It was November 1989 when I entered the world of paranoid schizophrenia. It seemed that people were talking about me everywhere I went, and I thought that there were cameras and microphones on the walls of my flat, planted there so people – the SAS in particular – could spy on me. I had a box implanted in my head, which gave me supersonic hearing (I believed this despite there being no scars to prove I had a box inside my head).
This world of paranoia can be a scary place to inhabit. In this world, everybody knows everything about you, even your own thoughts. It felt like everybody even knew the colour of my underpants!
On the 2nd of January 1990, I was voluntarily admitted to a psychiatric hospital because I had a mental breakdown. I remember that it was a wet evening, and I hadn’t eaten much for some weeks. Unshaven and in tears, I was taken there in an ambulance after seeing my doctor. A hospital isn’t a fun place to be when you’re hearing voices and paranoid, but I knew it was where I needed to be. For one thing, I got there at dinnertime!
I spent nine weeks there before being discharged into the hands of the local mental health team. I was on a once-a-week injection of Dipixol and over 1000mgs of Largactil tablets, which are an antipsychotic medication. I became a different person. I spoke very few words, answering only `yes`, `no` or `don’t know` to any questions I was asked. I made no eye contact with people and when they made eye contact with me I looked to the ground. I didn’t speak to anyone about my illness for many years, preferring to keep it to myself.
On my discharge from the psychiatric ward, I attended day hospital until around November 1990. My dad used to take me to and from the facility in his car; being on public transport worsens my paranoia, so that wasn’t an option. My world as I knew it had crashed, and I would spend the next eight years recovering from it. All I knew when I came out of the psychiatric hospital was that one day I would be a lot better. I made this my focus.
In 1998, I decided that I wanted to get my life back on track. I started with my physical health; I wanted to get my fitness levels up and to shed some weight in the process. Within the first week of joining the gym, however, I was starting to hear voices again. My paranoia had returned and I was starting to relapse, and so I was then re-admitted to the psychiatric ward for a change of medication. I spent a further four weeks in hospital before being discharged again.
It was in 2004 that I was asked to go to a local mental health service, Clubhouse, which I agreed to. I needed to get out the house! Although I had my dog, Toby, who I’d walk several times a day, I had essentially spent 14 years in social exclusion, living on my own with just the mental health team and my family around me. When I went for my induction at Clubhouse, it was their Christmas party. I was hearing voices that day, and it made me feel really nervous and on-edge. However, I agreed to go back on a weekly basis. This wasn’t an easy thing for me to do, but I never gave up! Alongside my visits to the Clubhouse, I started to volunteer for Age Concern, where I helped to put together 500 winter packs to help the elderly. I also volunteered for Lancashire County Council, this time to take a lad out walking every week.
I went on to get a part-time job at a medical centre as a cleaner-come-assistant-caretaker, meaning that I came off my benefits and into paid work. However, I couldn’t hold down the job long because I was agitated and not sleeping. The fact that my schizophrenia was getting in the way of my work was stressing me out! I was becoming ill once again, so I had to go back on benefits. My world had come crashing around me again and I had to pick myself back up once more.
It was some years after working at the medical centre that I met an ex-midwife. She lived in Wales, but that didn’t stop our relationship – she would travel up to see me and did so quite a number of times. In 2016, I got down on one knee and asked her to marry me – and to my delight, she said yes! We soon made plans for our wedding, after which I moved to Wales to live with her there.
I am now volunteering at the Forest School Association, which I love doing. I work in a woodland with the Forest School leader and other volunteers there. I also attend a local reading group and am looking for more activities to take up my time.
My recovery has taken me well over 25 years, and is still ongoing, but I have found a new lease of life in Wales. It’s a sharp contrast to the world of paranoid schizophrenia in which I lived before! While my schizophrenia will not go away, it’s manageable now. When I look back at 1990 and to the day I said to myself `I will get better no matter how long it takes`, I feel proud of myself. It’s been a hell of a journey but I’ve done it! I am now settled with someone I love very much, and I’m taking my life back.