I’ve decided to compile a series of blog posts on different mental health conditions. As you all know, positive mental health is something that I support 110% and I play an active role in trying to destigmatise these illnesses and help people to understand them more. However, I can’t help but notice that although we’re all working hard to “destigmatise” mental health issues, that some of them are being left out. It seems that only the more popular and talked about illnesses such as depression and anxiety are being discussed, and I don’t like that. Sure, it’s great for me because I suffer from anxiety, but what about the people who suffer from schizophrenia, manic disorder, and all those other illnesses? I feel like people are still afraid of these illnesses, and that’s why I’m going to try my best to have them explained from the point of view of somebody who has experienced the illness themselves. This way it’s humanized, and will be easier for people to understand and in some ways relate to. I want to destigmatise mental health issues, and I want to do it the right way. There is no mental illness that deserves to be left out.
I’ve been dealing with schizophrenia for as long as I can remember, but was never correctly medicated for it until 7 months ago. I had been in and out of doctor’s offices and counsellors since I was 9 or 10, for things like “depression” and bouts of self-harm. I was always a little different throughout primary and secondary school, I had friends but I was definitely an outcast and spent 95% of my time in a world that my mind had created.
Growing up, I never told anyone about the auditory and visual hallucinations that I had because, in my mind, I wasn’t really in the real world – my body was there physically but my brain was somewhere else entirely and there was nobody that I could trust. From the age of about 12 I was obsessed with death and the idea of ghosts, and that maybe I was stuck somewhere in the middle. I knew I saw things that nobody else could see, but I was so far removed from reality that I don’t think it ever occurred to me that they weren’t actually real.
From my Junior Cert onwards, the auditory hallucinations started and I would hear sharp whispers or flies buzzing when I couldn’t see any. The visual hallucinations were easier to deal with – they always happened in the distance, a shadow or a face around the corner or in a crowd of people that would disappear, and never happened at home. I convinced myself that “they” were actually protecting me. I was paranoid and terrified of everyone in my life. I remember being in the first aid tent during a concert one night and the paramedics trying to give me oxygen after I had been pulled from a rough crowd, and I went crazy. I didn’t believe it was oxygen, the paramedic’s faces were distorted and their eyes were stretched out. I pushed all of them away as they kept trying to hold my arms, and even threatened to put me in an ambulance. That was my first big paranoid experience.
In transition year, I completely shut myself off from everyone. I went to school two or three days a week and I didn’t go out with my friends once. I was still in counselling for what my doctor still thought was depression but had my guard up at every session, terrified that “they” were listening and that I’d say something that would turn them against me. It wasn’t until I went into 6th year that I was moved to another counsellor, the first one that I ever really connected with. Between TY and 6th year, I had started seeing myself in my visual hallucinations. I’d be sitting at the kitchen table and suddenly see a version of myself standing at the bottom of my garden. I’d see myself in shops and on the street. This is the most disturbing and stressful symptom I’ve ever had – I was terrified to look in the mirror in case my reflection moved. This all came out one day to my new counsellor towards the end of my Leaving Cert. He was really helpful and talked me through everything, and I was allowed to move away to college on the condition that I kept in contact with the psychiatrist on campus. Between my counsellor at home and the new psychiatrists, I was put on an anti-psychotic called Quetiapine. I took one every day even though I was paranoid that the doctors were lying to me. In the last 4 or 5 months the auditory hallucinations have decreased a lot. I still see things often but the anti-psychotics help to change my reaction to them – I’m able to stay calm now, I can go to my lectures and even go out to nightclubs now, something I had never done before.
I don’t tell people that I have schizophrenia because moving away from home and school to a new place finally gave me the opportunity to really be myself, take control of my illness and make new friends who appreciated me for me. I don’t feel like a burden anymore, I’m not paranoid that people are out to get me and I can start trusting people. I wanted to write this to prove that schizophrenia gets a terrible and fake reputation on TV shows and in movies. I was never a danger to people. I’m not violent and would never hurt anyone. The only reason I’m keeping this anonymous is because I don’t want to be associated with my illness – I’m not ashamed of it but it’s just not a part of who I really am as a person. It’s just a condition, nothing to do with my personality or what I’m capable of.