I received the following comment and question on my FB page after my last post on Being Open.
“Natasha this is so amazing. It is so little discussed yet it is far more common than anyone realises. All of us need to be aware as we can never guess when it will happen either to ourselves or someone we love. I have seen it happen with a number of students who I work with. My question is how do you help someone in this position to get them help without adding to their fear.”
(Please please please seek professional help from a psychiatrist if you think you might be having paranoid thoughts and are clear enough to realise it.)
What a pertinent question. I can only answer it from my experience, which may or may not be helpful.
Over a period of time I was mildly paranoid. Had I gotten professional help in person then, I might have overcome the more heavy paranoia. In fact I was having psychotherapy sessions with someone over Skype at that time. She had suggested that I consult a psychiatrist and even better, a facility where I might have a team of experts to help me handle the situation. I didn’t.
That was the first time I had heard the words schizophrenia referred to me. I thought nothing of it, and we were on our way to the airport, during and after an emotionally stressful period due to the loss of a good friend.
Family and friends adviced that I couldn’t go by a Skype diagnosis of a mental illness, that I needed a psychiatrist to diagnose me. I didn’t see one.
My paranoia was gradually getting worse.
During that period I sent strange messages to many people. Many I would rarely chat with given more normal circumstances. One or two of my friends thought to reach out to Maher to tell him about the bizarre messages. In retrospect they wish they had.
I stopped sleeping much for a few days. I began to smell something threatening (that was not real), and when I felt that my children were subjected to this smell – drug/ poison, I flipped. I became relentless in trying to protect myself and them from everyone including from Maher.
Maher was beginning to realize that I needed professional help. He convinced me to go to the hospital.
The moment we walked into the hospital I felt as though everybody there, from the nurses to the cleaning staff to the man behind the counter at the coffee shop to the psychiatrist, all knew exactly what I was doing there and were all in on the plot to drug/poison me and my children. All eyes were on me. I was terrified and alone.
The doctor gave Maher a sleeping pill and an anti psychotic drug for me to take. I refused to. Maher kept the medication. That was the second time I heard the diagnosis schizophrenia. It was all part of the plot to undermine me was what I thought.
A few hours after that first trip to the doctor I flipped and acted out of character. I made a scene at school. I reacted out of fear. Instead of protecting the children, I scared them, Maher, and other teaching staff that were around us. I was even more afraid and isolated. “Not a single person around me was on my side.”
Now that I look back, what worked well for us was that Maher stood firmly in his truth. He didn’t enter into my world of crazy stories. He also didn’t try to correct my version of them. I was defensive when he slipped and tried to reason with me.
After I took the pills on our way home from school, that I believed was medication to kill me, to protect my own children from me, I did an hour of deeply focused breathing, and I soon knocked out. Deep sleep after days of almost none.
At this point Maher started to reach out for support. We had invaluable help from neighbours.
The next day we took the kids to school and then Maher drove me to the hospital to see the doctor again. This time they hospitalized me. I had no say in the matter.
So how does one help somebody with paranoia without increasing their fears?
I am not sure it is possible in an ideal way. My fears were heightened around everybody. I didn’t trust a single person. Perhaps had I got help earlier on I might not have gone through the severe paranoia phase.
My thoughts would be:
(These are only suggestions from my experience. If you face paranoia or someone who has paranoia please please please seek professional help.)
Contact the person’s closest family member or friend and mention that you have noticed some strange behavior.
Suggest to the person directly that they seek professional help. They may be open to it depending on the stage of paranoia.
Stand clearly in reality, don’t play along or agree with any of their delusions.
Comfort the person, ask questions like “How can I help you feel safe?”
Call for emergency help if needed, in order to hospitalize the person, especially if they might harm anyone or themselves.
Thank you for reading, for sharing your thoughts, suggestions, or questions.