Sleep and psychosis

By Rachel Melinek

I watch on terrified. I can see a woman in white in the doorway holding a baby. The figure stands there looking at me, I’m so scared I run back to bed and put my head underneath the covers. Seeing the vision makes my ability to sleep worse as I wonder about that lady. I cycle sleep-wise. I can be awake for maybe three nights in a row, then I’ll sleep due to exhaustion, then I wake again.

This happened during my teenage years when I’m having a difficult time at school. I’m different from the other kids. Many years later, I would describe it as like other people had ‘directors,’ but I was playing a part with neither a director nor a complete version of the script. People just seem to know how to react in social situations, for example, when to talk turns speaking in groups and what kind of things they should talk about. Years later, I was diagnosed as autistic. At first, the other kids just used to call me names, then they started to ignore me.

As well as issues at school, my grandmother also died when I was 12. I wasn’t particularly close to my grandmother. However, I had some questions about death, and I feel that my grandmother’s death might have, in part, contributed to the nature of my delusions. That’s when I saw the woman in the doorway.

During the next few years I had strange experiences. These ranged from ‘sensing’ presences and believing I could foretell the future to seeing and hearing things that other people didn’t experience. I was exhausted a lot of the time and tried to catch up on sleep during the weekend. It all came to a head when I was in my last year of school. I was walking through the quad at school, and I heard the voices shouting: “stupid!” “ugly,” and “boring!”

I ran across the quad but then felt silly; it was evident to me that there was no one around. Those words were the words that people in my year said to me. It was at that moment that I realised that the voices weren’t as I first thought communication from beyond the grave; they were, in fact, something that I myself had manufactured. I could no longer view myself as having special abilities. A few days later, I went home and took several painkillers. I was going to take the whole packet however, I got scared and stopped. When my mum found out she took me to hospital, I stayed there overnight under observation but was ok and needed no treatment. There weren’t enough beds in the mental health ward, so I ended up in the children’s ward. I was asked what was wrong with me by this point I was feeling like I’d made a mistake with regards to the overdose so I replied ‘they’re not sure I am kind of here as a precaution.’ The next day in the afternoon I went to see the psychiatrist or maybe it was the psychologist. I was asked are you going to do this again I said ‘No’ I was released into the community with no after care or referral. It was my GP who, after my parents talked to him, referred me for psychotherapy.

I was in psychotherapy for years. With psychotherapy, my sleep improved as I was able to talk things out. I’ve also read up on sleep and taken certain measures to increase the chance that I have a good night’s sleep. Some measures to get a good night’s sleep include:

  • Trying to get some fresh air everyday
  • I have an app on my phone and try to walk 10,000 steps and exercise by jogging yes at the time of writing you can go out and social distance at the same time (sorry for the corona reference)
  • finally, I’ve also improved my eating habits by eating less processed food.

Today, when I come across articles on sleep deprivation and psychosis, it all makes sense. I now appreciate how important a good night’s sleep is when it comes to maintaining your mental health.

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