A Personal Perspective: Dealing with the aftermath of my psychosis
The shame that accompanied the psychoses I went through was complex, biting, and multilayered. It went beyond the things I did, extending to the fact that I entered psychosis in the first place and then lost all agency.
The stigma of psychosis looms large. Assumptions of violence and unpredictability are typical. Full-blown psychosis thrust me into a frightening state beyond my control. No control. The upheaval was humiliating. I ran down the street naked; had sex with strangers; yelled at people I cared about; pushed a friend; tried to drive my car with my thoughts.
Embracing self-compassion, understanding, and kindness, which seemed impossible initially, became crucial to my healing. It was a gradual realization that the actions, so uncharacteristic for me, were manifestations of a disorder (rapid cycling bipolar disorder 1). Like someone under the heavy influence of alcohol, whose behaviour starkly contrasts with their usual demeanor, in psychosis, my mind was similarly hijacked, and my actions were dictated by a force beyond my conscious control.
When I really understood this, then I could let go of the self-condemnation and begin the forgiveness process. Therapy played a crucial role. It provided a safe space for me to unpack my experience, to grapple with the loss of identity, self-confidence, and self-esteem that was stripped away by psychosis. My therapist was the gentle guide I needed to help me rebuild and mirror back to me my strengths because I couldn’t see them myself.
Apologizing to those I hurt was a hard yet essential step. It was strange. I wasn’t guilty in the typical sense. My actions weren’t under my control, yet they were undeniably mine. I wanted to and needed to be accountable.
When I said sorry to my neighbour who lived in the suite downstairs (he was the friend I pushed) and tried to explain my behaviour, he wouldn’t have any of it. He yelled something like “I don’t care. I don’t want to hear about it” and told me to get out. I don’t think we ever spoke again.
My therapist (who I was lucky to have and could also afford) was even more important then. She showed me the compassion that I would eventually be able to show myself.
My journey to self-forgiveness unfolded gradually over a few years. The more I understood about bipolar disorder and psychosis, the kinder I could be towards myself and the more I was able to let go of what once felt so shameful.
For anyone wrestling with the unique and painful shame that follows psychosis, know that it does lessen. The shame left a few scars, but the more I took ownership of my own story, the more it faded into the background—and it can for you too.
This article was originally published on Psychology Today.
Since being diagnosed with BD, psychosis, and anxiety, Victoria has become one of North America’s top speakers and educators on the lived experience of mental illness and recovery, dismantling stigma and returning to work after a psychiatric disorder. As a performer, her funny, powerful messages about mental wellness create lasting change in individuals and organizations. The Mental Health Commission of Canada named her keynote That’s Just Crazy Talk as one of the top anti-stigma interventions in the country.