What Not to Do When Someone You Love Is Psychotic

November 29, 2010

There have been a couple of disturbing news reports lately about terrible crimes committed by people in psychotic states, including the actor Michael Brea’s savage murder of his mother and a Seattle killing that took place in front of school children.

Although it’s been proven that people with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of it, these reports underscore the fact that untreated psychosis can lead to tragedy.

It’s imperative, then, that you do everything you can to get your loved one the help he or she needs.

When John became psychotic due to a manic episode that escalated into psychosis, I learned a few hard lessons about what not to do when you’re trying to help a loved one beat this frightening illness.

Read the rest of this entry »


Just Manic Enough? Work’s Role in Harming Mental Health

October 31, 2010

For a long time, I envied my husband his passion for his work. Where I had a job, he had a mission.

As an aerospace engineer, John has always believed that if we fail to push the boundaries and expand our frontier into space, humankind won’t ultimately survive. A little Star Trek, I know, but I’ve always liked science fiction, and the guy’s a rocket scientist, for Pete’s sake. It’s hard not to be impressed by that.

From the moment I met him, I knew he was ambitious. And I admired that it wasn’t money, fame, or a sense of adventure that drove him, but a desire to advance the cause of his fellow man.

So when he put his career ahead of our relationship in the months leading up to his hospitalization, I didn’t complain. We rarely saw each other during the week—I had a teaching job that required me to be at work by 7:00 am and in bed by about 9:30 pm, whereas he was getting up around 9:00 am and coming home after midnight—but I knew that he was trying to build a future for us, and I only wished I could find a job I loved as much as he loved his.

He was working hard, but he was happy, and I loved him for that.

My attitude changed dramatically, however, after his company called the cops to stop by our apartment and check on him because they couldn’t get a hold of me (I was at work) and John was, as his VP of HR described it, “incoherent and distraught.”

That day, as I dragged John to the doctor, the psychologist, and finally the mental hospital, I began to wonder if a passion for space fully explained the zeal with which he approached his job.

Could his unwavering ambition be part of the psychotic illness that had assailed him? And would it wind up costing him his career?

Read the rest of this entry »

Staying Calm During a Psychiatric Crisis

October 3, 2010

People often reflect each others’ moods, which is why it’s important to stay calm during a loved one’s psychiatric crisis.

My husband’s psychiatric crisis happened in two parts. There was the initial breakdown and one-week hospitalization, after which he came home for about two weeks. During those two weeks, he started seeing a psychiatrist who—for whatever reason—didn’t believe he’d been psychotic. She told him that he was on the wrong medications, and that she was going to take him off Risperdal and put him onto an antidepressant called Pristiq. A couple of days into this transition, his psychosis took root again.

But the doctor didn’t believe me when I told her what was going on. As John got more and more manic and psychotic, I got more and more panicked. He was calling his co-workers and frightening them with talk of his delusions. I was terrified that he was going to get himself fired, that he was going to ruin his life.

Desperate, I convinced him to call the psychiatrist. At first, she told him that he should go back on the meds the hospital had prescribed, but when he expressed some reservations with this course of action, she told him that she “wasn’t that concerned” about his behavior and explained that he had the right to continue with the Pristiq.

I was horrified, and I let John know it.

Which was a mistake. A big, big mistake.

Read the rest of this entry »

Letting Go

September 30, 2010

When John got home from his latest business trip on Friday night, I was reminded of what a difference a year makes.

A year ago, John went on his first business trip since his diagnosis with bipolar disorder. (Prior to his manic episode, he’d been taking several business trips a month. It took about six months of being back on the job before his company sent him on another one.) I remember how nervous I was the whole time he was away: Did you bring your pills? Have you taken them yet? Did you sleep well? Are you feeling stressed out?

Poor John! I’m sure my anxiety did not help him stay relaxed.

When John travels now, it’s not a big deal. I trust that he has his pills with him, I trust that he knows when to take his PRNs (Ambien and Klonopin). I trust that one night of so-so sleep is not going to send him immediately back into the tailspin of the psychosis.

Letting Go of Trauma

Last year, I was still struggling to come to terms with the trauma of dealing with his delusions and paranoia. I worried that if I wasn’t constantly overseeing my husband’s recovery, he wasn’t going to get well. You see, that had certainly been our experience when he was in the thick of the mania—he felt great, nothing was wrong, why didn’t I believe that his colleagues had hypnotized him, or that there were security guards posted outside our apartment door? I’d been forced to advocate for his health at a time when he couldn’t do it for himself, and I was having trouble giving up the reins.

Time, experience, and joint therapy sessions helped alleviate this, but so did prayer. God used me to help my husband at a time when he could not help himself, but that time has passed, and I have to remember that God—not me—is in charge.

And right now, what better reminder do I have of that fact than the little baby that’s building itself inside me? I’m not directing this baby’s growth. I’m not deciding, “Okay, baby, today your kidneys are going to start working and you’re going to gain 0.05 ounces.” All I can do is take care of myself and trust that the baby’s development is progressing the way it’s meant to. Without that trust, I’m a constant ball of anxiety and stress.