Prodromal

Well, yesterday was trippy. I’ve identified that I’m currently prodromal, that is, vulnerable to developing psychosis. Well hurrah. I thought I’d got through enough of the surgery recovery to no longer be at risk, but apparently not. I’m allergic to anaesthetic and opiates, and I don’t tolerate antibiotics particularly well. The last few weeks I’ve had way too much of all of them. Psychosis is a symptom of liver stress. The hospital was supposed to check on my liver with a blood test before sending me home but the doctor who discharged me was a… was in a hurry and couldn’t be bothered. Rose took me to the GP a couple of days later but he couldn’t draw any blood from me. I haven’t been able to get to a blood centre since. So I’m assuming my liver is bouncing back as usual but don’t really know.

Yesterday was hot (38) and I was exhausted after working on the weekend. I spent the day hoping to be able to get to my night class at college and feeling increasingly despondent as pain levels and exhaustion stayed high. In the end I decided that if I moved slowly enough I could manage it. So I got dressed and headed out on the bus. That’s three of my risk factors right there: heat stress, liver stress, and exhaustion.

There’s about a 700m walk from the bus stop to college, through town. This was almost beyond me, particularly in the warm weather. I took it slowly and accepted I might be late, and brought coins to buy a cold milk chocolate from the canteen once I arrived.

On the way I passed the strangest sight. A considerable amount of blood was spoiled in the gutter and dripped onto the sidewalk. It was dark and fresh, not yet congealed. Head wound kind of blood spill. I looked around but couldn’t see anyone injured. The crowds were all rushing to get home from work, I’m the only one who stopped. There were footprints tracking the blood over the pavement. It was such a jarring sight, so unexpected and dramatic it felt like it jarred me out of sync with everything else.

That’s a familiar feeling.

I had a big reaction to the blood, similar to the one I usually have to needles. That’s new. I could see blood on my hand and my head got very noisy suddenly. I tried to conjure the soothing images I used to manage the drips in hospital recently, not only couldn’t I hold the images steady in my mind but they dissolved and transformed into drowned children on a moor. Distress compounded – the old story – a trigger, a trauma reaction, and panic about the trauma reaction. I was seriously stressed at the prospect that my needle issue seems to have spread to a major reaction to the sight of blood also. I managed to strangle that train of thought as not helpful at that point, and talked myself down out of a panic attack. I limped on to class. The sense of being out of sync persisted as did a sense of high agitation.

I bought chocolate milk and soft banana bread. Food and drink are very important for reducing psychosis! I sat in the air conditioned room and the lecture began. Unfortunately we were studying the shift from neoclassicism to romanticism and a number of the slides were highly disturbing artworks such as Goya’s war prints. I find these moving and distressing when I’m not triggered. In an existing state of high arousal they were intolerable. I was struck by how little we talk in mental health about managing agitation when that’s often the precipitating aspect of crisis. It’s despair plus agitation that’s so dangerous, mania plus agitation, anxiety plus agitation. Is also one of the experiences the mental health system is so so poor at managing. I’ve sat with a distraught friend in ER, so wired she couldn’t lie still, and supported her to pace off the adrenaline around the room. Every time a staff member came in they made her lie back down where she shuddered and twitched and moaned. As soon as they left I told her or was fine to get up and pace again where she felt calmer. Eventually she naturally wore off the energy and was able to sleep.

So I let my legs jitter and hands shake and focused on the lecturer instead of the distressing PowerPoint and contemplated whether I would be better to leave class and try and get a lift home now or less distressed to just ride it out. Rose was on standby. I stuck it out and finished class and Rose collected me. A strange split state came over me. One moment I’m entirely settled, lucid, connected, grounded, except for the lingering sense of being out of sync. The next I’m scattered, full of awareness of things I know no one else is perceiving, flashes of images, feelings like a storm. They’re distinctly different. Over a few hours the scattered state diminishes but the settled state isn’t quiet normal either. I’m restless, energised although exhausted physically. There’s a curious desolate loneliness I’m learning to associate with psychosis, I feel distant from everyone and resentful of friends who haven’t reached out. And a detached amusement that feels dark and wild and slightly dangerous.

Rose is stellar. I’ve written before at more length how I approach psychosis and it works very well for me. The short version is: Eat, drink, sleep, rest, listen to your impulses/inner voice/intuition (but think it through before acting on it), and don’t panic. Pretty much the same applies to someone playing a support role. Holding the space, not panicking, remembering what works, and talking to me like I’m still Sarah are my key ones. She also tunes in and keeps an eye on me for new triggers – psychosis is weird in that stuff that normally doesn’t impact you can suddenly trigger it. I’ve spoken with people who have smoke alarms talk to them or all kinds of strange things. Sometimes trauma links can be figured out, sometimes there’s just the strange surrealism of dreams. I’m careful around anything with spiritual, religious, or paranormal content. Avoiding is perfectly fine at this stage. Buffy however is okay for me, which is how I’m spending today. 😉

Rose and I actually had a really nice night together. I slept well with some phenergan. Today I’m exhausted and a little bored and over heated and taking it very easy. Rose is at work sending me possible baby names in her lunch break. It’s not exactly the most terrifying crisis ever. I’m eating icebocks to numb my throat and finishing the second season of Buffy. This is what it can look like, almost dull. Responsible. I’ve never lied or concealed my prodromal state. My people don’t terrorise me by taking away control. There’s trust and honesty, the kind that will make me a safe parent, the kind that make me a decent partner. We work together, and suddenly the bogeyman isn’t so horrifying after all. Such is life.

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