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To fall into psychosis. In this series of blogs, healthcare professional Mila takes us on a tour of something that is no longer alien to her. “A hopeless situation, that was the image that I had (of psychosis).”

Psychosis…it was always something alien to me. At least, when it came to my experience of it. Of course I came across the topic whilst I was studying medicine. In my study books, as well as during my residency. I read about psychosis and schizophrenia (and related topics), but it never was completely clear to me; what it was, or what caused it. An image of it being in an utterly hopeless situation was created in my mind. Something that you can never fully recover from, and one that makes you dependant on medication for the rest of your life.  In any case, it wasn’t something that would ever happen to me, a right-minded person.

That image became even stronger during the aforementioned residency on a psychiatric ward, when I saw a patient who was convinced he didn’t have any skin. I just couldn’t understand why he couldn’t simply see that he did have skin, just like everyone else. And why he wouldn’t listen to others when they kindly pointed this out to him. I just couldn’t imagine how something like this could happen to someone, period. Until the summer of 2019.

To fall into psychosis: trouble sleeping

 I spent some time abroad for work, during which I stayed in an old-fashioned hotel room without any air-conditioning. My stay went smoothly, until the temperature outside kept creeping up to over 30 degrees, and it didn’t cool down at night. Because of the heat I had trouble sleeping. And not just a little trouble, but a lot.

Every night it got worse, until I couldn’t sleep at all, or an hour or two at the most, with lots of interruptions. I brought up several kids, so I knew what it was like to keep having to get up and being sleep-deprived. However, this was completely different. I was so tired and I just didn’t know what to do.

When I went home, I expected to fall back into my normal sleeping pattern in my own bed in the slightly cooler Netherlands. Just to be clear, I usually have no trouble sleeping. I do have the occasional bad night, but so do most people. However, I’d never experienced problems like these before.

To fall into psychosis: Grip on reality

Unfortunately, returning home didn’t solve the problem. It was like my body simply forgot how to fall asleep. In the evening I’d lie down on my bed, and would lie there, awake, until the next morning. It was exhausting. At my wit’s end, I went to my GP, who prescribed me some sleeping tablets. The first few nights they helped (glorious!) but as time went on I started needing higher doses to get the same result. Meanwhile, this was going on for a good few months, and I couldn’t work any more because I barely slept.

It must have been during that period that I gradually started to lose my grip on reality because of extreme lack of sleep. What was scary was that neither I nor the people around me really noticed what was happening. In certain situations (like whilst talking about things in my line of work) I could speak completely rationally, and if you can do that you come across as ‘sane’.

To fall into psychosis: Medication

But instead I kept getting more and more caught up in terrifying delusions that were starting to take over my life. I think that the people around me thought that it would just pass, and that it wasn’t that bad (because after all, I could have a normal conversation about certain topics) . But the situation was very bad. I will spare you the details, because they are awful,  and I really want this to be a story that brings hope. Basically, after six months of not sleeping admittance to a clinic was necessary.

I was prescribed a number of strong medicines. Antipsychotics, long-acting sleeping tablets, and tranquillisers. Fortunately, the sleeping tablets worked, and I slowly started to get back into a normal sleeping pattern, which allowed me to calm down more and more. And although I was still having delusions, they increasingly started to lose the upper hand.

Fortunately, after roughly three months I was allowed to go home. That did me a lot of good. And under the influence of the sleeping tablets I kept sleeping properly. There was just a little bit of the anxiety I had left. My psychiatrist decided to prescribe me one more anti-depressant. Maybe this helped, in combination with the fact I was physically recovered from the months without sleep.

I do remember that during that period there was a moment in which I realised that those scary delusions were just wrong, and I was feeling myself again. Well, not entirely, because whilst my thoughts and experiences felt like they belonged to my old self, the side effects of the medication became more prominent, and they were very severe.

Because of the medication I felt jaded and emotionless, I couldn’t sit still (I had the feeling I kept having to move), I had nightmares, and I felt dazed and exhausted. And more importantly, because of my medical background I knew that long-term use of these medicines could be very dangerous for my health. So I wanted to wean myself off all my medications, so that I could be like my old self again, and pick up my old life again.

To be continued…keep an eye 😉

Translation by SGM Taplin

Mila (46) blogs (writes a blog series) about her recovery for PsychoseNet. She hopes that visitors to the site will benefit from this. Since completing her medical studies, she has enjoyed working in the health sector for more than 20 years. Now with renewed energy and motivation, due to the unforeseen and profound personal experience described.

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