Worry that is not psychosis

I have a bit of a paranoid streak to my personality. Not something that in itself can be diagnosed, but it impacts how some of my anxiety comes out.

Today I was walking home and a young man asked if I knew the area well. In a city a stranger initiating any contact can be a sign of a scam or other nefarious activity. But many a time I’ve rudely brushed off a lost tourist in error. He stood a little closer to me than was comfortable. We never broke walking pace. I didn’t stop and neither did he. I think he may have brushed briefly against my coat. I gave him directions. I slowed my pace to lose him via slow-walking.

Walking past the police station, should I go in to hide?

He went the wrong way based on my directions. Did he misunderstand or did he never really want directions? If he didn’t want directions what was his motive for talking to me? Is he looping around to follow-me?

I wasn’t pick pocketed. He didn’t rob me. I’ve long lost site of him, but keep looking back to make sure I’m not being followed. 2 blocks away from my home I step into the entryway of a building and look back and forth. There are people, it’s dark but I think none are him. Did he plant a tracking device on me? Should I not go straight home? I get home and search everything. My bag has many pockets. No tracking device. I have some coins in the pocket on the side of my coat he’d been near. What if a tracking device looks like a coin? What if it is microscopic? What if he followed me and I didn’t see? I toy with the idea of throwing out the bag, just to be safe. What if he was trying some kind of RFID theft? I don’t have anything which could be stolen with RFID readers.


Another incident from over a year ago:

I was late for my bus. I ran towards it, only to realize I had run towards the wrong one and past my own bus. There are two that look similar. Embarrassed, I turned around and walked back towards the people I had just run past, the people who were boarding my actual correct bus.

This isn’t a public transportation bus. It’s a shuttle bus, because my work has multiple locations and buses people between them. The buses are primarily used by employees.  It’s a large organization so I don’t know everyone, but it’s not as anonymous as public transportation.

My heart was pounding. I had to take a seat in the very front, because I was the last on before the bus left. I usually sit more towards the back.

I put on my headphones to listen to my ipod so I could calm myself down. It’s a half hour to one hour bus ride depending upon traffic.

These buses are always eerily quiet. They don’t play music, no one talks. There’s not much engine noise.

My earbud headphones were loud, but not so loud that people could hear them. I had a gap between songs. Everything felt very quiet.

The contrast freaked me out. I wondered, “What if I was thinking too loudly? Could they hear me thinking?”

There are some reasons why this isn’t such an absurd thought. I have a tic-like problem with talking to myself (I have a post in more detail about this) The line between my brain and my mouth gets blurry and I don’t have 100% control. So the idea that my thoughts could come out in a way isn’t that strange. But usually I realize what’s up with the fist syllable out and can take some control. I don’t think it happened without my awareness that it happens at all.

But obviously no one is able to really hear my thoughts.

It started evolving.

No. No one is listening.

But what if?

Maybe it’s not the whole bus, maybe it’s just one person

No no no, no one is listening to your thoughts

I thought really hard to myself Hey you listening! Stop it!

Just in case.

There was a postsecret about this. I was glad to see someone else could identify with this.

The thoughts got more detailed

Yes the whole bus wasn’t listening. It was just this one person, a guy. He was sitting behind me. I couldn’t look back. But he was there listening. I didn’t even know if a guy was back there at all.

Well maybe. Probably not. But I persisted in my demands that he leave my brain. Just in case.

And then I got off the bus and continued my day like nothing had happened. No more thought listening fears.

But now whenever I get on that bus. I have to sit in the back, because sitting in the front freaks me out.

There’s a nagging worry that people might maybe be able to hear my thoughts. But only on this bus and only if they sit behind me. And I’m not sure, it’s just a precaution I’m taking. Just in case.

I felt like I was finally losing it. Going up to the next level of crazy. But no it didn’t count, right? Because I knew it wasn’t real. I was just worrying. Just in case.


I think now that this is less of a psychotic symptom and more a sign of extreme anxiety.

I know my brain is out of control, I struggle to turn it off. But I know it is not real. There is no tracking device and no one is reading my thoughts. The ‘What if’ possibility taunts me. My worry gives too much weight to improbable situations.

6 thoughts on “Worry that is not psychosis

    • We really don’t know well how to predict future psychosis which is why the prodromal thing is controversial. People who later develop psychosis may experience things like this early on, but not everyone who experiences this type of worry will go on to develop psychosis. I’m certainly Cluster A-ish regarding axis 2, but probably don’t meet fully for any except maybe schizoid. Really I just have severe GAD as my primary issue which interacts with this in a variety of ways. I can’t predict the future (and neither can you), but I think based on my family history (tons of anxiety and mood symptoms but zero psychosis or even bipolar 2) and my always realizing the worries are unrealistic I am probably pretty safe. My psychiatrist agrees that these symptoms are not psychosis.

      I think if your research team SCIDed me (If you even really work at NYPSI) you’d be pretty disappointed (And worn out, I take a long time to SCID since I endorse a large number of screener items but am subclinical on most DXs) and would see that I’m just very very anxious.

      Bit confused by your fake email. If you didn’t want to give a real email you could just have entered random characters.

  1. I used to feel exactly the same way you describe around a year ago. I started taking 50 mg of zoloft and over 6 months to a year, my paranoia/anxiety started getting better. I still notice it now, but it is a lot less than what it used to be. As I started examining why i used to feel paranoid, i realized that it started around 2 years ago when i started texting this girl in highschool. I was so anxious that people would find out that I had feelings for that girl and exploit it, that I started thinking that people were able to read my text messages that I sent her. I started thinking that all my texts were wired to other guys phones and would get sent to them. I knew that I wasn’t psychotic because I understood that something like that is impossible, but the anxiety would not leave me alone. Ever since then, to a year after I graduated highschool, I would always be suspicious of anyone who walked past me in the street, and suspicious of my therapist too. The way I was able to relieve myself of all this anxiety was taking a semester off of college, and just relaxing at home everyday without thinking about anything. I would listen to relaxing music, and go exercise at the gym. And with the help of Zoloft, it started to go away after 6 months of that.


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