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14 Apr 2022, by Jessica

Sharing my experiences online helped me reclaim my identity

From writing about her struggles with alcohol to writing about her psychotic break, speaking out about her experiences of mental illness has helped Jessica reclaim her identity in the face of severe mental illness.

You can find links to her articles about her journey throughout this blog.

From finding hope in the time of psychosis to my struggles with alcohol and pledging to be squiffy no more, writing about my mental health issues has helped me understand more about my conditions and has provided other people with relatable stories about mental illness, which are still so sparse. I’ve written for a range of charities about my mental health experiences including Sane, Rethink, Bath Mind, Bristol Mind and Second Step.

I’ve had two psychotic breaks and now have a diagnosis of Schizoaffective Disorder. Giving a name to my condition helped me make peace with it. Some people call me mad but I’ve come to understand that my brain is just interpreting reality differently. Psychosis, or a psychotic break, is a symptom where you experience symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations. It’s extremely disruptive and often becomes a lifelong problem.

Writing to help balance myself and reclaim the narrative has been an important part of my journey. When I first got ill I initially believed I would fully recover and I found progress was a lot to do with finding hope in recovery. These days I understand the importance of keeping stress in check. and prioritising my mental health above all else. Now, rather than feeling I will find complete remission, which is statistically very unlikely, I’m starting to learn that I will have to live alongside my illness for the rest of my life. Instead, I try to be kind to myself and find a way to see the silver linings of these experiences, while remembering that my illness has given me some of the worst experiences I can imagine. It is now my aim to avoid relapse at all costs but be aware of the poor statistical outcomes. I call this “hopeful realism”.

I’m big on being realistic with a sprinkling of optimism. When we talk about mental illness we need to make sure that we don’t sugarcoat mental health issues. A lot of the stories out there are all about overcoming mental illness, which just isn’t possible for many people with psychotic illnesses. A lot of the writing about mental illness is either stigmatising or inspiration porn. We need to paint a realistic portrait of severe mental illness and make sure that the narrative we are crafting is true to life.

I don’t believe in my own recovery now, in the true sense of the word at least. I don’t think I will ever be symptom-free and off meds, but I believe I can live a meaningful life alongside my illness. It’s not always a smooth ride and there’s a lot of stigma out there.

Mental health services gave me hope when things were at rock bottom. They might be underfunded, but they saved me several times. I’ve been in hospital so far a total of three months (two months the first time I had a psychotic episode and one month the second). And have been under the care of the Early Intervention for Psychosis teams and then Community Mental Health Teams. Although I’m often critical of the blind optimism of mental health teams, they’ve helped pull me up when my mental health does a nosedive with medication and regular visits. I needed to be sectioned and have medication or things would have been much worse for me.

All this writing has been so meaningful for me, and I’ve decided at the grand old age of 33 that I want to be a mental health writer and activist or “madvocate” when my health allows so I can change the world for the better for others.

Although madness is my reality that doesn’t mean I can’t still achieve things alongside my illness by telling people about the reality of psychosis. I take joy in writing and although I struggle with my symptoms, I hope that I can still live a fulfilling life alongside my illness.

As well as writing for charities, you can also find me on Twitter @lifeinunreality and on my blog www.lifeinunreality.wordpress.com


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