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Letting Go of Imagined Symbolism in Psychosis

Letting Go of Imagined Symbolism in PsychosisIn the midst of a psychotic episode, whether the result of bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, one of the main motivating factors in our jilted decisions is the imagined symbolism in meaningless circumstances or objects.

I can remember when I was out on the streets of New York and Boston, deep in the midst of a major psychotic episode. I was convinced I had a mission to bring peace to the world, and though I was destitute, I wandered around following signs and colors and motions of passersby convinced there was some deeper symbolism or meaning in these insignificant things.

One example is that color blue was good, it was the color of the sky and the ocean and everything peaceful, whereas the color red was evil. If it wasn’t colors it was the hidden symbolism in words, affirmative words meant I was on the right track, whereas words like no and stop were an assault to my senses and meant that I had veered wildly off course.

Psychosis is a fickle beast. In essence it’s your own brain assigning meaning to things that are completely arbitrary.

One of the major steps in my early recovery was letting go of the symbolism and the meaning in these everyday circumstances and objects. Where I once saw meaning and immense interconnectivity, I had to remind myself that there was really nothing there.

I don’t know the degree to which the meds helped with this but knowing it was all in my mind and that the world was really quite boring, although depressing at first, was much easier than trying my damnedest to find the meaning in things.

The process of letting go of the idea that there are hidden meanings in every tiny thing can be tough, especially for someone just emerging from deep psychosis. Like everything though, it’s a process. It’s a process of coming to terms with reality and accepting that things are different than what you thought.

The easiest way to do this is to remind yourself that it’s ok if things aren’t the way you thought they were. It’s ok that life is a random series of events, and it’s ok that there is no holy ordained mission that you are on. Things are simple, and there’s no pressure to just exist.

A simple life governed by necessity is much simpler than a life of service to an imagined ideal that doesn’t actually exist.

Although it can be tough letting go of the idea that you are a special case, a god or a prophet or a king, it’s much easier to be an insignificant person just existing in small corner of the world.

A good thing to keep in mind is that although you may not be special to the world at large, and although the simple things you’ve assigned great meaning are in reality just simple things, you matter to those around you who know and love you.

Symbolism should be saved for things like literary analysis, and in even those cases you may be assigning a meaning that wasn’t there to begin with.

Be careful and know that the default state of things is no real significance at all. It’s blunt, but it’s true.

Letting Go of Imagined Symbolism in Psychosis

Michael Hedrick

Mike Hedrick is a writer and photographer in Boulder, CO. He has lived with schizophrenia for many years and his work has been published in Salon, Scientific American and The New York Times. His book is available here You can follow his blog on living with schizophrenia here

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APA Reference
Hedrick, M. (2018). Letting Go of Imagined Symbolism in Psychosis. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 24, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 20 Aug 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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