As far as delusions, hallucinations, and paranoia go, I can only speak to my own experience. During the delusions of grandeur during mania that I’ve had, I didn’t care at all about being admired or better than anybody. I felt really, really good about myself and thought without a doubt that I could achieve very difficult things, like using a chainsaw to illegally cut down all the trees on a road near my house overnight because the trees had grown to block the formerly beautiful view of the lake, and I was outraged. I believed that was a good idea, and that it was achievable. Fortunately, I got distracted from that plan. I also had a recurring delusion that I was going to write a book about bipolar and publish it. It would be so meaningful, insightful and true that it would become a best seller, and I’d go on a book tour to publicize it. I’d end up telling my story to Oprah herself. I started that book about five times, and didn’t get far, but now I have a website about bipolar that has all my best wisdom in it, and I’ve had a lot of people reach out to me lately to share their stories and tell me that my words have helped them. Educating people about bipolar was always a goal, but during a delusion of grandeur I took it to the extreme, and I felt good about my future. I didn’t really care what my friends thought of me and my goals in those times, as long as all our relationships were positive and peaceful.
Now, what is it like to have these delusions of grandeur in the first place? What I can explain is how it feels to me. In the very few times that I have had pure mania with delusions of grandeur (almost every episode I’ve had is mixed-state, with features of both mania and depression at the same time. I get dysphoric mania, the opposite of euphoric) I have buzzed with energy, felt like I could lift a car, been quick to make witty remarks, laughed often and too loudly, talked too fast and believed I could do many different extremely difficult things if I just put in the effort. I also believed that I could put in that effort, ignoring the fact that my illness precludes me from even having a job, because keeping myself alive is a full-time job itself. It was such a positive headspace that anything felt possible. I was just along for the ride, trying to have as much fun as I could. Of course, this has only happened to me a handful of times, since most of my episodes suck very much, even manic.
Paranoia is a different beast. I have some paranoid delusions during episodes, usually ones that make me afraid, like that there is a stranger in the house. My supportive husband often has to go from room to room throughout the house to make me feel safe. Other kinds of paranoia are often present in conjunction with hallucinations. One situation that has happened more than once is that when I was outside on a partly cloudy day, I could hear the clouds whispering, which is a hallucination, and even though I couldn’t make out exactly what they were saying, I knew they were talking about me and planning to come down and hurt me, which is a delusion. Once, in the hospital, I had a hallucination of a Vietnamese man wearing soldier’s clothes, covered in blood and holding a very large automatic rifle. He was looking at me as if we were the only two people in the room, even though my parents, doctor, and best friends were in the room as well, talking to me. I was sure he was real, and I thought he would kill me if I moved my body at all. It is important to note that this was a very severe hallucination in the episode during which I attempted suicide for the first time. Very few of my hallucinations have been this terrifying.
Hallucinations, paranoia, and delusions all go hand in hand for me. They create a situation in which I need to me monitored so that I don’t make poor decisions based on bad information. I also need to be reassured that I and my loved ones are all safe. Sometimes I need that reassurance every five minutes. I am very lucky to have a family who wants to help me.