It has been 17 years since I was formally diagnosed with schizophrenia, and I’m happy to say that I’m in a good place in my recovery. But there are those days when I’m not doing well and have to manage symptoms of an episode.
If you don’t deal with it early on, an episode can spiral out of control. It’s important that I know what my stressors and symptoms are in order to manage them. Death, conflict with others, and sensory overload are three of my biggest stressors.
All three stressors are equally debilitating, but death is the stressor that affects me the most. It isn’t just the death of a close relative or pet, but death of any kind. Just hearing about death and homicide on the news makes me very uneasy. I often refrain from watching the news during the pandemic to shield myself from the death toll of the lives lost to COVID. When faced with one of these situations, I have to act quickly before my symptoms become elevated.
Under duress of one of my stressors, I become very agitated and my thoughts race rapidly, making my auditory hallucinations become louder. I start to revisit delusional thoughts and become suspicious of people and my surrounding environment. I become hypervigilant and feel like I’m going to jump out of my skin, which makes it hard for me to function.
Making sure that I take my medications every day as prescribed is one thing that helps me manage an episode if one should arise. But medication isn’t enough to ensure wellness. While medication helps me manage my symptoms, it’s more effective in combination with therapy.
So when I’m faced with one of my stressors, the first things I do are reach out to my support network and contact my therapist. This way, my network can wrap me around with support and help me through my episode.
I’ve created a crisis action plan with my therapist that my support network and I can follow if I begin to have a psychotic episode. During this time, I make sure that I’m meeting my basic needs and taking care of myself. Together with my therapist, family, and friends I work to make sure that I’m continuing to bathe, brush my teeth, eat three nutritious meals a day, drink plenty of water, and get proper sleep. This is important because if I begin to let anything in my hygiene regimen slip, my episode will become increasingly worse.
Too much going on in my environment will make me agitated and cause my thoughts to race. To help remain calm, I use deep breathing techniques. Turning off the television, radio, and staying off social media for short intervals prevents me from overloading my senses and keeps my auditory hallucinations from getting too pronounced.
If I do want to listen to music, I’ve created designated playlists on my cell phone that I can listen to while engaging in some form or art, like adult coloring, drawing, or painting. The combination of listening to music and engaging in art helps to quiet the auditory hallucinations and soothes me, which helps calm my racing thoughts.
With the help of my therapist, I’ve also learned how to reality test with myself. When I get a delusional thought, I’ve learned to ask myself if what I’m thinking is possible and or probable. Journaling also helps with reality testing. Writing out what I’m thinking and feeling gets things off my chest and I’m able to revisit my entries with my therapist during my sessions to gauge how I’m doing.
Remember: Recovery isn’t a linear process. Everyone has bumps in the road and psychosis episodes can arise. Being proactive in identifying your stressors and knowing your symptoms is key to navigating an episode. Medication, therapy, and having a crisis action plan in place will help you manage your symptoms and get though a difficult time.
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