like a sledgehammer to my neurotransmitters. My social interactions felt like going through the motions. Responding when expected, laughing at the right moments. But I wasn’t genuinely enjoying myself. Because I couldn’t really feel anything.
The only thing I could really talk about that I felt like I could relate to was how sick I was. It was all encompassing.
6. Things got weird at the end
So I’m not sure if this was just me or if this happens often, but I believe it was my first week off anti-psychotics and I felt bad. Having suffered through a number of uncomfortable side effects, I was hoping that coming off them would be a magic bullet and I would suddenly return to my former self. Not so.
It was incredibly hard to describe at the time, but the best way I could explain it was that everything felt unfamiliar. My room felt unfamiliar, the living room felt unfamiliar. I felt uncomfortable in my flat, but I really didn’t know why. Nothing had changed, but I felt unsettled. My sister was worried I was having a relapse, but I wasn’t suffering psychotic symptoms, it was more of an anxiousness.
Although unpleasant, thankfully the feeling gradually dissipated. No one could pin point what it was, but it could possibly have been withdrawal.
7. I did get better
Eventually, after successfully tapering off the anti-psychotics, I got better. As you may expect, there was no definitive moment or day when I suddenly woke up all chipper. It was a gradual recovery. A combination of other people noticing a change in me, alongside feeling different in myself.
After spending so many months in a position of flux, where I genuinely had no idea whether I would ever feel ‘normal’ again, I have felt completely back to my old self for a good three months or so. I still take lithium to stabilise my mood, but thankfully, I don’t suffer any side effects. Considering where I was when I was in hospital, I’m pretty stunned I’m where I am now.
Everyone’s path is different and I wouldn’t be writing responsibly if I promised the same outcome for anyone reading. But what I would like you to know if you are recovering from psychosis or are in a similar situation, positive change can happen slowly. Trust the professionals who are looking after you. I couldn’t wait to get off my anti-psychotics (the side effects were AWFUL) but I stuck to them as long as I was advised. I knew the quickest way to relapse was skipping my meds and there was no way I was jeopardising my recovery.
It may feel like torture right now. It may feel relentless and weird and uncomfortable, but do not give up hope. Time promotes healing.