In 2016 my life fell apart when I was sectioned for four weeks under the Mental Health Act. I had split up with my long-term girlfriend and was under a lot of stress in a corporate job that I didn’t enjoy. My mind was so broken that I thought I was being watched, tracked and followed online by well-known corporations that wanted to snap me up. I firmly believed that I was receiving messages through the TV, radio, internet and even the weather. I was speaking a lot more than usual and very fast, jumping from one subject to the other without making any sense to those around me.
Being sectioned was very traumatic, not just for me but for my family and close friends. However, spending time in a psychiatric ward and being medicated with antipsychotics and mood stabilisers was necessary to start my recovery.
I struggled to get my life back when I returned home. The side effects of the medication were mainly sedation, so I had no energy and put on a lot of weight. I was eventually made redundant from my job and became very depressed.
I felt ashamed and embarrassed about what had happened to me. It wasn’t until two years later in 2018 that I began to talk about it after reading a powerful memoir that resonated with me and gave me huge comfort. I started blogging about my mental illness and the reaction was so positive. I received supportive comments and messages, many from other people who had also struggled with their mental wellbeing. These were such life-affirming connections that I began to accept that the stigma may not be as prevalent as I initially assumed.
Around this time I was put on a new medication, which is what I still take today. This antipsychotic turned out to finally be the right formula for me, with minimal side effects and allowing my mind to be clear and my energy levels to remain.
I was wary of therapy after a bad experience at relationship counselling with my previous partner, but I was so desperate to get better I found myself saying yes when the mental health team suggested it. I went on a waiting list and eventually received CBT through the NHS, which turned out to be life-changing. We were able to explore why I was previously so hard on myself and why I struggled with stress and uncertainty in particular. I was able to learn self-compassion, how to remain present and use practical tools to help with my wellbeing, such as the ‘stress bucket’ and ‘friendly scientist’ exercises. I felt very lucky that I was matched with such a great therapist. She was around my age and I warmed to her instantly – she met me at a very human level, and I always felt deeply understood during our conversations.
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My response to the sessions was very emotional, and I would spend much of the time in floods of tears. I soon realised that these were probably tears that I had been holding in for a long time, thinking I was being a strong man. I was finally able to let go, and it made me understand that crying is actually a powerful stress release in itself rather than something to be ashamed of and avoided.
Sadly, at the end of 2019, I had a full-blown relapse of psychosis after a mistake with my medication. I had been taking one 100mg pill a day, but when I renewed my prescription the pharmacy gave me 50mg tablets instead. The instruction to take two per day wasn’t pointed out, so I was unknowingly taking half of my dosage.
My second psychotic episode had some similarities in terms of my behaviour and symptoms, although this time I was a lot angrier. I am usually a calm person and never experience anger, so I found it overwhelming and difficult to manage.
Thankfully I didn’t get sectioned again – instead, I voluntarily attended an NHS day treatment centre, where I participated in group therapy classes and also had one-to-one support. My medication had to be drastically increased and it took months for me to become stable, but I got there in the end and I have been healthy ever since. Once again I found the therapy helpful, particularly in understanding and processing my anger.
My latest diagnosis is schizoaffective disorder. I no longer feel shame about it and instead proudly wear it as a badge of honour. I know now that I will probably always need to be on medication to keep me healthy and functioning, which is something I feel at peace with. One of my many lessons is that I need to keep talking, sharing, be understood and to process and articulate what is in my head. Sometimes the best outlet for this will be a therapist, so I am happy that they are always an option if I need it.