I’ve a few diagnoses! My ‘big’ diagnosis is schizophrenia but I’ve also been diagnosed with depression and severe arachnophobia. I’ve been told of possible anxiety disorders but I’ve enough official diagnoses for one person!
What is that?
I always liken schizophrenia to having ‘depression with attitude’. Schizophrenia is usually made up of ‘positive’ symptoms and ‘negative’ symptoms. The positive symptoms are things that have been added to a person that shouldn’t be there. These are experiences like hallucinations or delusions. The negative symptoms are things that have been taken away from a person that should be there. These are things like a lack of concentration and motivation, feeling numb and symptoms that are very like depression. That’s why I liken schizophrenia to ‘depression with attitude’!
"The intrusive thoughts would make me ‘see’ myself killing somebody in
my head and make me ‘hear’ them suffering from what I’d done to them"
It’s pretty much just the negative symptoms that I deal with these days. I used to battle with constant auditory hallucinations (that’s the posh phrase for hearing voices) and intrusive thoughts that could get pretty intense. The intrusive thoughts would make me ‘see’ myself killing somebody in my head and make me ‘hear’ them suffering from what I’d done to them. It used to terrify and upset me so badly. Now I ‘only’ have to deal with things like low mood, being unable to concentrate on things for too long or being unable to motivate myself to do things. It’s frustrating at times when I want to do something but can’t motivate myself to do it. I’ve come to learn to live with my symptoms but it’s not always easy to do.
How long have you been diagnosed?
I was diagnosed with depression at 18 but began to suffer from it at the age of 13. The arachnophobia was officially diagnosed at 17 but began at 15. The schizophrenia started at 18 but at first I was told I had psychosis. This was aged 20. It was another year before my diagnosis was changed to schizophrenia.
"I didn’t explicitly say that I was hearing a voice,
I told him that ‘the devil wants me to kill myself’"
The first time I saw a doctor for mental health issues was aged 17 when my arachnophobia was taking over my life. It didn’t take a psychiatrist to diagnose that I had pretty severe arachnophobia, even I could see that! I was referred to my Community Mental Health Team (CMHT) for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) but it took nearly a year before it began. It was during the therapy when I was 18 that the psychologist realised that I was suffering with low moods. I was sent to my GP with instructions to send me to a psychiatrist. My GP diagnosed me with depression but the psychiatrist didn’t really agree! I began experiencing the auditory hallucinations just before I saw the psychiatrist and although I didn’t explicitly say that I was hearing a voice, I told him that ‘the devil wants me to kill myself’. Along with telling him that I was having strong suicidal thoughts, had attempted suicide in the past and was currently self-harming, his findings were that I ‘might’ have ‘mild depression’ and although I was offered standard psychology sessions, I was classed as the lowest priority. By the time I could be seen by the psychologist, I had moved out of the area to go to university and couldn’t attend the sessions. Looking back, I feel angry that I was dismissed with fairly substantial symptoms. Had I received help early, my prognosis could have been completely different and my life could be so much better. Instead, it was another two years before I was diagnosed with psychosis and a third year before I received my diagnosis of schizophrenia.
"At first, I refused to believe I was psychotic because I thought that psychotic meant ‘evil’ and ‘murderous’ due to the media portrayal of the word"
Receiving the diagnosis of psychosis cushioned the blow of being diagnosed with schizophrenia a bit but not entirely. At first, I refused to believe I was psychotic because I thought that psychotic meant ‘evil’ and ‘murderous’ due to the media portrayal of the word. However, when my diagnosis changed to schizophrenia, I believed that my life was over. I knew that schizophrenia was a life-long diagnosis and so I became even more suicidal. It took another year or so before I finally accepted that I had been ill and although I struggle to accept that I have schizophrenia at times, I know that something had happened to me. I know I had an illness but I still struggle with being given a life-long diagnosis.
Have you ever been hospitalized due to your condition?
Twice. The first time was aged 20 when I was placed on a Section 2 (28 day hold). It was in here that I was diagnosed with psychosis. I was in hospital for a total of eight weeks on this occasion. Four weeks on a section, four weeks voluntarily. The second time I was placed on a Section 3 (six month hold). It was in here that my diagnosis changed to schizophrenia. I was in hospital for just over 12 months (on a section the whole time) and then moved to a specialist unit for 5 months where I spent four of these months on a section. After 17 months in two hospitals, it was great to finally get home!
"The talking therapy helped and it was here that I finally got
to the route of the voices I heard. They lost their power
almost instantly and I began to ‘hear’ silence again"
The first hospital made me worse. It really did. I received no form of talking therapy, not even from a nurse or health care assistant. The second hospital was infinitely better and although I received talking therapy, it didn’t really help. The specialist unit I was in was the one that helped. The talking therapy helped and it was here that I finally got to the route of the voices I heard. They lost their power almost instantly and I began to ‘hear’ silence again.
How do you feel about your overall experience with medical healthcare professionals?
Some are good, some are bad. The psychiatrist who sent me away aged 18 with ‘mild depression’ was bad. The psychologist in the specialist unit who helped me get to the route of my voices was good. The staff in the first hospital I was in were bad. The staff in the second hospital and specialist unit I was in were good. Some of my CPNs (Community Psychiatric Nurses) have been good, others bad. It’s like everywhere in medicine really. Some doctors, nurses and other medical workers are good, others are bad.
"I used to be at university and was psychotic the whole time
but I could function! Now I can’t and it’s extremely frustrating"
I’m about to start group therapy soon but I also take 50 mg of sertraline every day. I’m off anti psychotics now thankfully. I’m supposed to have a care co-ordinator who sees me every week but as she’s on long-term sick and the CMHT is over-stretched even with full staff, I’m not being seen by anyone at the moment. I’m so relieved the group therapy is starting soon!
Does your treatment have any negative side effects?
The talking therapies can leave me feeling drained and sometimes depressed afterwards but they do me good so I have no complaints. The sertraline doesn’t seem to give me too many side effects so I have no complaints with that either! What I do complain about is the long-term side effects of the anti psychotics I was on. I still live with akathisia (an inability to remain still) and my brain doesn’t work as well as it used to! I used to be able to work long days with very little sleep, even when I was psychotic, but now I struggle to perform basic tasks after a lot of sleep. I also find it harder to concentrate and think clearly, my memory is a lot worse and I sleep longer than I used to. I used to be at university and was psychotic the whole time but I could function! Now I can’t and it’s extremely frustrating. I live in hope that one day, my brain will recover from anti psychotics and I’ll be able to function properly and be able to work again.
"I’ve seen one of those friends since I was diagnosed but other
than saying I had had a mental illness, I didn’t go into details"
I tried hypnotherapy for my arachnophobia a while ago but when they found out about my diagnosis of schizophrenia, they paused it. They wrote to my psychiatrist asking for written permission to continue but my psychiatrist lost the letter and I haven’t been able to get back in touch with the hypnotherapist! I would recommend hypnotherapy though, if nothing else, it’s extremely relaxing. However, it’s quite expensive.
Did you share your diagnosis with family and friends?
My immediate family knew as soon as I did. However, I don’t have many friends. I haven’t spoken to my old school-friends for ages now. I’ve seen one of those friends since I was diagnosed but other than saying I had had a mental illness, I didn’t go into details. However, I attend church and most people at church know either my diagnosis or the type of diagnosis I have.
"I recently did a creative writing course and after a few weeks,
I managed to pluck up the courage to tell them my diagnosis"
My immediate family mostly understand my illness but not always. People who know of my diagnosis from church are supportive but they don’t always understand why I do things differently. For example, I can never attend church in the morning due to my tiredness but some in the church can’t understand this and tell me to go to bed earlier. Telling me to go to bed earlier isn’t helpful! Going to bed earlier means I get to sleep later. The later I go to bed means I get to sleep sooner. Don’t ask me why!
Do you tell new people about your condition?
I’ve only done it once. I recently did a creative writing course and after a few weeks, I managed to pluck up the courage to tell them my diagnosis.
"They might think that they need to be careful around me so that they
don’t upset me. Or they might avoid me so I don’t go crazy on them!"
In this case, none of the people on the course were negative and they treated me exactly the same way as they had done previously. In my eyes, that was a good result!
Do you think people perceive you differently once they know of your mental health issues?
I don’t know to be honest. I don’t try and jump into anyone else’s head as I’ve enough going on in my own! However, they probably do perceive me differently, no matter how good their intentions. They might think that they need to be careful around me so that they don’t upset me. Or they might avoid me so I don’t go crazy on them! Either way, I’ve learned my lesson in that if someone is nasty to me for whatever reason, walk away from them. Having an illness like schizophrenia can really show you who your real friends are.
"I didn’t have a very high opinion of myself before the dominant voice started and so it wasn’t difficult for the voice to make me believe bad things about myself"
Definitely. Bullying was what started my depression back when I was 13. The bullying and depression coupled to destroy my self-esteem and then the schizophrenia kept my self-esteem down. It’s never really picked up but I have learned how to live with poor self-esteem!
Is your self image affected by your mental health?
Again, yes. The dominant voice I heard would constantly tell me about how I was ‘fat’ and ‘ugly’. Spending years listening to these sorts of comments makes one believe them! I didn’t have a very high opinion of myself before the dominant voice started and so it wasn’t difficult for the voice to make me believe bad things about myself. I’m sure brainwashing doesn’t last as long as the voice did!
"I’ll keep writing for as long as I’m able to and have the
motivation to. Hopefully I’ll be writing for years to come!"
My family. They’ve kept me alive this far, they’ll keep me alive as long as they can!
What keeps you going?
Again, my family. Writing also keeps me going which is why I’m always on Twitter! I’m always on the look-out for people I could write for or competitions I could enter. Although I don’t update my blog as often as I used to, I try and keep writing in some capacity on a daily basis. It’s a new hobby but one that I enjoy immensely. I’ll keep writing for as long as I’m able to and have the motivation to. Hopefully I’ll be writing for years to come!