Sam blogs about experiencing depression with psychotic symptoms in the pandemic – and recovering from it.
Warning: Sam’s blog is about depression with psychotic symptoms. They describe paranoia and fears related to Covid, which might be distressing to read about. If you’d prefer to avoid that, you could skip down to the ‘making progress in hospital’ section.
I had started to get unwell at the beginning of the academic year; summer is always hard for me because I lose my routine, and I hadn’t been leaving the house. I didn’t know at the time, but I was already having thoughts that could be considered unusual. I stayed inside except for Uni, and although outwardly I was my usual outgoing self, on the inside I was struggling. By January, I was already experiencing hallucinations – I remember seeing a shadow creature at the top of the stairs. I remember thinking, “that can’t be good” but other than that putting the experience out of my mind.
I was focused on uni, which was going well; I was getting straight As. I was also starting to have chest pains, which I now know were a sign that I was struggling. I thought I was going to have a heart attack, and I felt like I was dying. I was suicidal in January and went to my GP. I wanted to be admitted into psychiatric care – but I didn’t know how to say that, so I just cried mostly, and left with a doctor’s note excusing me from coursework, citing low mood and insomnia.
Meanwhile, I was watching the news of Covid spreading throughout the world. I had played a game on my phone where your character is a virus, and the goal is to infect everyone – you win when humanity is wiped out. I started to think that I was living in the game, that the virus was going to win, and everyone was going to die, and that it was all my fault for playing the game in the first place. I had grown distant from all my friends, thinking that they all hated me.
Friends of mine noticed my behaviour changing and started asking if I needed anything, but I thought they were just saying that because they felt they had to. I felt like a terrible burden. I thought it would be better for everyone if I didn’t exist at all. I started staying in bed all day, only leaving my room for food. I knew I was unwell, but I refused any help; I just wanted to be alone.
I believed at one point that I was patient zero and that I was going to give everyone Covid.
My health deteriorated and I stopped going to uni. I was taken by my family to doctors’ appointments, but by that time I was convinced I had died and was in hell. Everything around me looked decayed, and I thought that I was very old, my body moving slowly and tiredly with old age. Even food looked rotten and tasted foul; like it had gone off. A few times, I looked in the mirror and a different face stared back at me. I believed at one point that I was patient zero and that I was going to give everyone Covid. I also became convinced that people were actors or demons pretending to be my family.
I was eventually admitted into psychiatric care. During the first week, we watched the news as they announced the first lockdown. I was distraught – the only thing keeping me together was visits from my family. I didn’t know what I was going to do without them. I wanted to run away but I thought I would get sectioned if I did. With time, I now see that the hospital stay was necessary to keep me safe, and get into a routine of medication and regular meals. I stopped hallucinating after a week, but still had paranoid delusions.
Although things had improved, I was still unwell when I was discharged after five weeks, but my doctor thought I should be with my family. It was surreal to be met with lockdown restrictions when I came out; I had missed the first month of lockdown in hospital. I had no real idea of how much things had changed while I was away.
Over the next few months, we went on dog walks, and I played the guitar a lot. At first, I found it hard to focus on anything. We did lots of colouring in, and jigsaw puzzles, which helped take my mind off things. At times, I would get agitated and confused, but this happened less as weeks went by. I started sleeping better and continued to take my medication daily; an antidepressant and an antipsychotic.
As months went by things started to feel clearer. I eventually was well enough to live independently.
I was told that I had experienced an episode of psychotic depression, and that with the right treatment and talking therapies it is unlikely that I will relapse again. At first, I was afraid of my diagnosis; I didn’t really know what it would mean for me. But talking about my experience with friends has helped, and everyone I’ve spoken to has been supportive.
As months went by things started to feel clearer. I somehow sat my end of year exams, and eventually was well enough to live independently. Having a healthier routine, particularly around sleep, has helped my recovery. I do think that anyone experiencing strange thoughts or seeing things shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help. I understand that it can be daunting, especially if you are worried about a diagnosis of psychosis. I spent a lot of time hiding things from people, and myself. But I know that I am in a better place than I was before my psychotic episode, and reaching out could help you start your recovery.
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