Having a psychotic illness has impacted every single part of my life in some way or another.
Although more children are now being diagnosed with and treated for Schizophrenia, it is considered to be rare in childhood. When I was a child, it was pretty much unheard of. Explaining that I hear voices in my head and live in a state of constant paranoia is hard enough as an adult, but as a child it was too much for me to even understand myself. So, I lived through a very dark and disturbing time alone. I have struggled with my mental health for as long as I can remember, everything from hallucinations, delusions, manic episodes, to anxiety, self-harm and obsessive-compulsive thoughts.
I was finally treated for psychosis in my early twenties and was diagnosed with Schizophrenia. I remember asking a doctor if she could make me “normal” like all the other girls my age. I thought my life was over. I would never have the future I had imagined. There was not some magic wand that could “fix” everything, and the prospect of having a long-term, incurable illness felt like a punishment. I had already lived nearly my entire life with psychosis thinking there would be an end to it. Finding out that this was a permanent, irreversible thing is what got to me the most.
It’s easy to get caught up with the stigma that surrounds Schizophrenia. The word psychotic is constantly misused in every day conversation, people use it to describe a person’s behaviour that they don’t approve of. Experiencing hallucinations, delusions or disorganised thinking is psychotic — psychosis is a serious illness, it is not an insult. Movies and TV programmes are continuously promoting negative stereotypes and myths associated with Schizophrenia. It is a lot harder to speak up and get help for a condition which carries the weight of such strong misconceptions. Every time Schizophrenia is used for sensationalism, it sets us back. A lot of people, myself included, go on to lead normal, successful lives. Schizophrenia may be a long-term illness, but that does not mean it is unmanageable or untreatable.
Stigma has delayed my recovery many times. I am OK with having a psychotic illness, but sometimes other people’s ignorance can change that. Every time I experience stigma, it takes away a little bit of the resilience and self-acceptance I have worked so hard to build up. Every time I see my mental health problem used in the media as an explanation for a person’s crime or wrong doing, it can bring on feelings of shame. I feel the need to justify my illness to those who tar us all with the same brush based on negative stereotypes.
At this point of my life I can honestly say that I have fully accepted and made peace with having Schizophrenia. I even embrace it. I realised that all I was doing before was wishing my life away and putting myself in an angry, miserable place. I was self-stigmatising in a sense. I think everyone who is diagnosed with any kind of long-term illness, whether it be mental or physical, goes through a sort of grieving process for what might have been. I eventually realised there is one thing Schizophrenia cannot take away from me — who I am as a person. My illness does not define me. My own personality is far too important to be overshadowed. No matter how tough things get, I always try to keep my sense humour. I am my own person first and foremost, psychosis is just one tiny part of all the experiences and life lessons that have made me into who I am now. I continue to experience psychotic symptoms every day, but having them for such a long time means I have actually gotten somewhat used to them.
That’s not to say things have been easy, it’s been a really rough journey, full of ups and downs. Every time I think I’m getting to a place of being content and happy, something always knocks me back. This, I’m afraid, is just how life goes. It is not always fair. I have to constantly manage my condition and be aware of the signs of relapse, which is something I have experienced many times now. If you or someone you love is experiencing psychosis, please know that things will get better. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, nothing in life worth having ever is. There is absolutely no shame is asking for help, no one, no matter how strong, can deal with a mental health problem alone. The important thing to remember is that you are still you. You are unique. You are important. You are loved. And you are so much more than any illness could ever be.