Living With Psychosis

Someone asked me how psychosis can feel “normal”. It’s not an easy thing to explain but this my best attempt. As horrifying as my story may sound, I don’t see it that way. For me, this is just a fascinating story about the amazing power of the human mind.

For my entire life, I remember feeling like I was on a rowboat in the ocean. Suicidal thoughts, paranoia, and all kinds of madness were sharks lurking beneath the surface of my mind. They were always present, always ravenous.

I learned at an early age to keep the sharks away. My feelings and perceptions were not reliable but the false thoughts were distinctly different from reality. To compensate, I taught myself to use the rational part of my brain to handle everything.

My parents reinforced this by talking about Satan putting thoughts into people’s heads and that we shouldn’t act on those. Little did they know they were telling me my psychosis was normal. Talking about any unreal thoughts became taboo and I did everything in my power to appear normal to avoid being punished for listening to Satan. 

I carried this compulsion into adulthood, where it worked well to keep me appearing relatively normal, with a few paranoid thoughts accidentally escaping in odd places. 

During my first two jobs, I thought job interviews were routinely recorded with hidden cameras. Something I saw on TV helped feed that paranoid thought. Then one day I mentioned it in passing and the shocked responses told me I needed to remove that idea from my head.

Things continued fine for a few years, until I ended up under a great deal of stress. My first psychotic break happened. At the time, my boss and I had already been butting heads. I still managed to keep a lid on the paranoia long enough to get fired for calling my boss an idiot in an email instead of being obviously crazy. Fortunately, the relief from being fired reduced the stress enough to allow me to regain control. 

Why didn’t I quit? My dad had told me many times to never quit a job before you had a better one lined up. Advice I’d since decided to stop listening to.

After that job, I moved to Ohio and discovered the Furry fandom. It wasn’t long before I found myself on staff at the local convention. Over several years, I took on more and more responsibility. By the time I was 30, I was on the board of directors and throwing my heart into what effectively became a second full time job.

Then in August 2018, at age 32, something snapped. A moment of stress broke the barrier I had in my mind and the sharks came out to play. The stress increased as the date of the convention got closer. My grip on sanity was slipping. 

Sometime before the convention, I had an absolutely devastating psychotic break. My imagination merged with reality to such a point, I thought I was a wolf. I’d look at my hands and see paws. I could feel wind in my fur and the weight of my tail. Literally every sensory input was from a different body than my own. My childhood memories were replaced with the wolf’s memories. 

This lasted for four months, many weeks after the convention. During this process, everything that was me shattered into a million pieces. My mind was a vase thrown against a wall. This shattering was so traumatic it may have actually caused physical brain damage.

The thing is… I was still functional. I managed to keep going. The rational thinking kicked in and told me to pretend I was human at any cost. My paranoia took that to mean that if anyone found out I was a wolf, I’d be killed. Every day, I went to work having panic attacks over being discovered. 

I managed to hide this. I kept my job as a programmer and went to church. People knew I was under stress but they attributed it to other things going on in my life.

During the end of my four months of psychosis, I managed to convince a doctor to prescribe me ADHD meds for three months, before I had to see a psychiatrist.

Being the diligent person I was, when I went to see a psychiatrist, I had my entire life history ready and was able to explain the feeling of sharks in my head. I was immediately diagnosed bipolar, but no one had suspected how severe I was. When this story came out in therapy, I was immediately diagnosed as both severe and high functioning.

In the end, things I have turned out well. Medication has brought me a measure of peace. The sharks aren’t in my head anymore. Unfortunately, stabilizing on medication and no longer needing to constantly fight for sanity completed the shattering of my mind. 

At 33, I was left without any self-identity to cling to. I didn’t know who I was or where I was going. But I still had my job and some resemblance of sanity. But it doesn’t end here. 

I was aimless for a while until I talked to an old and very wise friend. He told me I wouldn’t know who I was until I had walked in my new life. From what he told me, I realized I had an opportunity most people never get, the chance to completely remake myself as a new person.

Deliberately, I sifted through the pieces of my shattered mind and pulled out my best qualities. I took my internal strength, my confidence in my own abilities, and my ability to heal and forgive. With that as a starting point, I cultivated the kindness my grandmother showed to everyone.

Today, at 34, I’m at the start of a new journey. My old self has died and in it’s ashes, I’ve become Kayode Lycaon. Hopefully a much better person that I used to be. 

As a side note… I probably should have chosen a phoenix as my “fursona” but I’d rather not go through with that again. Instead, I choose a painted wolf (aka African wild dog) to be my guide into my new, better life. They are the most selfless of canids, taking care for everyone, and at the same time, the best hunters of all mammal species. A fitting mix for who I’ve become. My kindness is defended with sharp eyes and savage teeth.

Are you okay?

I’ve often had people ask if I am okay. It should be no surprise that I hate this question with a passion that’s only matched by my own feelings of inadequacy.

What happens if I say I’m not okay? The immediate reaction is either some kind of apology or trying to fix the problem. People don’t like feeling inadequate or helpless. Their unease becomes my responsibility to fix, lest they spend more time making my life worse with their questions, useless advice, or worse, platitudes.

I wouldn’t mind so much if people knew just what they were asking. Asking if someone is okay is a huge responsibility. Because if they’re not, you better be prepared to listen and accept what you’re about to hear.

Less than year ago, if I answered “Are you okay?” honestly, I would have told you that I want to die every day I’m alive. That I want the pain to stop. When you’re confronted with that, there’s nothing you can do to lessen my pain in that moment beyond just listening.

You can’t fix my pain with words. You can’t just hand me off to a suicide hotline. You can’t take me to the hospital because I’m not suicidal enough to be admitted. (And I don’t need another bill I can’t pay.)

If listening isn’t enough and you truly want to help, then buckle down and HELP. Help me research psychiatrists or therapists1, help me make phone calls, help me make sure I get to appointments, etc.

Trying to get in with a psychiatrist is so fucking hard. It took me 3 months to get up the nerve to push past my anxiety to make the first phone call and then I had to leave a voicemail. I hung up because I couldn’t talk. A week later I managed to leave a voicemail. Then I had to wait for a call back. Half of them didn’t call back. Half of those that did told me they couldn’t take me. When I did find someone that would accept me, I couldn’t get an appointment for three months.

For weeks, I had to use all the energy I had calling for help to soulless machines, knowing that call would end in rejection.

I wish someone could have helped me. It would have saved me six months of unbearable suffering.

This is a lot of effort, more than most people are ready to do. But there is one thing you can do and it’s really simple. Just listen and accept. Don’t try to fix it. It won’t feel like you’re doing anything but believe me, it’s probably the best thing you can do. I will understand if you don’t try to do more. I will appreciate not having to deal with your feelings about how I feel.

  1. If you’re in the US, start with https://www.psychologytoday.com/us