Is This Real? Holding on to Reality With Bipolar Disorder Hallucinations

My journey with psychosis and bipolar disorder hallucinations
Illustration of a little boy watching cartoons on TV
Saturday morning cartoons were my happy place. | Image made by the author with Canva AI.

My bipolar disorder diagnosis came in the spring of 1995, while I was confined to a psychiatric hospital. Looking back, there are things that were bipolar symptoms going back as far as when I was 7 years old.

I was so excited about Saturday morning cartoons featuring Bugs Bunny, Tom and Jerry, and the Flintstones, that on Friday nights, it was impossible for me to sleep. Just the mere thought of the ecstasy of watching my favorite animated friends kept adrenaline pumping through my veins.

Yep, I was one of those kids, up well before dawn, perched in front of the TV, ready to be taken to another world.

Things started to change

I stayed relatively stable through most of my teen years until I neared 17. It was then that I started noticing things were off.

I started losing time, and spent my nights awake, wondering about the words people weren’t saying. Every sentence had hidden meaning, something I was positive the rest of the world understood, but I was struggling to find my way.

A voice inside started telling me there were hidden messages everywhere. I guess you could describe it as paranoia, but I didn’t understand that at the time.

In the years that passed between then and when I received my bipolar diagnosis at 23, I experienced some of the worst bipolar disorder hallucinations I’ve ever had.

Coping with psychosis

Besides losing large blocks of time, I also suffered from psychosis.

I frequently had bipolar disorder hallucinations, both auditory and visual. Voices called my name when I was alone, and I frequently awoke during the night to see a man standing at the end of my bed. I saw giant spiders and flowers sprout and bloom on the wall, and I often heard music no one else could hear.

If you’ve never experienced a hallucination, there’s no way to describe how terrifying they are. It’s like a haunting nightmare. Your entire body fills with fear and you beg the universe to wake you up.

The problem is, you’re already awake. So it becomes crucial you learn to separate reality from the visions of your mind.

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As scary as hallucinations are, in a way, they seem completely normal. It took some time for me to differentiate between the illusions and reality even after I understood what was happening.

Jump forward in time, nearly 30 years later, and I’ve been battling this bipolar beast for decades. It’s been many years since I’ve had daily bipolar disorder hallucinations, but I still fight many days to hold on to reality.

How do you know what’s real when the hallucinations seem more real than everything else? How do you know which thoughts to believe when you know your mind lies to you?

Picture this scene

Illustration of a little boy walking through a forest with chipmunks playing nearby
Think of a lush, green forest. | Image made by the author with Canva AI.

Imagine this scenario: you’re walking through a lush forest. Everything is green and colors sparkle like the world is covered in glitter. Birds of every color sing and dance in the sky overhead, and fuzzy forest creatures scurry around your feet.

You smile at the ideal setting, enjoying every sense it touches. Then, you blink your eyes and suddenly you’re in a dark alley in a strange city, surrounded by brick walls. Fear wraps its icy hands around your heart, and you struggle to breathe.

Which world is real? Are you really in a forest or are you in a city? Or are neither of them real? And if neither world is real, is there anything that is?

During my worst times with bipolar disorder hallucinations, I believed I was the only being in existence. I was sure my mind conjured everything around me, and everyone I knew only existed when I thought of them. I was alone in the universe.

Reality is often hard to identify because the hallucinations feel so real. Your connection to the unreal may even feel stronger than anything else. It’s too easy to slip from one hallucination to another, that your only option is to trust nothing and no one.

At times, I wondered if I was Neo and stuck in The Matrix, waiting for my Morpheus to come and offer me a red or blue pill. Who was I going to be after I took that pill? What was the real world like? Was there even a real world to find?

Illustration of a little boy talking to a woman therapist
Talk therapy helps control my hallucinations. | Image made by the author with Canva AI.

Finding hope

It’s not hopeless, though. With medication and talk therapy, much of the psychosis is controlled now. I also learned how to distinguish some visions from reality.

Many of my hallucinations came from things I avoided facing, and when I finally looked at those monsters head on, the visions stopped. There were also fewer visions when I got enough rest, so my sleep schedule became nonnegotiable.

A support network of friends and family also keep me on track. The ones closest to me know what I’ve been through, and they don’t freak out when I ask if something is real. Most don’t understand the true horrors of what I feel inside, but they help keep me stable without judgement.

Writing in my journal also helps. When I look back and read things I wrote, I know I can trust those words because they are mine. Journaling also helps me work through the things I see and hear by exploring what happened before and after and if there were triggers.

Bipolar disorder steals a lot from you. The fight to hold on to reality is just one more way mental illness makes life more difficult, but you can control things. With time and effort, you can learn to harness even the most challenging of symptoms, so never give up hope.

Until next time, keep fighting.


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This post first appeared on Medium.

Pinterest Pin
Embark on a captivating journey with Scott Ninneman as he candidly shares his experience of living with bipolar disorder and the hallucinations that shape his reality. 

This powerful account will not only provide an insider's perspective, but also shed light on the daily struggles and triumphs of those living with mental illness.

Read Now!


#SpeakingBipolar #mentalhealth #mentalillness #bipolardisorder #mentalillnessawareness
Please share on Pinterest. Graphic created with Canva AI.

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