April 23, 2013

KevinPsychosis is described as 'involving a "loss of contact with reality". It occurs in a number of different mental health conditions, including the condition I have, Bipolar type 1.

I have had psychotic breaks since I was around 12/13. It comes in three main forms for me. Firstly, I hear voices. I am not *instructed* by these voices, what happens is that they pass comment on me, telling me what a failure I am mostly. Secondly, I see things. Normally bugs on the ceiling next to a light fitting. Occasionally I will see people. Very rarely I will see ribbons of light that loosely resemble the northern lights. Lastly, I very occasionally get touched by something, usually on the back of my hand or the side of my face.

Hallucinations can be weak or strong

I dislike hallucinations. They can be weak (I may hardly see things or voices may be talking in faint whispers) or they can be strong (I see things clearly or I can have issues hearing the real world because of how loud the voices are). I know they are not real but they are intrusive and sometimes dealing with them is hard. They are constantly here.

Psychosis is word and a concept that people who have never experienced it think of as dangerous or scary. I remember talking to one of my future in-laws who asked me if the psychotic episodes meant I was dangerous. This person had every right to ask. They were looking out for their family members. After all, films like Psycho and the myriad of imitators it spawned make it clear that psychosis equates to danger. Peter Sutcliffe (the Yorkshire ripper) and the Son of Sam both claimed that they heard voices. Those sorts of things imprint themselves on a society.

The word 'psychosis' has cultural connotations

So, 'coming out' to people who don't have a mental health issue and who therefore cannot be expected to (initially) see past the cultural connotations of the word 'psychosis' or the term 'psychotic behaviour' is both risky and scary. All my family know I have almost constant psychosis and they know it’s not very well controlled with Quetiapine. But a lot of my friends don't know. And certainly a lot of my clients (I'm a freelance web developer) don't know either.

Telling someone you have a mental illness is one thing. Telling them it’s Bipolar is another. Telling them you hear voices, see people who aren't there and occasionally feel them touching you on the side of your face is quite another thing entirely.

I had been at my latest clients for 5 days

I had been at my latest clients for 5 days (as a freelancer you sometimes work in your client's offices) when my hallucinations took a sudden and profound upturn in their severity. It got to the point where I could hardly hear what my colleagues were saying over the noise of the voices and I could hardly see what was in front of me without concentrating to an exhausting degree. I took a couple of days off but things got no better.

As a freelancer you live and die on the relationships you build. I did not want my health issues to mean I parted from my client with them assuming I was unable to do the specified work. A few of those and your reputation takes a nosedive.

They couldn't have been more understanding

So, with the urging and support of my wife, I told them the truth. I explained I had a mental illness and what it meant exactly in terms of me freelancing for them. They couldn't have been more understanding or supportive. They made sure I knew that the work I'd done for them was of very high quality and that they were delighted with it. They also made it clear to me that when I felt better I should contact them so they knew I was OK and (maybe) do some more work for them.

It was a massive relief that they reacted as they did - as it is every time you tell someone that you have a mental health issue and they understand - and helped me to relax and concentrate on trying to deal effectively with the issue.

Some people do react badly though

However you can't always rely on friends, family and employers/clients to react well. Sometimes they react badly and I have had instances where people I have told are simply unable to deal with it and can't see past the incorrect Norman Bates connotations.

You can sense a pulling away on their part; of them trying to introduce space between you. That, for me, is the worst aspect of admitting to someone you have psychotic breaks: a friend slipping away. Sadly it’s inevitable that some people just cannot deal with it. You have to find a way past that and carry on dealing with what you have.

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