Coping with Bipolar Disorder with Psychosis
The Bipolar Burble blog again welcomes National Council Reintegration Award-winning mental health advocate Andrea Paquette – also known as the Bipolar Babe. Andrea shares her struggles with bipolar psychosis – both as a bipolar manic psychotic break and as repetitive psychotic episodes. (Psst, you might want to start with this primer on psychosis in bipolar disorder.)
You were diagnosed with bipolar disorder at 25 after a psychotic episode. What was the psychotic episode like that led to diagnosis?
At the age of 25 I plunged into a deep psychosis where I saw, believed, and heard things that weren’t real. I was unaware that I was suffering from major manic highs and I eventually toppled into a psychosis that spelled disaster. I believed I was Eve from the Garden of Eden and removed all my clothes, eventually leading me to my neighbour’s doorstep looking for Adam. It felt as natural as waking in the morning and as real as I am alive right now. I also saw the Devil’s head dancing in front of my face and observed a globe of the earth deteriorating in front of my eyes. I experienced a number of bizarre incidents during this time, many that were breathtaking and others that were horrifying. My psychotic episode disabled my ability to make sound decisions and everything flowed into a serious break with reality.
Have you experienced psychosis since?
I have been medicated since my first psychotic break 11 years ago, and I have since experienced a type of mild psychosis in episodes. The episodes contain periods of extreme paranoia and anxiety inducing feelings of sheer terror that come over me, leaving me paralyzed and unable to function. The only way that I can describe my experience is that it feels as if I have smoked 10 marijuana joints.
When it happens I’m bound to my bed for hours as I attempt to calm down and recoup. The “high” feeling is not fun, welcoming, or enjoyable, it actually is treacherous. I experience the world differently and the only way I can make sense of it is to conclude that it is psychosis. These episodes are constant and relentless, but have recently begun to ease.
What is the difference between your recent psychotic episodes and your initial psychotic break?
The difference between my repetitive psychotic episodes is that I am fully aware these episodes are taking place and with my initial break I was unaware. The first experience was much more extreme and wildly overwhelming. The more mild episodes are overwhelming in another sense as they debilitate me, but I am not convinced that I should be taking my clothes off or that I am the next coming of Christ.
How do you function with the threat of daily bipolar psychosis and reduce the chance of psychosis?
There is always the lurking fear that I will plunge into a psychotic episode. I ensure I take my medications daily, on time and have found recently that administering just the right amount of antipsychotic at the right time has been very helpful. I constantly “self-talk,” calming myself down when I am in a stressful situation and remove myself from situations that may induce strong feelings, good or bad.
I know my boundaries. Aside from medication, I have become very cognizant of checking in with myself, knowing my brain well enough to know if I have to retreat and rest. I avoid night clubs and other instances of strong stimulation, including heated personal interactions. I am mindful of how I am feeling and do take extra antipsychotics if I know it is going to be a stressful or overwhelming day. I have to be careful where I am, whom I’m with and what I am doing at all times. I have to know if the environment I am in is positive for my mental health and if it is too overwhelming then I deal with it accordingly.
What coping tips do you have to use during psychosis?
I have actually used the crisis line when I was feeling psychotic, having a calm voice on the other end of the phone really worked to calm me down. Other coping tips to use during psychosis include:
- Taking extra antipsychotic medications when feeling the dread of a psychotic state.
- Surrounding myself with the few people that I love and trust such as my partner.
- Lying down and putting a mask over my face helps ease the visual hallucinations.
- Telling myself, this is but an illusion and you will be ok.
- Not taking a walk
- Not putting yourself in large open spaces.
- Being confined to a dark room where minimal stimulation is present.
What would you say to someone dealing with bipolar disorder with psychotic episodes?
There is hope. No matter how trite this may sound, there is hope that the episodes will eventually stop. I suffered with psychosis for 11 years off and on and now I only have one or two attacks every month, when they had been happening every other day. I know that with the right management, tweaking of medication, and using my own coping strategies they will cease permanently. I live a full life, enjoy the amazing exciting times, and I am often able to deal with the stressful ones too.
If there is hope for me, then I know that you too can find a way to manage the psychotic episodes and live a life that’s worth fighting for. Try to remember it is merely the chemicals in your brain that are out of order. With treatment and hope, continue to hold your head high and know that this battle is yours to win.
Andrea’s “Bipolar Babe” persona has reached great heights in the mental health community and she has been featured in various media outlets such as CBC Radio and CTV News. In 2010, Andrea incorporated the Bipolar Disorder Society of BC. Andrea has recently had her work published, a literary essay as part of an anthology called Hidden Lives: Coming out on Mental Illness, released in September, 2012. Andrea works with youth and adults in the society’s Bipolar Babe Peer support groups hosted in Victoria, BC.
You can find the Bipolar Babe on Twitter.