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My Psychosis Photo Album

When the average person pictures someone in psychosis, they probably imagine someone who hasn't bathed in days aimlessly wandering the streets muttering to themselves.

True, sometimes our illness causes behavior along those lines. I've experienced it firsthand. But it's important to know people in psychosis present all sorts of ways.

Months of psychosis

From January 7 to October 26, 2019, I was utterly convinced a team of psychologists had assumed control of my life and was experimenting on me against my will.

But I was a well-groomed, clean-cut, well-educated, articulate white woman. So I was able to pass as able-minded well enough to avoid the psych ward for all but less than 5 weeks of that time.

What does psychosis look like?

My psychosis photo album elucidates how I spent the other 8-and-a-half months I was in psychosis. As you can see, breaking from reality doesn't always look how you'd expect.

It's my hope the below photos from the 10-month bout of psychosis that followed my onset will humanize those experiencing non-consensus realities.

We are all human

People in psychosis still think and feel and have human needs like love, connection, and intellectual stimulation. The next time you encounter someone in psychosis – a loved one in crisis, a patient in a psych ward, a person on the street – make sure you treat them with the dignity and respect they deserve.

Visiting with my Grandpa

Okay, so I was mostly well-groomed in psychosis... Ignore my grown-out highlights and the untoned, brassy hue! Good thing ombre hair was in in 2019.

Family support through schizophrenia's challenges

My Grandpa was an MVP of my recovery. He flew across the country twice to visit my mom and me during my psychotic break, once in Northern California where we live and again in Phoenix, Arizona where we have other relatives.

He educated himself about my illness and how to interact and connect with me when I didn't believe I was sick.

I spent many long, lazy mornings at the local strip mall Starbucks listening to my Grandpa tell me stories from his and my mom's childhoods. My mom recorded the stories on her iPhone so we could document them as oral family history.

A welcome distraction

I didn't say much, because nobody wanted to engage me on the things I wanted to talk about: the team of psychologists controlling my life, the fact that I was destined to be the next president of the United States, my sneaking suspicion that everyone else in the Starbucks was a paid actor.

But I would occasionally ask my Grandpa, a Constitutional historian, questions about American politics or history. I majored in American cultural studies at UC Berkeley, and this has always been a special shared interest of ours. Then I'd sit back, sip my coffee, and dreamily smile to myself while my Grandpa gave his famously comprehensive, thorough, looooong answers.

Long walks and quality time with mom

I passed many psychotic days going on miles-long walks alone through the hills of Crockett, California where my mom lived, the streets of San Francisco where my dad lived, and the desert when we visited relatives in Arizona. So much so that I got massive blisters on my feet!

I believed the psychologists controlling my life were working on my shoes while I was sleeping to give me blisters, that I would have blisters regardless of which shoes I wore. So I continued to walk miles and miles in ill-fitting shoes.

My mom understood

One of the small things my mom did for me when I was in psychosis that I appreciated most was taking me to get my hair and nails done regularly.

A lot of people probably would have thought pampering someone in psychosis was wasted money. But my mom intuitively understood I still had the capacity to appreciate activities I'd always enjoyed – and she even took me camping (pictured above) and to Disneyland! Moreover, she intuitively understood I deserved these experiences.

The delusions of psychosis were still there

Once, a pedicurist looked horrified when she saw my massive blisters. After I came out of psychosis, I felt ashamed of the encounter. But at the time, I just assumed she was a paid actor planted by the psychologists.

As I plunged my feet back into the sudsy, lavender-scented footbath, a story from the Bible my Grandpa had recounted in the suburban Phoenix Starbucks floated to the front of my mind. Jesus had washed his disciples' feet before his death, my Grandpa had told me, as a sign of his love and humility. Surely this was a sign from the psychologists.

My golden birthday

A birthday during a psychotic break

Golden birthdays happen once a lifetime. They occur when the day of the month you were born is the same as the age you're turning. My golden birthday – April 24, 2019, the day I turned 24 – happened 4 months into my psychotic break.

My mom created a special birthday celebration tailored to my mental health needs. Excessive noise and stimulation was challenging for me, and I hadn't talked to any of my friends since my break began. That meant a traditional birthday party was definitely out of the question.

The warmth of my mom's love

Instead, we got dressed up and drove to Santa Cruz where we went on a long walk along the sunny beach. We didn't talk, since I hardly spoke in psychosis. But it was a comfortable, warm silence. Though I didn't interact with my mom, I felt her love and connection.

She gave me a gift certificate she'd made with colored pencils and fancy paper for homemade pillow cases. I was spending a lot of time in bed, and this was a non-judgemental way she could show up for me while meeting me where I was. I still use those pillow cases today.

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