Was My Psychosis Chemical Imbalance or Demons?

I wish that people would realize that mental illness is not just “weakness” or “unresolved sin,” but it’s a chemical imbalance in your brain that often needs medication to get back on track.

One Sunday morning, a woman dressed in a dirty white jacket came into my church.  I saw her, and I thought, “I need to talk to this lady. I feel like God is telling me to.” So, I did. We were engaged in a deep conversation and the service was about to start, but I stayed out in the lobby with her anyway. My husband was about to start leading worship, and I could see him looking at me with questions in his eyes, but I ignored him and sat with her anyway.

This lady told me that she was a prophet and she could tell that I was pregnant. (I had already had that feeling!) I will have three children, she said. Two boys and girl. Then, she told me that I need to call a man at a hotel where she last stayed and talk to him about Jesus.  She scribbled down his name on a bulletin.

One of my friends came over and tried to get me to come join the service, but I just felt like my friend didn’t see what I saw… that this lady was a prophet, and I needed to listen to her!  Lady-in-white-jacket then told me she needed money for the bus, and even though I didn’t have any money on me, I ran into the choir room and prayed that God would give me some money…and he DOES! Twenty dollars under a basket…PERFECT. I gave it to the prophet, and I also gave her my Costco card, because that’s all I had to give.

Later that day, I called another friend, who told me that, despite what my husband and church friends were telling me, I had received a true prophecy. She told me that not everyone is as receptive to prophesy and that I’ve finally been open enough to it. She told me that she was excited for my upcoming visit, so that I could be in a community of like-minded people who don’t doubt the power of prophecy and the supernatural. I told her, I was counting down the days until we’d see each other.

Are you thinking that my behavior, believing a stranger, taking money from the choir room, discrediting my husband’s counsel–that it sounds a little crazy?

This was my brain on prednisone, a common steroid given to treat a slew of ailments. My ailment? I was just a stressed out first-year teacher who’d been treated with prednisone for a bad case of sinusitis and bronchitis. I had no idea that, when I took the steroids, it would send my body and mind into over-drive, triggering a series of manic episodes.

Apparently, prednisone psychosis is far more common than I knew.

In my case, I didn’t sleep for days. My mind wouldn’t stop racing…my mind was not my own.  In my emotional mania, I became overly spiritual, I accused my husband of not being a true Christian. I thought black mold was taking over our apartment and was too afraid to return. I believed I was pregnant.  I was afraid to take any medication because of what the steroids did.  I became completely irrational and stubborn. This is what a manic episode looked like for me. I had no idea such a thing could exist that completely overwhelmed my personality, my beliefs, and my life.

This initial episode lasted for about two weeks. Then, things calmed down enough so that I could return to work and continued on with my plans to visit my friend over Spring Break. My husband cautioned me to take it easy, relax in the beauty of the mountains, and to call him if I started feeling weird.

For the record, I want to say that I don’t think this community of believers had any intention of making things worse for me, but the belief that everything is spiritual can be really dangerous.

When I first got to the mountains, I was bubbly and upbeat, the beginning signs of mania, but also an understandable reaction to seeing a friend I hadn’t seen in a while. Everyone loved “that” happy Libby. I attended a Bible Study where we took a quiz about spiritual gifts. I got the gift of prophecy!  Accordingly, I felt like I needed to share a prophecy and everyone believed it.

When I started not sleeping through the night again, my friend thought I needed more prayer. When I started hallucinating and acting irrationally, they thought I had a “spirit of fear” in me.  I was taken to “spiritual counseling” where I was told to explore my inner feelings with my eyes closed and forgive people who came into my mind. Perhaps, the suggested, a spirit of unforgiveness was where all of this was coming from. There wasn’t much cell reception in the mountains, and I without sleep and with constant advice and prayer, I was getting more and more disoriented. I didn’t even have the wherewithal to call my husband for help. I did text him at one point and say, “My friend took me to counseling…it was weird. I’m scared.”

About the fourth day of being there, I had not slept for three days. I would stay up all night praying and singing and being absolutely terrified by sounds I heard in the house. I felt like Satan was trying to attack me. I was getting confused with all the spiritual implications of everything.  Random thoughts would pop into my mind, and I would just feel compelled to do them.  Looking back, it’s as if someone completely different took over my body and started dumping honey all over the table or bought hundreds of dollars worth of things on Amazon.

It was crazy.

The pinnacle of my time in the mountains came when I heard a noise in the middle of the night and felt like something bad was happening to the people upstairs.  I knocked before entering, but no one answered (in the middle of the night-duh!), so I went in and checked to make sure the kids were okay.  A moment later, the mother of the kids was standing behind me with a terrified look on her face asking me what I was doing. I told her I was worried and had heard a sound, and I needed to make sure they were okay.

She said, “It’s a good thing it was me who came up here because my husband has a shotgun and he could have shot you.” Later, the shotgun-owning dad came downstairs and held a prayer vigil with me, my friend, and her cousin who was also staying there.

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I wanted so badly to get away from them and was scared of him now– because of the shotgun comment. At this point, I was hallucinating, and I was telling them I wanted to leave and go home. They were telling me no.  A little while later, I ran away from them. When I got a chance, I took off running through the early morning light and hitchhiked into town.

When I think back to that moment, alone, in an unfamiliar place, with a full blown psychotic episode going on, I just wish a lot of things had gone differently.

I wish I had never gone on that trip.

I wish I had been with people who understood what a manic episode looks like and that it can’t be treated solely with prayer.

I needed medication.

I needed to see a psychiatrist.

The longer it took for me to get proper treatment, the worse things got and the more dangerous things became.

I wish that people would realize that mental illness is not just “weakness” or “unresolved sin,” but it’s an actual chemical imbalance in your brain that needs actual medication to get back on track.

Thankfully, due to God’s grace, the help of family, friends, and the police department, I made it back home. I made it to a psych ward. I never thought I would be someone that I was in a mental hospital for a week, but I was. But you know what? I needed to be there to get back to normal. I saw a great psychiatrist who got me on the right meds. My husband loved me every step of the way and never gave up on me. Our families supported us. I found a great therapist who has helped me deal with the aftermath. And now, over a year later…I can share my story and pray it helps someone else.

**

Q & A with Libby

Editor’s Note: I know Libby personally and trust her story because I was a minor character in this part of it.  After she went wandering and hitchhiked to safety, her family was contacted.  Since I live in the state she was visiting, I drove to the mountains, picked her up, and drove her a couple of hours to the airport .  She was definitely not her normal self when she was manic, but it was certainly not spiritual in nature.  I think Libby’s story is important because I’ve seen Christians and the church try to treat mental illnesses with exclusively spiritual cures, discounting the need for medical intervention.  Nonetheless, it occurs to me that readers might have some questions, so I tried to ask Libby what I thought you might wonder about.

Do you really have the gift of prophesy? How do you know it is real/not real?

I think the gift of prophesy is real, but I don’t know if I have it or not. I think it’s not real when people just say a bunch of random stuff and tell you its a prophesy. I mean, that lady that told me I was pregnant was definitely not right. I wasn’t, but I was just eating it up at the time. Now, I wouldn’t be so gullible because I’m in my right mind. I’d take it all with a grain of salt now. I don’t just believe anything anyone tells me.

Now that you’re healthy, how can you distinguish between spiritually good and mentally ill? Does that make sense?

When I was manic, everything felt like a “sign” and everything was “meant to be.” It was definitely a symptom of being manic– that I thought the littlest thing had profound meaning. Because of my Christian background and spiritual beliefs, it of course turned into signs from God instead of signs from the Universe. 🙂 You remember, I’m sure, our conversations in the car. (She kept insisting that the fact that we saw multiple flea markets was a sign from God that we were meant to stop and shop rather than catch her flight.  Also, she had developed quite an elaborate theology based on the movie Frozen.) Obviously, the world is not like that.  Things aren’t always black and white. Not everything is sign from God.

Some readers probably would insist that you DID have a spirit of fear. What signs of prednisone psychosis convinced you that what you were experiencing was actually chemical NOT spiritual? 

I think the turning point was when I was doing things I would never do and that were completely out of character for me.  And the fact that once I got on meds, I got better. And that if you read the DSM for manic episodes…everything I experienced is on that list!

Are there a list of medical signs that we could include as research to back up the fact that what you were experiencing was typical for prednisone reaction?

Here’s an excerpt from Pyschcentral.com:

A manic episode is characterized by period of at least 1 week where an elevated, expansive or unusually irritable mood, as well as notably persistent goal-directed activity is present. The mood disturbance associated with manic symptoms should be observable by others (e.g., friends or relatives of the individual) and must be uncharacteristic of the individual’s usual state/behavior. These feelings must be sufficiently severe to cause difficulty or impairment in occupational, social, educational or other important functioning. Symptoms also cannot be the result of substance use or abuse (e.g., alcohol, drugs, medications) or caused by a general medical condition. Three or more of the following symptoms must be present:
  • Inflated self-esteem or grandiosity
  • Decreased need for sleep (e.g., one feels rested after only 3 hours of sleep)
  • More talkative than usual or pressure to keep talking
  • Flight of ideas or subjective experience that thoughts are racing
  • Attention is easily drawn to unimportant or irrelevant items
  • Increase in goal-directed activity (either socially, at work or school, or sexually) or psychomotor agitation
  • Excessive involvement in pleasurable activities that have a high potential for painful consequences (e.g., engaging in unrestrained buying sprees, sexual indiscretions, or foolish business investments)

If you or someone you love shows signs of mania, connected with or apart from Prednisone, PLEASE seek medical attention. Pray for them, AND also, go to the doctor.

Libby Davis
Libby grew up drinking coconuts and swimming in the ocean as a missionary kid in the Solomon Islands.  She attended high school in the highlands of Papua New Guinea.  She now lives in Dallas, Texas with her husband and their two dogs and teaches middle school special education. You can connect with Libby on Twitter at @libbymdavis.

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