“Psychotic” doesn’t mean what you think it means.

I see it everywhere but especially on Facebook — people using the term “psychotic” to describe someone that’s angry, violent, or out of control. 

I’ve been psychotic many times and I am absolutely none of the above. I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder in my early twenties and psychosis is one of the main symptoms. 

Psychosis actually refers to having hallucinations and delusions, not anger or violence.

Personally, I experience visual and auditory hallucinations that leave me feeling anxious, distracted, and sometimes isolated –probably the exact opposite of how people describe someone as “psychotic”.

The term “psychotic” is extremely stigmatizing when used incorrectly. Having a mental illness is hard enough and stigma just makes the stress — and asking for help — even more difficult.

So now you know. Please speak with care.

My Mental Illness Recovery is Rock Solid Thanks to Atheism

Being an atheist is an integral part of my recovery from schizoaffective disorder, a mental illness I’ve dealt with for most of my life. Some of my most troublesome symptoms were frequent auditory and visual hallucinations which have been treated with antipsychotic medication since my early twenties. 

Explaining My Hallucinations

My hallucinations were frightening and before receiving treatment, I thought that maybe they had a spiritual explanation. However, taking medication cleared my speculation. When I was able to practice skepticism, I felt grounded and stable. It’s empowering. This has been absolutely crucial to my life since I have a history of losing touch with reality. Religion will throw all sorts of explanations at you, but it is comforting to rely on common sense. 

Being Open to Treatment

I accept my diagnosis and recognize my hallucinations as symptoms of my mental illness. I am in awe of the power of medications and I never miss a dose. I know I need them. Science and modern medicine are life-changing and I’m very grateful. Treatment makes sense to me and I am very willing to comply. This is often very difficult for people with diagnoses similar to mine.

It is really easy for me to make these fundamental realizations as an atheist. There are many recovery and treatment programs that incorporate spirituality, but if others experience symptoms like mine, I think that would be confusing as hell.

Keep God Far From My Recovery

I don’t need god for an explanation, purpose, or meaningful life. I know what I need to do to stay well and it certainly doesn’t involve religion. These statements are not only powerful but also come as a relief as a person living with a mental illness.

I’m an Atheist with a Mental Illness.

I am so happy to have this opportunity to write for Free Thought Blogs. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while.

An Atheist Writing About Mental Health

Before coming to FtB, I wrote for a popular mental health site. I would use my own experiences living with schizoaffective disorder to write articles that were hopefully uplifting and helpful. Some of my articles were painfully honest when it came to describing my own ups and downs in recovery. I always tried to keep it positive and I tended to stress the importance of medication and treatment.

Having schizoaffective disorder and being atheist seems somewhat unique, but last week a commenter showed me that I’m not alone. I thought that was really cool. Most others I meet with schizoaffective disorder and other forms of schizophrenia tend to be religious.

Religious Influence on Mental Illness

Many people associate schizophrenia with religious delusions, and it does seem somewhat common. I have seen this and it’s definitely eye-opening. I feel very fortunate to be doing well and not suffering from these kinds of symptoms.

What causes religious delusions? I mean, the original ideas of religious beliefs must have been planted at some point before the delusions developed, right? I’m assuming this happens before the person is known to have a mental illness.

However, I feel religious influence after a diagnosis is just as frightening. A mental illness is a serious condition that requires treatment. You can’t pray a mental illness away. Religion often gets in the way of people getting the help they need. People with mental illness are just another vulnerable population oppressed by religion.

Mental Illness Requires Medical Treatment

Sometimes you don’t see how sick you really are until you’re feeling better. It’s an important revelation in recovery, but you have to be willing to accept treatment.

I am so grateful for modern medicine and science for developing treatments to alleviate my symptoms. I’m not saying every day in recovery is easy, but for me, most days are. I take a few pills and go about my day. I don’t have to do anything strenuous or time-consuming to feel better. I don’t mind taking pills. It feels like a simple solution to a complicated problem. A lot of people look down at psych meds, but why suffer if you don’t have to? I know how much they have helped me.

Will My Mental Illness Affect My Credibility?

One thing I was scared about when I decided to write about atheism is that religious people would be quick to discredit me based on my mental illness diagnosis. Just like with the religious delusions, people with forms of schizophrenia are stereotyped with some horrible symptoms and behaviors. For many sufferers, these stereotypes just aren’t the case. Also, recovery can be quite transformative. Years of recovery have taught me how to quickly recognize when to ask for help but also how to help others. I actually feel the skills you learn in recovery make you a little saner than most.

An Important Commonality

I’ve noticed that atheists and people in recovery have something very important in common – the ability to express empathy. I choose to make that a guiding force in my writing as well as my everyday life.

 

Thoughts? Feelings? I would love to hear from others with a mental health diagnosis. How does your illness affect your atheist views?