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.

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What My Husband’s Bipolar Breakdown Taught Me about Bulimia

October 14, 2010

Seeing my husband suffer from a severe psychotic episode gave me a new appreciation of the fact that when I was binging and purging, I had truly been mentally ill.

This may sound strange. After all, bulimia is classified as a mental illness in the DSM-IV, and for six years (1993-1999) I binged and purged as many as four times a day. I saw nutritionists. I saw therapists. I wasn’t stupid; I knew something was wrong.

But here’s the thing: I always understood why I was engaging in insane behavior like sticking my fingers down my throat, sitting in freezing cold baths, and trying to burn off my tastebuds.

It made sense to me to ingest fake Russian steroids, stick a weight-loss patch on my arm, and spend four hours a day at the gym. I was under the impression that when I got thin, my life would be perfect, so everything I did was designed to help me lose weight.

My actions always seemed perfectly logical to me.

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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.