Stigma, Personal stories, Mental health conditions

27 July, 2017

The Tsunami Effect

Educating ourselves about mental health conditions like psychosis is important. The more we can talk and open up, and also listen without discriminating, the more we can help others.

What is psychosis?

This is what it means to me and here is my personal journey.

You don’t see a tsunami far out at sea
It is Saturday morning, 3 June 2006. I am looking forward to attending a friend’s wedding with my wife at the time.

It is a welcome distraction from my own stresses in work. I had not been sleeping properly for months, as I was trying to solve these issues myself without worrying my wife. But getting only three to four hours sleep per night, mostly on the couch, as I didn’t want to disturb my wife, had finally caused the gun to go off in my head.

I am a night owl anyway and I do overthink a lot. Sometimes, when I sit out the back garden late at night drinking my coffee (decaf these days!) and having a cigarette, I look up at the stars. This is when my interests in science, the universe and maths all kick in. I also think about things from that day and things from the past.

I just like to ponder, as anybody who knows me knows. I have always pondered about things of interest and life in general.

That wasn’t the problem though. The negative thoughts from my work environment were now in the mix.

Recognising an episode of psychosis

This is what caused this new sensation in my head, something I had never previously experienced before. Anyway, I can see the humorous side in this now, looking back with a clear and more educated mind in this fascinating field of mental health.

My wife had come downstairs after she got herself all dolled up for the wedding to find me talking nonsense to the gardener. He was cutting the waist-high grass in our back garden as I had let the normal daily chores slip during this period. I thought I was making complete sense.

At the same time, I was also on the phone to a particular radio station, talking to an operator regarding a phone-in topic which was of interest to me.

I always remember my wife saying on the morning of my first psychotic episode that "it was like listening to 10 different people at the same time.” The trigger had been squeezed, and I now know that it was my brain’s way of discharging all these thoughts (bullets) from the gun.

Every other thought I had locked away, both recent and from my childhood, was opened – the domino effect.

This is when my wife knew there was something seriously wrong mentally with me. To this day, I thank her for having me admitted to St Patrick’s Mental Health Services (SPMHS) on that same day.

My mind was racing at a million miles per hour. I know this sounds odd, but one of my own spotting techniques is when I feel a tingling sensation all over my head. It’s like the neurotransmitters in my brain are overloaded with these electrical signals. I can feel them bouncing off the inside of my head and trying to get out, a bit like a Van de Graff generator.

Managing a mental health condition

Anyway, here I am and it is 11 years later. I am 44 and talking about these previous events in my life. I know that the only reason I am openly sharing this part of me is because of the intervention taken by my ex-wife, the staff in SPMHS who helped me manage my condition through their dedication to this field of mental health, and lastly, my own interest to educate myself on this condition.

The quote “to overcome fear of the unknown is to educate yourself about it” comes to mind.

Unfortunately, the stigma is still out there due to lack of understanding and education. However, the more we can talk and open up, and also listen without discriminating or judging, the more we can help others.

Some people don’t cope as well as others. The person may not be aware of the length of time spent in this mental state of mind, but maybe the people on the outside looking in will notice it quicker. People who are close such as family, friends or work colleagues.

If you notice a change in someone’s mood or behaviour, no matter how slight, and if it is prolonged, then that is the time to say or do something about it. If not to the person directly, maybe speak with someone else, like a family member or another friend. They may be able to speak to the affected person or contact one of the many mental health helplines.

Always go with your gut instinct, because a lot of the time the person caught up in the middle can’t see it themselves.

I did not notice it myself. You don’t see a tsunami far out at sea. You only see it when the waves get higher as it approaches the shallows of the shoreline. At that stage, it’s too late.

With help, I have learned how to detect these triggers so that I can remove myself from its path, but I still have to be vigilant of my condition.

This blog was written by Stephen Burke of the Service Users and Supporters Council) in SPMHS. 

Continue to…

A Diagnosis of Schizophrenia but Still Just Me