When I was sectioned under the Mental Health Act I thought that I was really on the telly or that I’d been kidnapped by a cult.
But when my psychosis first began, it was barely noticeable.
I had the surreal feeling that people weren’t who they said they were, and a niggling suspicion that I was imagining things.
These feelings made coincidences – silly things that I wouldn’t usually take any notice of, like people having the same names, or the same words reappearing in different scenarios – seem very significant.
It felt as though there were messages hidden in the world for me to decode as well as the underlying sense something was amiss. I also wondered whether people were plotting against me.
I was working long hours and coping with the bustle of day-to-day life became very difficult. I spent most of the day feeling like people were out to get me in my job.
It was a struggle to keep everything together as I became more suspicious and paranoid, thinking that all the critical posts I saw on social media were directed at me. I started having thoughts of harming myself.
On my way to work, I would pass graffiti on a wall, and I remember thinking that it was someone trying to communicate with me.
One day, I saw that someone had sprayed ‘hi’ and I thought that was the world talking to me. I touched the brickwork and replied out loud.
I was living alone at this point, but my friends had noticed something was going on with me. I couldn’t put into words what was happening in my head, and felt secretive about what was occurring.
Rapidly, things started to fall apart. My symptoms got worse, in particular suicidal ideation, and I felt like I needed urgent help. I didn’t feel as though I could continue going into work, as well as keeping all the plates of my life spinning.
I went into A&E and cried inconsolably for hours, until I was seen by a psychiatrist. The next day, a friend I’d confided in called my work and told them I was having mental health problems.
I was sent home from A&E and went to the GP for a follow up appointment; they said the psychiatrist in A&E had diagnosed me with anxiety and depression. It was a relief to get some insight but the diagnosis didn’t feel quite right.
Soon after, I lost my job and honestly, the next year passed in a blur.
Instead of getting different work, I decided to be self-employed. I think I knew deep down I wasn’t well enough to take on another role. I was struggling to read and write and time seemed to pass in a strange way. I was often suicidal and I was drinking too much.
During the prodromal stage of psychosis, which is what they call the early stages, I didn’t have a specific conspiracy that I felt was responsible for my strange thoughts. I just had this sense that there was a plot against me or that things weren’t real.
This built until the feeling of unreality became all-consuming. Suddenly it went from strange ideas to absolute convictions.
Initially I think my friends and family felt like I was being dramatic but I knew that something was very wrong because I had the sense that I was imagining things, and seemed to be losing my grip on reality.
At its worst, I thought that people were trying to kidnap me, that I was on the television on some sort of twisted reality show of my life – The Truman Show meets a Derren Brown TV special meets Black Mirror.
I thought Extinction Rebellion were out to get me because I felt I was singularly responsible for climate change. I thought that the Masons were plotting against me. I thought that I was inside a research experiment and people were monitoring me using my devices.
I felt like the people around me were in cahoots and had sinister motives. I was convinced that people were filming me using their phones and a friend tells me I even tried to take a stranger’s phone out of their hands.
I thought Spotify was sending me messages through the music I was listening to. I was sure there were cameras in everything from TV screens to smoke alarms.
I felt that most of the world was watching me, laughing.
I had no idea that I was ill at this point. Anosognosia, they call it – a complete lack of insight. Unreality had become my reality.
Eventually, I was sectioned by the police, after they tailed me for several miles walking along the middle of a country road with a wheelie suitcase.
I didn’t really understand what was happening. They handcuffed me and I kept trying to run away.
The feeling of unreality went from strange ideas to absolute convictions – it became all-consuming
After a brief escape, where I broke free from them, they took me to A&E and from there I was taken to a mental health hospital.
But I didn’t think the police who took me were real police, I felt like everyone was an imposter and the whole world seemed fake. I thought that people would jump out and say that joke was on me at any moment.
For most of the two months I was in hospital, I thought that the staff were actually on a Netflix show and I kept calling the psychiatric unit a ‘low budget TV set’.
I saw the hospital as an escape room and kept trying to abscond. Once, I kicked the door of the hospital until I broke a hole in it, and then climbed through. I feel so bad about that now, but I really thought I had been kidnapped by malevolent strangers at the time.
I didn’t get far from the hospital. Someone, a security guard I think, took my phone off me – as I was trying to smash it on the ground because I felt people were using it to monitor me – and wrestled me back into the hospital.
In the hospital they gave me antipsychotic medication but I thought they were trying to poison me, so I spat the pills out whenever I could. Slowly, as the small amount of medication I was actually taking began to work, things shifted back into focus.
While I was in hospital, I had to sell my house because I didn’t have an income. I had worked so hard to build a life and it all fell apart so quickly.
After two months, I was released and assigned to Early Intervention for Psychosis services.
They’ve floated various diagnostic labels for me from Paranoid Personality Disorder to Schizophrenia, but at the moment I have a diagnosis of Schizoaffective Disorder.
Psychosis is more common than you might think, affecting 3 in 100 people in their lifetimes.
And sadly, some of the odds surrounding psychosis are very upsetting. Some studies suggest as many as 5-13% of schizophrenic people die by suicide and only between 5-15% of people with schizophrenia are in employment.
Before all this happened, I’d had ongoing problems with my mental health but I’d managed to hold down a job. I had been on anxiety and depression meds on and off for years and had a bipolar assessment a few years prior, which had come back saying that I wasn’t bipolar.
Although I always thought my main problem was impulsivity, depression, and panic attacks, I later realised that I’d been struggling with intense paranoia for most of my life.
As a result of seeing various psychiatrists during the early stage of my psychosis, I was placed on the waiting list for an autism assessment and ultimately received one as well as a schizoaffective disorder diagnosis.
Things are more stable now but I still have delusional beliefs and paranoia. I sometimes struggle to concentrate on things like reading, watching TV and playing video games, which makes it difficult for me to find things to do during the day.
I’ve been writing about my experiences for mental health charities such as Mind and Rethink. I’m hoping to eventually publish a book about these experiences to raise awareness of serious mental illness and help support other people who are struggling.
When I was starting to understand my condition, it was the accounts of people who had gone through psychosis and come out the other side that gave me hope.
I write about my experiences because I want there to be more stories for others who are struggling to relate to so they know that they are not alone.
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