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My Experience With Delusions — Reality Is My Friend

For those of us with schizophrenia or a schizophrenia-related disorder, delusions can be a part of what we experience when we are in the midst of some form of psychosis. But what is a delusion?

In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a delusion is defined as: "A false belief based on incorrect inference about external reality that is firmly sustained despite what almost everybody else believes and despite what constitutes incontrovertible and obvious proof or evidence to the contrary."1

What's a delusion?

Let's break that down a bit. So, a delusion is a belief that is not true that is believed wholeheartedly even though there is evidence to say that the delusion is simply false. That's a difficult thing to wrap your head around if you've never experienced anything like a delusion.

I'd like to talk for a bit about my experience with having delusions during the height of my illness and what they look like now that I have years of recovery under my belt.

My first delusion with schizophrenia

A fixed delusion was my first symptom of schizophrenia when I was 19 years old. I was a junior in college and even though I was not sexually active, I believed that I was pregnant. I was absolutely terrified because even though there was no way that this belief could be true or factual, I absolutely believed it as fact.

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I was so scared, and I constantly ran through scenarios in my head like, "How will I be able to finish school?" and "What will my family think about me?" I would lay in bed at night feeling tortured and I would beat my stomach to hopefully kill the phantom baby that didn't exist. This was the mid-90s and no one really understood a lot about mental health crisis... or I certainly didn't find the ones who did.

My psychosis progressed

As my illness progressed, and I got more and more psychotic, my delusions shifted a bit. There were times that I felt that worms were eating my brain and that I had AIDS or some other horrible disease that I would die from within short order.

The weird thing about some of my delusions was that there was a part of me that desperately wanted to hold onto any shred of reality that I had left. There was a part of me that just knew that my delusions couldn't be true... that they had to be a false belief, but I just couldn't help but believe them.

That's the scariest thing, I think. Knowing that your brain believes something that isn't necessarily true, but you absolutely believe it with your whole being.

Knowing my delusion isn't reality

I had a delusion once that if I baptized myself with pool water, that it would keep me from going crazy. My mom found me fully clothed in our swimming pool just pouring handfuls of water over me as I stood in the shallow end, completely soaked. I fully believed that if I did this action, that it would somehow reverse my illness. It didn't work, but I fully believed it.

Knowing something isn't true, or even having the slightest inclining that it isn't true is the last shred of reality that I so desperately wanted to hold onto.

Schizophrenia can be cruel

Schizophrenia is so cruel because there can be a part of you which is grounded in reality and wants so much to hold onto that. But there is also this part of you that no matter how far from the truth something may seem, your brain just believes it. I held on to reality by the thinnest of threads so many times, but I was always drawn back to the delusion as truth.

Once I got on the right medication and started looking at what my delusions were trying to tell me, they stopped becoming so prevalent in my life. It took years of self-work, therapy, and reality testing to lessen this phenomenon.

I don't let my symptoms dictate my life

Now, I occasionally have odd thoughts now and then, but I am able to realize that they are just residual or breakthrough symptoms that usually happen when I get very stressed out or my self-care is compromised. I don't really live in a world of delusions anymore. And for that I'm thankful.

Even though we believe them, it doesn't necessarily say that they have to dictate our lives. They can be so hard to live with, but challenging those false beliefs is hard too. Look at what they are trying to tell you. Look for the messages in the delusion.

Feeling more grounded

I'll end with this. I told you about how I felt that if I baptized myself with pool water, it would somehow keep me from going crazy. Well, I so desperately wanted a relief to my suffering with my symptoms, that my brain created a way to help me feel safe just for a moment where I was pouring that water over myself. It wasn’t necessarily a weird action, but a healthy measure that my brain created to help and try to make me feel sane once again.

Was it a delusion? Sure, absolutely. But it did serve a purpose, and once I realized (years later) the purpose it served (to help me feel relief just for the moment), I could start to integrate my delusions into my experiences and feel more whole and grounded in reality as I understood it.

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