What's it like being seriously nuts?

I’ve been depressed and listless and disaffected at various times in my life for various reasons, but never to the point I couldn’t get up, go to work and get on with life until I got back on track.

Realizing that there are situations in which mental illnesses are truly debilitating I want to know what it’s like to be schizophrenic or bi-polar or just plain garden variety nuts in some form or fashion from dopers who have been there.

What’s it like? Is it even describable once you’re coherent? Is your whole world space different or just parts of it?

This question can’t really be answered in the way you’d like. There is no Idiot’s Guide to Being Mentally Ill. Every type of illness is different for everyone who experiences it. Schizophrenia is very different from bipolar disorder, but one person’s experience of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder will differ radically from another sufferer’s experience of the same disease. There are of course certain similarities in symptoms, or else diagnosis would be more of a nightmare than it already is. But the experience of being mentally ill is so subjective that asking what it’s like and expecting a definitive answer is impossible.

I can tell you from my own experience what having a certain disorder was like for me. I was diagnosed four years ago with Panic Disorder. I am now taking 20mg of Paxil daily, and it’s working extremely well. But in the depths of my illness, life was like a nightmare. I was constantly unsure of myself and everything around me. I couldn’t trust anything- if I go to the store, will my heart start beating too fast, and will I then have a panic attack right there in public and have to run away? If I go to a movie theatre, will I feel sick and trapped and have to run away there, too? I learned to distrust my body and to distrust my brain’s perception of what was going on with it. I went through every waking moment having an intense inner struggle with myself. Often about the most rivial crap that normal people wouldn’t even consider for a second. Here’s an example:

laying in bed trying to fall asleep-start hearing heartbeat

Me: Uh-oh. There’s my heart. How come I can hear it? Why’s it so loud?

Voice of Panic: That’s not right. That’s way too loud. And listen to how fast it is. What the hell is wrong with it? Is it steady? Better hope it keeps up the same beat.

Voice of Reason: Calm down. You’re just hearing your heart because you have your face pressed into your pillow and the room is really quiet. It’s nice and steady. Stop worrying and go to sleep.

Voice of Panic: But what I fall asleep and my heart goes into arrhythmia? Or what if it stops? I’d never wake up!

Me: Uh…heart’s going faster…what’s going on?

Voice of Reason: You’re just worrying over nothing again and getting yourself all upset. Relax. You’re a young, healthy girl. Nothing is wrong. Every doctor you’ve gone to has said so.

Voice of Panic: But doctors are just people. They can make mistakes. And it’s been a few weeks since I got a check-up; something could have gone wrong in the interrim. And wouldn’t it just be so ironic? I can see the headlines: “Previously Healthy 20-Year-Old Dies In Sleep; Cause Sought”.

Me: Uh…heart’s really fast now…breathing heavy…head kinda hurts…

Voice of Panic: Head hurts? Of course it does! It’s probably a tumor! Or an aneurysm waiting to blow! You’ve never had an MRI, how would you know if it wasn’t one? You’d better get up right now and do something fast, or you’re gonna die!

Voice of Reason: This is ridiculous. You’re fine. You’re just getting worried over nothing, and your physical symptoms are the product of your anxiety. Take a deep breath and go to sleep.

Voice of Panic: But the aneurysm! It could go at any time now! You’d better get to a hospital quick! How awful if you suspected it was something serious and just let it go. Too many people do that. Your life is at stake here!

Me: I gotta get to the ER!

You can see how this might get at the very least a little tiresome. But the thing is, you can’t rationalize with yourself, or talk yourself down. Not when you’re mentally ill. The world became for me a scary, uncertain place. Everything I did, or said, or even thought had to be carefully weighed and considered in advance. And nobody understood- they called me crazy, or bad, and got very frustrated and upset when I just wouldn’t listen to them. But I couldn’t. So I felt very alienated, and alone, and helpless. And it was so tiring, physically, emotionally. I couldn’t just do anything. My God, think of the consequences! This led in turn to depression- I felt so alone and helpless, and so very, very tired. I was getting no pleasure out of anything, and I just didn’t see the point anymore. Everything was a struggle, and I lost all confidence in myself. Worse, I lost confidence in my very perceptions- I couldn’t trust my own thoughts and opinions. Is this really happening, or do I just think it is? What are the consequences of ignoring my fears? What are the consequences of responding to them? I couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t talk to people, couldn’t get anything done. I was so self-absorbed in my illness, worrying every minute whether something might go wrong, and needing to be vigilant just in case. It was like being a border guard in a hotly contested land where there’s been an unsually long peace. Something could go wrong any second, so you have to be constantly alert. And when nothing does go wrong, you feel wasted, but you have to keep going, because who knows what tomorrow will bring?

Yikes. This has really gone on, and I feel like maybe I’ve said too much. But if it helps anyone gain an understanding of and a sympathy for mental illness, then I’ve done my job. I hope this at least in part answers your question. Being mentally ill is like being in a dark room where somebody has moved all the furniture around, and everyone around you is asking why you can’t see it. It’s scary, and lonely, and difficult. Hope this helps.

I have clinical depression. Most of the time my medications keep me from going off the deep end. I take xanax, prozac, dyserel and wellbutrin. I had to stop teaching because of it.

Depression isn’t about the blues or even about just feeling sad. My perception of the world and of my place in it gets screwed up. But I don’t always know that my perception is off because my brain isn’t functioning correctly. (Catch 22) That’s why it doesn’t do any good to tell a person with clinical depression that it is just a matter of attitude. It’s not. It’s also not anyone else’s fault.

In retrospect, the world takes on a surreal quality. I sometimes felt like I was wrapped in cotton batting and couldn’t fight my way through. My life was a fog. Depression affects the appetite so that people will often gain or lose a lot of weight. There are sleep disturbances – too little sleep or the need to sleep all the time. Lack of energy. Thoughts of suicide. Inability to concentrate. I often feel a lot of anger. And I have become very reclusive which is not good for a patient. I have to make myself leave the house.

I blamed myself until I found that there is often a problem with the brain’s chemistry – much like Parkinson’s Disease.

The worst time for me was when I was misdiagnosed by a psychiatrist. He gave me the wrong medication – several of them. It was my senior year in college. I got to the point where I couldn’t walk normally, sit still, lie down or speak in straight sentences. I managed to get to the emergency room. They put me in a room by myself for a while. I thought that my body would explode. It was worse than any other pain I have known. So having the right doctor is really important. (Another psychiatrist gave me something to knock me out for about 24 hours and then I stopped taking the wrong medications and got help.)

Now the hard times for me are when something triggers the overwhelming hopelessness. I just get sort of frozen for a while – unable to function. And I have suicidal thoughts if something really hurtful triggered the depression. Then I just put myself on automatic and go to a hospital.

For me, the right medication has made all the difference.

Please don’t ever discourage someone from taking medications for depression. That’s like telling a diabetic to go off of insulin – only the diabetic has a sound mind and can reason for themselves.

One in ten people will experience clinical depression during their lifetimes. (There are different kinds of depression.) One out of every four families will be affected.

Thanks for asking, astro.

I had something bizarre happen to me once, that derailed my life for a few weeks.

I was flying from Kuala Lumpur to London. About an hour into the flight, and for no apparent reason, I started crying, and then I felt like I was going to explode or something. I’d never really had a panic attack before, so my immediate reaction was “oh my God, I’ve gone mad”. This fear led me into a further panic attack, which exacerbated the symptoms, and let me into another attack - a horrible cycle that lasted for about 6 hours. I have never felt so terrified in my life, because I just didn’t know what was going on (I’m not afraid of flying, BTW). We stopped over in Dubai, and when I got back on the ground, the symptoms receded, but when we took off again, they came back. Then we landed in London, and I felt a little better, but when we got on the Tube, they came back again. Then I had the feeling that the world going past the windows of the train was somehow unreal, though logic told me it was. We finally got to my brother’s house, and I started getting afraid again, of nothing. I ended up a gibbering wreck. That night we went to the pub and had a few beers, and I felt better after drinking them, but the next morning, after a night of horrifying nightmares, I was in a state of total fear, of nothing in particular. I couldn’t make a decision, either - I was asked whether I wanted tea or coffee, and I couldn’t answer, and this made me upset - I was nearly in tears. I also felt a profound sense of sadness, a sort of nostalgic loss, which was directed at myself: I missed my personality.

Over the next few days the ratio of the time I spent feeling normal to the time I spent feeling weird got better and better. The symptoms were worse at night, however, and I was still having nightmares. So every night for a week, I stayed up playing computer games or reading until I fell asleep from sheer fatigue, usually around dawn. For the next few weeks I would go for a day or two without feeling weird, but then the panic would come back again. After about two months, I started feeling normally mildly depressed, and was actually glad, because this was something I understood, and I knew it would pass.

To this day I don’t know what happened to me. It’s never recurred, and I recovered completely, without meds or seeing a shrink.

So to answer your OP, the best thing I can compare it to is being on a bad acid trip. It has made me very wary about intoxicants - for a while, I couldn’t work out why anyone would want to take a substance that would make them feel like that.

I’m bipolar. I’ve got a pretty long description of what I’ve been feeling like about two-thirds of the way down this thread .

In short, I always feel like I’m on drugs. I see things through a haze of such extreme sadness or extreme ecstacy that it gets easy to lose touch of reality. When your basic emotions- like the kind of extreme sadness that causes me to cry the moment I wake up in the morning- don’t make sense, it’s just a step away from believing that social and physical reality don’t make sense.

When I really lose it, it’s because I start feeling like the world is something arbitrary and needlessly cruel, and there is no real reason for me to participate in it, or even to believe it. Everything gets disembodied. Things mean too much or too little. I stop being able to make sense of geographic space, and I stop trying to make sense to those around me. I’m so lost in my own pain that I lose my sense of where I am in time. I can’t remember what it is like to feel normal. I stop trying to process all of the information my sense recieve into a coherent whole, and I stop trying to respond appropriately. It’s as if you are on drugs and you reach the point where your sick of trying to act like your not on drugs and just running away with it.

I’m bipolar as well. When I was not taking meds, what sven describes is pretty close to how I felt too. It sucks real bad, because I am fully aware of what is happening to me, I never lose touch with reality.

Oh God yes. That’s a fantastic analogy right there.

I’m a bit of a hypochondriac myself. It comes and goes, but at my worst I have inner dialogues exactly like the one you described in your post. The incredible similarity between our respective trains of thought heartens me. It’s consoling to know that other people out there are going through similar things, and – whoa! – making it out alive after each time! I know, at least, that I’m going to be pulling that post of yours out of my memory banks and re-reading it in my head the next time my hypochondria rears its ugly head.

Thanks. :slight_smile:

Looking back on it now, I have suffered, gamely, I think, though not always well, with clinical depression (I myself refer to it as Terminal Depression) for over fifty years, and am now working my way through the modern pharmacopeia – mass infusions of Irish Whiskey just not turning out to be the cure I had hoped for. My sessions, as I now call them, have endured from a couple of months to (my latest) a year and a half.

Terminal Depression has cost me – just hitting the high spots here – a graduate school degree and a career in Particle Physics, numerous personal relationships, two marriages, and most painful of all, the presence in my life of my two beautiful daughters.

Good intentioned folk who equate true Terminal Depression with the blues or having a bad day – ‘You know, GG, I get depressed sometimes, too, but you don’t see me throwing up in my shoes!’ – are conflating a broken fingernail with terminal colon cancer.

I had not been diagnosed until about five years ago. The anti-depressants I have taken since then – I’m very much afraid my record of sticking to my medications has been spotty at best – have, it must be said, evened out the little bumps on the graph, the little day-to-day ups and downs, but have not prevented the onslaught of a trough, or the shortening of a trough once started.

The really sad and remarkable part of this, is that until recently I was able to hide my true state from everyone, though my family members have always suffered. This cover-up was effected through application of a very warm, witty, charming, wisecracking, self-deprecating, outgoing, well educated and well read personality – yes, I think that covers it all – but at the cost of terrible isolation and ever-present exhaustion and inability to rebound sharply. I had in my early pre-teen years concluded that the real Golden Gael was at heart a filthy, disgusting, monstrous person, to be hidden from view at all costs. Sixteen years of Catholic schooling just may have played a peripheral role here.

The two worst things to deal with have been ever growing suicidal thoughts and the inability to work. These are mutually reinforcing.

Fortunately, I have been able to work as a programmer most of my adult life, so the isolation, boorishness, and other bizarre personality traits – not to mention enormous mood and weight swings – have always been taken as part of the typical programmer package – ‘Well, really, he wouldn’t be the technical stud he is today, if we made him change his underwear so often!’

I am able to hold all this together primarily because I work at home and have few visitors – outside of the UPS and Fedex guys, and the two or three friends that have stood by me; there are also periodic visits from the exterminator, but these are short because there are several rooms he dares not go into.

On the other hand, being alone almost 100% of the time, I find that I meet a much better class of people!

For me one of the worst parts is when others give brainless advice like “Hey you just have to not let stuff bother you.” or having somone spout off about how some damn self help book will help me sooooo much. I wish to God there WAS a book I could read that would just cure this overnight but i know there isn’t so trying to convince me there is such a thing is is an unspeakably cruel tease. Frankly, everyone I know is of the “Hurry up and get better because your depression bugs me.” type. You know those shows with the hero with the secret idenity? How he has to hide who he really is and make lame excuses for leaving or not showing up or acting strange? Thats my life except when I duck out I dont turn into superman, I turn into goes-to-the-bathroom-to-puke-and-spend-the-day-in-bed-man.

astro, I’m sorry I didn’t respond yesterday, but yesterday it was hitting a little too close to home. I’ve made no secret of the fact that about 10 years ago I became close to catatonic for about 48 hours from severe clinical depression. I don’t remember all the details of that time, but I’ll share what I do remember. I’ll also see what I can do to describe what it’s like at the point of committing suicide. I thought I’d written it down once, but if I did, I don’t have it with me.

I was locked in a shell of pain and fear. I believed my life was over and there was nothing left but to die. In real life, I tend to have a rather loud, clear voice which I’ve been known to use too much. During that time, I spoke very little and I could barely get my voice above a whisper. I’m sure I ate and drank during that 48 hours, but I don’t remember doing so or wanting to do so. I couldn’t even read then. I wasn’t thinking, just feeling indescribable pain mixed with fear. My eyes were open, but nothing much was registering. I’m tremendously strong-willed, but the only use I could make of that will was to will myself to death. I tried to get my heart to stop beating. There was no point to living, and yet, my body was betraying me by continuing to function. I wanted to scream, but couldn’t; I wanted very badly to die, but didn’t.

Excuse me. This is incredibly difficult because of the rough times I’ve been having the past several months.

When I’m at the point where I start to seriously consider suicide, I can see no hope, no good in this world whatsoever. I see myself as a burden to my friends and family, someone whose life serves no purpose. The exact patterns have changed as my life has changed. Ten years ago, I was inclined to think, “No one will miss me anyway.” More recently, I’ve thought “No one will hire me anyway, and what good am I without a job?” It is, as nearly as I can describe it, like having your soul ripped from your body, inch by inch, centimeter by centimeter, and yet the only thing I can do to speed the process is to die, so instead I endure it, knowing it will end.

The pain slips across the gap from emotional to physical. Normally, I stride, carrying myself in such a way that even a good friend of mine thought I was several inches taller than I actually am. When I’m severely depressed, I don’t so much slump as draw in on myself. My shoulder muscles tense up to the point where you could play guitar on them, my stride shortens to a shuffle, and I feel like I’m moving like someone whose been crippled. I’m still carrying around a lot of anger. When I’m depressed, that anger comes out. Just see yesterday’s Pit rant for an example, and that was restraining it. I fling my arms about, wanting to hit someone or something, but unable to do so because of what I believe and practicality – hitting walls hurts!

Here’s the really cruel thing about depression. It isolates. I have literally been lying in bed with a telephone within reach of my hands and friends whose number I have memorized, but I have been unable to reach out and use it. I do not consider myself fit for human company at such times, but rather an animal or a creature which should be locked away out of the sight of human beings. And yet, at the same time I cannot reach out for help, I find myself asking “Why won’t somebody help me?” Yes, the logic centers are affected by this, too. I have resources available, including parents who are finally understanding how to handle this, although I’m still not comfortable around them when I’m like this, a few marvelous friends, a very good therapist, and the number of the local suicide hotline bookmarked in the phone book. It could be worse – at least I don’t have them on speed dial! :wink:

How describable this is, I’ll leave up to you to judge. In my case, my whole world does to change with one without hope. I wrote a poem once which began “I have been in endless winter.” The winter that depression puts my soul into makes our current winter look like summer in Hawaii!

Thanks for reading, and I hope this helps,

When you say “seriously nuts” I assume you mean psychotic. My shrink once told me that being a paranoid schizophrenic is like living your entire life in the worst nightmare you’ve ever had.

Funny, I was was gonna ask YOU that! :slight_smile:

Towards the end of this thread, I detailed my experiences with a schizophrenia-like disorder.

astro I have a description in the same thread that sven mentioned that sums up what a full cycle might be like for me.

I once described myself to my therapist as being “an unfinished portrait.” I didn’t seem to have any features, I didn’t exist except ina flat, two-dimensional plane, and attempting to do anything at all (get out of bed, get dressed, hell, even breath) was damn near impossible. Crushing, crushing depression that sapped every bit of strength and life out of me. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

I feel as if some of us have been walking around in each others’ lives. I know so well what you describe.

It is a relief to be in such a supportive forum. A couple of you are favorite posters of mine and I would never have detected your depression.

No first hand knowledge, but I was listening to NPR’s All Things Considered last summer and they did a story about a pharmaceutical company that developed a “virtual reality” experience to simulate some of the things that a person afflicted with schizophrenia must go through, day in and day out. It was originally developed to give physicians a better understanding of what their patients were going through, and at least one schitzophrenia patient who consulted on the project found it too difficult to sit through.

Although it was only a radio report, it was extremely fascinating. I’m not sure if they have the thing anymore, but there is fairly good coverage on NPR’s website along with a multi-media presentation that might allow you to get an idea of what the whole thing entailed.

I have found my people.

In the depths of my Depression and Anxiety, I lose the ability to appreciate anything. Everything is a source of anxiety and stress. Good things? Ha, there are none. I think only of the bad things, get paranoid about what others are thinking of me, can foresee only bad things happening. My Inner Voice goes crazy on me, running me down, criticizing everything. I wallow in negativity.

Silencing that nasty evil voice inside (which is me, not “voices”) is the hardest, but most rewarding part of working on my illness.

You (generic you) gotta learn to look at the good things you have and not listen to your own voice telling you that you’re a failure. Because it isn’t true. And you don’t have to listen.

Oh, but it’s so easy to listen…

Hmmm… I havent experienced the extremes, but I think what I have done was worse for my family. I have a low level of depression all the time, mostly it makes me not care about anything…EVER… and I have extreme nightmares all the time. Now I take antidepressants and it is easier to feel: fewer nightmares is good too. My kids like me better now, because I care again.