Interpreting reality differently

In our most recent blog, one of our service users explains what it’s like to experience psychosis.

I first went through psychosis after a particularly stressful period in my life. Symptoms crept in slowly, ultimately cumulating in a psychotic episode.

At first it was just usual perceptions, such as the feeling I was being followed, or worrying that I couldn’t tell what was real. This early stage is often referred to as the ‘prodromal’ stage of psychosis. These symptoms developed into a full blown psychotic episode and I was ultimately hospitalised.

What is psychosis?

Psychosis is a severe mental health issue where people interpret reality differently from those around them. Experiencing psychosis is often referred to as a ‘psychotic episode’ and typically involves hallucinations and/or delusions, for example, hearing voices, or believing that people are in a conspiracy against you. These symptoms can lead to distress and changes in behaviour. Psychosis happens to as many as 1 in 100 people in their lifetimes. It can be a one-off experience or linked to a long term condition such as schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder or bipolar.

There are two different kinds of symptoms of psychosis: positive symptoms, which add something, such as delusions or hallucinations, and negative symptoms, which take something away, such as difficulties with memory and concentration. Some people with psychosis may have disorganised thinking or be unable to show the emotions on their face.

What’s it like to experience psychosis?

During my psychotic episode I saw ‘signs’ in the word around me. I felt as though music, televisions, the radio, graffiti, social media and newspapers were sending messages directed at me personally. I know now that these are the symptoms of a psychotic episode and that these feelings that media was sending me messages are called ‘delusions of reference’.

I was also very paranoid and I felt as though everyone was ‘out to get me’ which I know now is called a ‘persecutory delusion’. Because of these unusual perceptions I would behave very erratically but despite all this, I did not understand or accept that I was ill, which they call a ’lack of insight’.

During psychosis I mainly experienced delusions. This means I thought things that weren’t grounded in reality. It’s made me realise that we each have our own reality sculpted by our life experiences. Reality is subjective, and it’s constantly changing, it’s like a kaleidoscope, you twist it up one way and it looks like one thing and — TWIST — you turn it another way, and it looks like something else entirely.

In hospital there were other people going through similar experiences, including people who hear voices and while this was a hugely difficult time, it was reassuring to know that I wasn’t alone in these experiences.

What’s the treatment for psychosis?

My psychotic episode was treated with antipsychotic medication and over time, the symptoms of psychosis begin to fade, or at least, are under control so that they are at the back of my mind rather than the front.

I’ve received support from the Early Intervention for Psychosis team, who help you navigate through your recovery. I’ve also attended a peer support group to help talk about these experiences with others. It was reassuring that there were other people who shared these unusual experiences and helpful to have support from the Early Intervention services. I’m grateful to Second Step too, as it provides parts of this service, such as Recovery Navigators and Peer Support Workers.

If you’re experiencing the symptoms of psychosis, it’s important you see your GP as soon as possible as early treatment is thought to be more effective.

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