I’ve suffered with schizophrenia since the age of 18, so for over 40 years now. When it first developed it, it felt nothing short of a death sentence, I felt vilified and ostracised. I felt I’d been plucked from my idyllic, happy days at college, plunged in with what many would describe as ‘the wrong crowd.’ I knew straight away I was out of my depth, of my regular comfort zone. But my sheer bloody-mindedness made me continue in that same downward spiral, as though there was no escaping it.
It’s distinctly likely that the fact my father was over 50 when I was conceived. The youngest of five siblings, and a twin to boot, my twin was born stillborn. It sowed the seeds for problems further down the line. But actually my childhood had been very happy, I had loving parents and good relations with my brothers and sisters. I remember feeling very positive about my life until my 18th or 19th year approached.
A difficult time
My two years at College had ended, leaving me at a loose end basically. In 1979 we had a bitterly cold, gloomy dark Winter with deep snow all around us, as I distinctly recall. I drifted from one job to another, unable to settle, and I began to suffer very badly with my nerves. This culminated in a 4 month stay in Forston Clinic out at Dorchester. Away from family, friends and all that had been familiar to me.
I was placed on a course of medication, not the best of remedies and now rarely used. But it was popular back then, at least with the medics if not with the patients!
Reflecting on my childhood again for a moment, I almost felt that up until that time I had led a something of a ‘charmed life.’ I was an exemplary English pupil, pretty good at art, wrote poetry from a young age and another hobby I had a passion for was photography.
The transition had been of course subtle, but not particularly pleasant. I found I could no longer focus on the things I enjoyed. That first stay in hospital, however, had been cathartic, and I was happy to be back living with my mum, dad and sister.
It was “the boyfriend” who became the problem but I refused point blank to recognise it. Against advice we lived together, and married for a brief time. We shared a love of music, the main thing that had held us together for nearly a decade, about which I had very mixed emotions. But it was a stormy road and, feeling increasingly trapped, I filed for a divorce in 1985. I’d been on a secretarial course back in the days when word processors, soon to develop into computers, were in use. They were changing times, and having no suitable accommodation, I travelled North to Yorkshire. In the end I stayed there for 18 years, only moving back down South to be with my family in 2005.
My road in life was still very rocky for a long time after the separation. I was sectioned multiple times as I couldn’t cope with basic self care. I was, basically, a creative personality, I sang and wrote song lyrics in a band, and I totally failed to come to terms with the sectioning system and procedures. I didn’t understand them and felt strongly that they didn’t understand me.
In all fairness however, I must say, I met some incredibly dedicated and helpful people in the mental health arena. From fellow patients, to empathic nurses and medics, one or two doctors, and particularly those in organisations working in support of the mainstream of mental health. They tried to get me back on the right road, to focus and develop my hobbies and to instill self belief. I don’t know where I’d have been without their loyalty, trust and support.
But the mechanics of the system could be harder to reconcile. I felt I was looked upon as a social pariah or leper. So like most of us when our back is against the wall, we tend to turn the situation on its head, take a perverse pleasure in standing out from the crowd and being different. So that’s precisely what I did. I joined every creative group going. I even produced my own poetry magazine at one point. And got into one or two sticky situations along the way, I can tell you.
Accepting my condition
But my band splitting up was the end of an era for me. I moved back down to be with family and developed a more mature attitude to my mental health. I accepted it’s just a chemical imbalance in the brain that, like any other illnesses, has to be treated. And with the right drugs and the modern day advances in medicine, it does make that a lot easier than when I first developed the condition.
As for how others perceive me nowadays, as a “bit of a rebel” in my now middle age, I think I can honestly say I don’t encounter a much undue prejudice. My family and close friends never judge me or view me as inferior. In fact I think they are quite proud of how I cope, having one or two quite serious physical complaints as well as my mental health to contend with. They are, I think, generally admiring of my creative abilities. Many of my friends have mental health issues to a lesser or greater extent same as myself. We can confide in each other and relate experiences with greater ease. I think, being on this Earth just over 60 years now, that I’ve developed coping mechanisms and learnt to relate to people more effectively. Despite having a strongly eccentric streak or possibly even because of it!
So, you could say, in the words of the great Bob Dylan, “The Times they are A’ Changing” so lets hope for the better!
Huge thanks to our blogger this week, Fiona, for sharing her incredible story with us.
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