5 Things Every Loved One Should Know About Psychosis

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Part 2 of the “15 Things You Need to Know About Psychosis” Series

I’m sorry this post is late. In truth, this is a difficult one for me to write, so I’ve been putting it off.

Last week I talked about the things I wished mental health professionals had known when they were treating me. This week I’m turning my attention to our loved ones.

Colleagues, friends and family are an integral part of any good support network. You are the ones who will laugh with us, cry with us, and – ultimately – know us the best. Your support and understanding make such a massive difference for anyone dealing with a severe mental illness.

You are also the ones who hurt the most when we are suffering.

Here are the things you need to know to get through the difficult times.

Sections in this post:

It’s Still Us in There!

During an episode, we might do mad, awful, ugly things. Everything is confusing, everything is terrifying, and we will listen to anything that tells us it knows how to make it stop, even the voices.

We may become convinced that you’re a part of it (whatever it may be) and stop trusting you. If the voices and delusions tell us you’re going to hurt us or you’re against us, we will push you away or shut you out.

But we are not different people. We don’t hate you. The worst thing about psychosis is how it can take everything you love and turn it on its head. The best things in your life become ways to torture you. Please try and understand that we only shut you out because we are convinced we have to.

Under the illness, we are still the person you love. Please don’t give up on us. During illness, you’ll have to fight for us as you’ve never fought before, and I’m sorry about that.

We can learn to manage it. I promise you. We may be changed by it, but we can learn to cope. We can learn to be your wives, children or friends again.

When we’re better, we will be utterly ashamed of every hurtful word and action. It will tear us in two.

Please remember that we still love you, and it’s still us in there.

You Need as Much Support as Us

Whether professionally, or from friends and family, you will need an outlet for what you have gone through with us. You may have been through the worst trauma when dealing with our illness. You will have needed to be our rock and our shelter.

At some point, you’ll need a break, or you’ll crack.

Please don’t suffer in silence. Speak to family, vent to your friends or go to your GP. Find carers’ groups or online forums or something to help you deal with your share of the suffering. You are hurting just as much as we are, if in different ways, and you’ll need your own support network to cope.

My hubby has had to seek some counselling to deal with the trauma of finding me after attempted suicides. It was horrific for him, and I will harbour guilt about that for the rest of my life. He tried to be too strong for too long, and it nearly broke him as well.

Don’t try to hide your pain. It will only make us more guilty. When we’re better, we will know. Whether it comes out in an argument, or we see it in your face as you’re checking we’re okay, we will know how much you’ve been hurt. Don’t shut us down when we try to talk to you about it and don’t think we can’t deal with your pain like you dealt with ours. We caused it, so let us help you mend it when we’re well.

However you do it, get yourself support so you can help us.

We Won’t Get Better Overnight

The pills aren’t a magical cure. They’re numbing, that’s it. They’re the equivalent of morphine for the terminally ill. We can use them as a crutch, but they won’t fix us.

The first step to recovering is finding meaning, and that takes time. We might need therapy to help us unravel the mystery of our heads; we may need to speak to peers who had similar experiences to find out what works for them; hell, we might need a creative or expressive outlet.

If we’re out of work, we may need to find a job to feel more human again. We’ll need to re-learn our confidence, bolster our strengths and re-prioritise our lives. We may need to experiment with diet, or exercise, or supplements, or relaxation. We have to adapt, over and over again until we hit the sweet spot.

It. Takes. Time.

There may be several periods where we fall into illness, but slowly and with the right support, we can get better. If we lapse again, it doesn’t mean you’ve failed us. It just means we have more adjustments to make.

We can be coping one day and overwhelmed with voices the next. We may have the confidence to go back to work one week and cowering under our sheets the next. It doesn’t mean we’ll never get through it, or that it’s hopeless.

Ultimately, we have to be patient with our recovery (trust me when I say the time it can take is as frustrating for us as it is for you) and we need you to help us learn that patience.

Please be patient with us and know we are trying to get back to you.

Don’t Be Afraid of Challenging the Doctors

Yes, they are professionals. Yes, they’ve trained for years. But they don’t see us every day. They don’t know what our normal is.

They don’t know what we can tolerate and what we can’t. Tell them what you know. Don’t just trust them to be able to help us from the off. The NHS is overwhelmed, and so a one-size-fits-all approach is often all they can manage.

But we are not one-size-fits-all people. No one is. Psychosis is unique from person to person in the same way that fingerprints are. Don’t be afraid of speaking up if you feel their treatment isn’t enough or isn’t working.

During my first episode, I ended up in hospital after an overdose. I was distrustful and uncommunicative. The doctors decided I was faking (as I later learned from my admission notes) and they sent me home with bare minimum support, just sleeping pills and lorazepam, and a promise that the crisis team would be in touch.

Hubby didn’t protest because he thought they were doing their best for me. The crisis team did come round, but what they said or did made no difference. I ended up in the hospital from another attempt two days later…

Don’t be aggressive, but question them if you feel they are not doing the right thing. They have so many patients and so little time that they need a kick sometimes to get things moving, or else people will fall through the cracks. Phone appointments get missed, prescriptions are put through late, and the sufferer is left to their own devices.

Don’t let us fall through the cracks – challenge the doctors if you feel you have to.

Don’t Be Afraid of Challenging Us

We are in a world of pain and confusion, but that doesn’t give us a free pass.

That said, we may not know if we’re doing something hurtful to other people or care that we’ll regret it when we think of it later.

If the voices had told me that going to a nearby school and stripping naked was the way to make the hurt stop, I’d have done it in a heartbeat. I’d have also ended up on a list…

Please don’t let us do something stupid. Or worse, don’t let us hurt you.

Don’t be harsh, but do challenge us to get better. This is particularly important when we’re recovering. We are more lucid and more in touch with the real world, but can still be carried away by delusions or obsessions.

For instance, if we’re spending all our money on a new invention that we’re convinced is going to change the world, or we’re staying up all night to research mind-control, or other conspiracies, you need to challenge us on that.

Ultimately, spending all our money or neglecting our physiological needs is not going to help us get better. It may be frustrating for you to have to explain that to us, but sometimes you may have to.

Don’t expect us to take it meekly – if we’re genuinely feeling well and are doing something we have a passion for, then we’ll argue that case with you I’m sure – but don’t feel like you have to tread on eggshells in case we break from the ‘criticism’.

Don’t try to control us or make us feel guilty (as that will help no-one) but do help us grow into recovery.

If my husband thinks I’m working too hard and need a break, he’ll tell me. If he thinks I’m being too cautious and avoiding things, he’ll let me know. He may not always be right, but I’d prefer him to tell me what he thinks. Sometimes I need that to confirm my own beliefs or give myself permission to rest.

Don’t be afraid of challenging us when you think we’re doing something damaging.

The Bottom Line

You – our loved ones – are a core part of our recovery and support network and are the best hope we have of getting well again.

Psychosis is a scary and confusing illness; not just for the sufferer, but for their friends and family as well. It’s hard – it’s bloody hard – and I’m not surprised that many people feel hopeless when their loved one is going through this torturous ailment.

But it’s not hopeless – we can get through it. With some help and patience and support, we can find normality again. You are crucial to helping us get there.

Thank you for everything you’ve done for us. I hope that this post will help you to know that you’re not alone and give you hope that it can get better.

Be sure to come back next week for the last instalment in the series – the five things that every person who’s experienced psychosis needs to know.

As ever, until the next post!

Bronwyn @ LBT x