Why madness is my reality
In the UK today around 1 in 100 people are living with schizophrenia. It’s a common – but complicated – mental illness that affects the way the mind works and often causes erratic behaviour and disrupted normal living.
Jessica has schizophrenia. Here she writes about what it’s like being diagnosed with it and what an average day in the life of a person with psychosis is like.
I can’t even spell ‘schizophrenia’
When I type it out – S-C-H-I-T-Z-O-F-R-E-N-I-A – it autocorrects to the correct spelling. Schizophrenia. With a Z and a PH. And I keep spelling it wrong even though these days I type it out all the time. I type it into search engines; into self-pitying blogs about how my life is ruined; into text messages to my friends and family.
Despite all this I haven’t learnt the arrangement of these unfamiliar letters. Even the syllables are clunky on my tongue when I say it out loud. And yet still, this word is a painful reminder of my truth. The letters stare back at me defiantly on the page. Mocking me.
The psychosis nurses, peer support workers and psychiatrists I see don’t call it “Schizowhatsit”. Most of the time they don’t call it anything at all. They just ask me, “How are you doing?” And when I say I’m fine they ask about the “conspiracies” or the ‘“signs”.
“Oh those,” I reply. “Yep. They’re still there.” Whenever I’m tired, whenever I’m stressed. They’re there. Clear as day.
Anything can be a sign. From a leaf fluttering onto the pavement to a numberplate speeding by. And these signs have a greater significance. A harrowing meaning that something bad is about to happen. They call this delusions of reference and they’re when you think objects and information in the world around you is sending messages just for you.
I’ve got conspiracy theories coming out of my ears
Netflix is sending me messages; Spotify is controlling my thoughts using music; Extinction Rebellion is out to get me. Or maybe it’s a cult. Someone is out to get me anyway. Perhaps I’m on an episode of Derren Brown. Something odd is going on anyway, I’m certain of it.
Maybe I’m the star of a TV show and if I just run far enough away from my life I will reach the edge of the map like in The Truman Show. I should probably pack a bag. And take out my life savings – just in case – everyone’s clearly an actor after all. All their mannerisms are wrong for the conversation and mood. I must have figured it out because I’ve had a epiphany and I can see right through their routine.
Whatever it is, something is happening and I’m at the centre of it
Which is true I suppose. Only, instead of a giant conspiracy, I’m just losing my mind. Just an average day in the life of a person with psychosis.
At first they just called it “psychosis”, then sometimes they called it “schizoaffective disorder”, and then sometimes someone will call it “paranoid schizophrenia”. Either way, it doesn’t make one jot of difference what they call it. It’s my truth either way. A rose by any other name might smell as sweet and an illness by any other name might still destroy my life completely.
What I want you to know about psychosis is that I’m as scared of madness as anybody.
Only for me, madness is a reality
I’ve had psychosis twice which is unfortunate because it puts me firmly in the camp of severe and enduring mental illness. 80% of people who go through psychosis go on to have more than one episode. And, typically for people who have had two episodes, their illness is more often than not polyphasic, meaning they have several episodes. So I have more madness in my future. “That’s not a nice word,” my grandma says. “But it’s my word,” I reply.
I’m mad. And it’s hard to get out of bed each day when you know that madness lies ahead.
I know this isn’t the hopeful message that dominates recovery blogs but that’s the truth of the matter – that hope is hard to come by amidst a psychotic illness.
Instead of giving up, each day I carve out meaning for myself, finding hope in video games, writing and online courses to help give me purpose and a sense of achievement for the day ahead. I might not be able to conquer psychosis or even to recover completely but I can still live a fulfilling life.