Coming out of the #mentalhealth #closet

Mental health torment

An autobiographical article to promote awareness and acceptance.

I am a 45 year old single male living in greater northwest London. I have had 4 catastrophic nervous breakdowns. The preceding 3 were so severe that I was sectioned all 3 times under the mental health act. I had a relapse in Summer/Autumn 2018 but this episode was self-managed with some help from my GP and local primary care trust. It did not require hospitalisation. This was due to a change in my medication as recommended by a consultant who never saw me in-person.

My diagnosis is paranoid schizophrenia in complete remission. For some 12 years during the intervening period of my 3rd and 4th breakdown I largely and successfully stayed mentally healthy and engaged in relationships and work. My career background is in digital marketing both agency and clientside. Some of the misconceptions around my diagnosis is that we are dangerous or unpredictable, to be given a wide berth. I kept quiet about my diagnosis at work for fear of discrimination. As far as I was concerned I wanted my colleagues just to see me as another normal human being.

I find it hard to talk about my diagnosis, I do not often refer to it due to the stigma around it which I feel is still very much present despite some good campaigning work around mental health during the last few years. I think there is someway to go.

Paranoid schizophrenia is complicated. No-one knows for sure what causes it. Some view it as a syndrome. A collection of mental health illness all bundled up as one. Some argue there is a genetic component to it; others say it may be due to the environment where a person has experienced significant trauma in early life.

In the past my diagnosis made feel worthless, a loss of confidence and stuck in a quandary about what to do but I got the right combination of help and treatment so was able to pick myself up. I’m still reluctant to engage in conversations around mental health for fear of exposing myself and certainly wouldn’t introduce myself to a stranger as having a previous diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia until I had built up a relationship or felt I was on sure ground.

Sensationalist articles in the media about paranoid schizophrenics haven’t helped my cause either. Rather than being portrayed as rabid, crazed and out of control most people are actually withdrawn when they are unwell, frightened of going outside and do not reach out to others. There is a big risk of suicide with this diagnosis.

I don’t fit the stereotype. I cook and clean for myself, work part-time and also volunteer some of my time for a community hub which I find very rewarding and they really value my contribution. I have a strong network of support, I read a lot, watch movies and like to be active. The exercise improves brain chemistry and mood. Previously I have worked at quite a senior level, travelled internationally and managed six-figure budgets. I’ve been in serious relationships – the longest was for 5 years and it took a while for me to share about my mental health issues but in all the relationships I’ve been in – my partners have been understanding and supportive. Though I have been quite unwell in the past I’ve engaged fully with life.

I think everyone should take responsibility for their health and the onus is on me to do whatever I can stay on an even-keel, happy and healthy. Fortunately, I am on a medication protocol that works for me. I’m pretty much 100% compliant with it and consists of a tablet before bedtime and an injection every fortnight. It is well-known that mental health sufferers have difficulties with consistently taking their medication, especially if it makes them drowsy or dulls them during the day. My advice is speak to your GP or consultant open and honestly and try to find something that’s effective and easy to keep going with. For me, I’ve accepted I will need to take medication for life but it’s a small price to pay for the freedoms and fulfilment I enjoy.

Some individuals have a goal of coming off medication entirely. I’d advise to do this in consultation with a health professional. Personally, I feel it’s a risky strategy and you could open yourself up to a relapse. I believe in the proven science of my medication. If you do decide you want to come of the meds then that is a very personal choice to make and only you can make it.

My hope by sharing this article is that the conversation can shift and move towards more acceptance and less stigma, and for people to understand we all get unwell at various times in life and that those who suffer mental health problems are just like everyone else and we are not oddities, or strange or a group to be wary of but individuals that just need some understanding and support. A chat and a joke can do wonders.

If you happen to be feeling low, try and speak to someone as soon as you can. Personally I’ve found that during my darker periods talking to the Samaritans helped. They’re fully trained volunteers ready to listen and can literally be a lifeline during a moment of need. I’ve gone on to raise money for the Samaritans as a way of saying thank you and ensuring they can continue their good work.

Lastly, I have a lot to look forward to and think the future is bright. I’m happy, settled and optimistic. Long may it continue.

For the Samartians call free on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org