Just Listen: Experiencing psychosis - 'I thought I was going to die'

Juliette Sivertsen, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Tue, 5 Nov 2019, 4:41PM

Just Listen: Experiencing psychosis - 'I thought I was going to die'

Juliette Sivertsen, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Tue, 5 Nov 2019, 4:41PM

Just Listen is a seven-part mental health podcast series, exploring how to support a person in serious and ongoing mental distress. Six New Zealanders and their support people share their mental health journey and challenges with journalist and host Juliette Sivertsen. Made with support from the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand, and Like Minds, Like Mine.

Samantha Adams isn't religious, but in her late 20s, she used to pray she wouldn't wake up.

After losing her father to cancer when she was a teenager, she spent years tumbling through a downward spiral of partying, drugs, alcohol and risky behaviour.

"I just thought I was a teenager, living life, single, doing lots of fun things. But it was dangerous. Like I was driving down the road at 100km/h, closing my eyes. Because I could. I felt invincible."

Listen to Samantha Adam's full story in the Just Listen podcast, here.

Adams was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in her early 20s and put on medication. But she felt deep shame over the label, and feels the diagnosis did more harm than help.

"I thought that I was a reject," she says. "Back then, 12 years ago, I'd not really heard about it other than in movies where you see the sort of Hyde and Jekyll [sic] behaviour.

"I didn't know that a normal person from West Auckland could have bipolar. I thought it was a pretty big thing. So I hid it. I hid it from everyone. And I hated it."

Walker also experienced psychosis twice. She describes it as a terrifying out-of-body experience, in which she thought she was going to die.

"I had the television on at one point and I thought every advertisement was my life flashing in front of my eyes," she says of her experience.

"I was put in the shower at one point and there was a light, and I thought, 'I'm going towards the light'. It was just insane and I can remember it so vividly, even though I was completely off my face.

"But I just remember being so scared."

Samantha Adams with her husband Christopher and their toddler Ashton. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Samantha Adams with her husband Christopher and their toddler Ashton. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Adam's recovery was kickstarted when her mother helped her into a rehabilitation facility.

"When I first walked in, I was like, why are there so many happy people? Like, I don't understand. These people have mental distress, or are drug addicts or are gambling addicts, why are they happy?

"Why are they talking and having lunch and having a Coca-Cola? And it took me a couple of days to figure out that we're not alone."

Adams now has a toddler with her husband Chris.

"Christopher is the most empathetic man I've ever met, without having any background to mental distress," she says. "He's never experienced any depression or anxiety, but he gets me."

Chris openly states how proud he is of his wife, especially seeing her tackle motherhood. He says the key to being a solid support to a person with mental distress is to understand their processes and how they operate.

Chris says it's also important to be able to take time for yourself and have good family or friends nearby to help.

"I've always been an empathetic person, but it just goes to show how strong it is for someone you love," he says. "I remember in my vows, I said I want to be the shoulder for you to cry on and the wall for you to lean on.

"And those ones were true because I want to be that person for her, that when she's feeling down, she can come to me and I won't break."

Adams no longer has a bipolar diagnosis, but was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. But she doesn't like labels.

"What does it matter? I'm just being me. I'm content with the fact I have highs and I have lows. And when I have highs, some really magical things happen."

Samantha and Chris' tips for supporting people:

  • Let a person feel the way they feel, rather than trying to change it.
    • Listen and be present.
    • Understand their processes and responses to certain situations.
    • On a bad day, take baby steps, which could be as small as helping a loved one move from the bedroom to the couch.
    • Take care of your own mental wellbeing by doing something creative, or seeing friends and family.


If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call 111.

  • Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
  • Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
  • Youthline: 0800 376 633
  • Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
  • Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
  • Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

There are lots of places to get support. For others, click here.​