How An Episode Unfolds, and What It Feels Like

conv fishes sophie2.jpegIn case you don’t already know, I have bipolar II, mixed state, rapid cycling episodes with psychotic features. I get hallucinations as well as paranoid delusions during manic and depressive episodes, which is part of having mixed state episodes. A mixed state episode can lean one way or another so it can be helpful to refer to them as manic or depressive for purposes of communication, but every mixed state episode has features of both mania and depression.

A real-life example of a troubling psychotic episode would be that I can hear the clouds above me whispering (hallucination) and even though I can’t hear what they’re saying, I know they are talking about me and are going to come down and hurt me (paranoid delusion). This happens often in episodes that lean toward mania. In an episode that leans toward depression, it is common for me to believe that there is an intruder in the house (paranoid delusion), or to feel very afraid and not know why (paranoia). Every episode has features of both mania and depression at the same time often in conjunction with hallucinations or paranoia. My episodes are rapid cycling, which means that they are short and intense, usually between 4 hours and 12 hours, and I have them three days in a row at about the same time of day, unless I am able to get 14 hours of sleep in a night, which interrupts the cycle and prevents an episode the next day.

I usually use the metaphor of a thunderstorm to explain how an episode unfolds. Continue reading

My Paranoia, Delusions, and Hallucinations

Delusions, hallucinations, and paranoia. I can only speak to my own experience. During the delusions of grandeur during mania that I’ve had, 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.

Now, what is it like to have these delusions of grandeur in the first place? All 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. Continue reading

What Is Madness?

I’ve been asked what the difference is between mental illness and madness. I absolutely love language, and words are important and fascinating to me. While some people find the term madness to be outdated or even offensive, with me it is a word that resonates deeply. I do not want to step on anyone’s toes here, because there are many valid ways to view mental illness, especially if you have it yourself. My answer is mine alone, meant to reflect my own experience and opinion.

I have mental illnesses, and I sometimes experience madness. Madness feels like the world is burning down around me. I can see things others can’t, I know truths others never will, and I can feel the source of universal pain flowing through me and out into the world. Madness is powerful. Madness is bold.

If I experience madness in a grocery store, I can hear the thoughts of all the shoppers, and I know deep within myself that they are all in danger, and I cannot save them. Continue reading

What Is Madness?

I’ve been asked what the difference is between mental illness and madness. I absolutely love language, and words are important and fascinating to me. While some people find the term madness to be outdated or even offensive, with me it is a word that resonates deeply. I do not want to step on anyone’s toes here, because there are many valid ways to view mental illness, especially if you have it yourself. My answer is mine alone, meant to reflect my own experience and opinion.

I have mental illnesses, and I sometimes experience madness. Madness feels like the world is burning down around me. I can see things others can’t, I know truths others never will, and I can feel the source of universal pain flowing through me and out into the world. Madness is powerful. Madness is bold.

If I experience madness in a grocery store, I can hear the thoughts of all the shoppers, and I know deep within myself that they are all in danger, and I cannot save them. I weep as I walk the aisles because surely they don’t all deserve the fate that only I know awaits them. Some of them stare at me, my red eyes and snotty nose, and one even asks if I’m okay. That makes me cry harder. In the produce department, I feel hope when I see the oranges because they came from the earth. I realize that all the fruits and vegetables came from the earth, and a calm settles over the department. As soon as I turn away from the produce, waves of hostile anxiety rain down on me, and the other items in their bright-colored cardboard boxes and plastic containers are more toxic and threatening than ever.

Madness, for me, happens during psychosis. Not all of my psychotic experiences feel like madness, but madness only happens when I’m psychotic.

Words are very important to me, which is why I wanted to address this concept. I identify with the word madness because to me, madness is a concept that goes back into ancient civilizations as a common experience among a small minority of people. I know how some of the ancient prophets, shamans, and mystics felt. I can feel the rich inheritance of my insight, regardless of whether it is currently productive or not. Geniuses, artists, and mystics down the ages have experienced madness. Some were revered for it. Others were executed. Madness is as old as human history.

The difference to me between madness and mental illness is timing. Mental illness is something that is with me all hours of the day and night. Even when I have no symptoms, mental illness is with me; it’s just resting. The goal is for it to rest as often and for as long as possible, but it’s always there, waiting for me to falter so it can wake up again.

Madness only happens sometimes. I do not feel I have gone mad just because I’m currently psychotic. There is a specific feeling that I identify as madness. It happens when I’m having hallucinations and delusions (psychosis) that are particularly intense. During madness, my emotions are overwhelming. I am at the mercy of my episode. There is no calm inside of me to hold on to while my world spirals out of control. I need my partner to watch over me because I have no reasoning power left. My mind is madness. The world is madness. I cannot differentiate between my thoughts and reality. I am very frightened but unwilling to back down from the chaos around me.

My psychosis during normal mental illness, the psychosis that happens outside of madness, is easy to manage. I’ve had 12 years to learn how to keep myself safe during episodes, and I’m fairly competent at self-care. I can use coping strategies effectively, and I can self-soothe. I still suffer and hurt immensely, but I have skills now. Psychosis doesn’t have to disrupt my entire day. It may just be a couple of painful hours of self-care while doing nothing externally productive before returning to real life to wash dishes and nag my partner to pick up his socks.

Madness for me is much further removed from my control and subjective reality than most of my psychosis. There is an intense feeling inside of it that contains vast knowledge and deep pain. Everything else is just mental illness. Mental illness, I cope and manage. Madness, I merely observe.

 

By Emily Harrington, The Goldfish Painter

 

My disclaimer:

I am not a doctor or any sort of mental health professional. I am a psychiatric patient with multiple mental illnesses that I have survived for 12 years now. My secondhand knowledge comes from doctors, psychologists, therapists, books, college courses in psychology, and the internet. My firsthand knowledge comes from the feelings, experiences, thoughts, symptoms, problems, and solutions that I have lived through. I know myself well, but again, I am not a professional. The information on this site is not a replacement for getting an actual diagnosis or professional help. Coping skills are fantastic, and I hope you learn some here and that they help you, but please seek and continue real medical treatment if you are struggling with mental illness. I wish you the best. You can do hard things.

My Paranoia, Delusions, and Hallucinations

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 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.

Now, what is it like to have these delusions of grandeur in the first place? All 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. Continue reading