The latest London Review of Books has an amazing first-person account of psychosis that illustrates the complex interlocking webs of ideas and perceptions that can occur in the more intense versions of the experience.
As a description of the lived-experience of psychosis, it is actually quite rare, because most are written about relatively (and I mean relatively) circumscribed or contained experiences which clearly do not reflect reality but have their own internal logic.
These are perhaps the most common forms that psychosis takes but some are bizarre, intense and complex, involving delusions that seem to encompass a huge number of themes (known as polythematic delusions).
I met a woman called Margaret in Fairmile hospital. I assumed she was my link to the politician with the same first name. She explained periods to me. I wondered if the PM was angry with me for writing a story saying she deserved to hang for sinking the Belgrano. I tried to manoeuvre Margaret around to the front of the hospital so that a Rolls could pull in off the main road and take me to Mrs Thatcher. She didn’t seem very willing to comply. The shrink had been watching me and asked why I looked up at the sky when helicopters flew over. They were sent by Francis Pym to rescue me. Despite the massive grounds around the Victorian building the choppers never seemed to land. I soon realised I would do six months unless I staged a recovery. I stopped looking at helicopters and after only three months I was free.
One of the difficulties with a lot of discussion about mental health and mental health treatment is that ‘psychosis’ is assumed to be a single thing or variations of a single thing, when in fact it can vary massively both in terms of how the person experiences it and how it impacts them.
I have met people who have delusions and hallucinations but continue high powered jobs (probably, so have you, without realising it) whereas other people are massively disabled and / or distressed by their experiences.
As with most difficulties in life, those who are most affected are the least able to advocate for themselves, so this article stands out as a sharply written piece that captures some of the ever-woven web of intense psychosis.
Link to first-person account of psychosis in The LRB.
3 thoughts on “The poly themes of psychosis”
There’s a whole book on first person accounts along side chapters with professional perspectives called ‘Experiencing Psychosis’ edited by Geekie et al. It’s a very thorough review on multiple aspects of psychotic experience.
One of the saddest things I have read- he really does convey the disabling nature of the illness as well. I wish we had more first person accounts like this, to understand the lived experience of psychosis.
Additionally, it’s interesting reading about the people his delusions centred on. Some of them were less far-fetched than others!