My problems with my mental health started when I was 13. Not long after I started my third year of high school, I started suffering from depression. My problems worsened when I started being bullied, and this bullying lasted for three years. At 14, I started self-harming and just after this, I attempted suicide for the first time. Fortunately, the depression lifted after two years, but despite the improvement in my mental health, I couldn’t cope with the bullying anymore. I decided to leave school after completing my GCSEs and instead of studying for A Levels, I opted to do an apprenticeship in computing.
The apprenticeship meant that I was at college one day a month and worked in a placement for the council full time the rest of the month. Unfortunately, I was given very little work in my placement, which meant I spent the vast majority of my time with nothing to do. It was soul-destroying sitting for long hours with no work and although I wasn’t suffering with depression at the time, I think the chronic boredom had a bad influence on my mental health. The placement lasted eighteen months until I was able to complete my apprenticeship, and I left feeling extremely relieved that I no longer had to stare at a blank computer screen for hours at a time.
A few months after I completed my apprenticeship, I decided to go back into full time education. I studied for a diploma in Music Technology at a local sixth form college. Two months into the course, I started hearing a voice, who called himself the devil. This voice made it very difficult to study for my course. There were times that I was so distracted by the voice, I couldn’t hear the tutors talking. I got into trouble a few times for not doing any work, but I wasn’t being rebellious, I simply couldn’t hear what was being said. A couple of months after the voice, I became delusional. I believed that I had a daughter who had been taken away from me just after I gave birth to her. Other smaller delusions followed and to this day, I have memories of events that I have no clue if they are real or delusion.
Just before the first delusion manifested, my grandfather died. Just after the delusion and a mere 47 days after my grandfather, my grandmother also died. This sent me spiralling into depression again, made worse by the devil voice and the emptiness I felt at not being able to see my daughter. I became determined to find my daughter, so on my breaks from college, I walked around the town, discreetly looking in prams to see if my daughter was inside. I wasn’t going to take her out of the pram or away from her parents if I’d found her, all I wanted was to see her and know that she was OK. I believed she would be better off with her adoptive parents (part of the delusion) but I hoped that if I did find her, I could speak to her parents and see if I could see her more often. I sometimes spent three hours walking around town looking for her, playing the song ‘Somewhere’ by Within Temptation on repeat. The song can still make me cry to this day.
With all this going on, my studies at college weren’t going well. However, I decided to see if I could get into university after just one year of my diploma (instead of the two years it took to complete it). By this time I had learnt how to listen to people instead of the voice and finally, my work at college came up to a good standard. At the end of the first year, out of the nine units I’d been studying, I achieved seven distinctions (the highest grade). It was more than enough to get me into university but I had to do a foundation degree to start with, and get over 60% before I would be able to progress to the second year of a full degree course.
I left for university at 19, in a City around 75 miles from home. Within a month, I had found work in retail, which meant me working 25 hours at night during the week. Despite getting little sleep due to the late hours in my job, I was still able to do quite well at university. However, the devil voice was becoming more threatening and just after I finished my first year at university I was doing virtually everything the voice would tell me to do, at the detriment of my physical health. I had achieved an average of 65% in my first year, equivalent of a higher second or a 2:1. I was pleased with this and hoped that I would be able to keep that standard up in my second year, but this wasn’t to happen. Just before I started my second year of university, the devil voice commanded me not to eat or drink anything without his permission. He told me that if I did, he would kill my family.
Terrified by this, I ate nothing and drank just two cans of Pepsi Max a day. That was all I drank a day; no other water or other drinks, just two 330 ml cans a day, which was one calorie a can. After the first week, I became quite dizzy, and during the second week of this, I was frequently having to sit down quickly to try and stop myself from fainting. After two weeks of this, I was sectioned as a danger to myself. In hospital, I refused to drink anything at all, and in the first four days, all I had was one 200 ml cup of water. I was having daily blood tests and after these four days, I was told that certain levels in my blood were at dangerous levels. I was told if I didn’t drink soon, I was going to die. But I didn’t care. All I cared about was obeying the devil voice. Just after the warning, I experienced my first forced injection, Olanzapine (Zyprexa), and this scared me into accepting Ensure Plus drinks four times a day.
After six weeks of not eating, the voice finally allowed me to eat and drink as I wanted again. However, the olanzapine I was now taking in tablet form caused me to gain a considerable amount of weight. After another two weeks in hospital, I was discharged but made to go back home to live with my parents. Less than a year later, I was back in hospital, where I experienced more forced injections and also saw the arrival of two new voices. After a year in hospital, I was sent to a specialist unit, where I stayed for five months. It was here that I got the help I needed, in the form of talking therapy. Two months into the therapy, I had the breakthrough I needed, and began to recover.
After being discharged from the unit, I stayed fairly well. Seven months after discharge, I came off the antipsychotic I had been taking for over a year, and found I stayed reasonably well. I began volunteering in a cafe around this time, but soon found that it was having a negative impact on both my physical and mental health. I left after four months and felt bitterly disappointed that I had failed in my attempt to get back into paid employment.
I stayed well for around two years, until this time last year. I became physically unwell and during my second stint in hospital, I had exploratory surgery. The surgery seemed to trigger a psychotic relapse and I woke up from the anaesthetic in a deluded world. I felt like I was living in a world similar to that described in the film The Matrix. For those who haven’t seen the film, I basically felt like the world I was living in was a computer generated world. I desperately wanted to find a group I called The Resistance, who I believed would help me find my way into the real world. After three days in hospital after the surgery, I was sectioned a third time and again I experienced forced injections during a three month stay.
A lot of what happened during that three month stay in hospital last year feels like a blur, and I can’t remember a lot of what happened. I remember writing down my thoughts, which covered eight sides of A5 paper, and I also remember someone (either a nurse or a social worker, I can’t remember which) telling me, while I was delusional, that my delusions would make a good movie. After the three months in hospital, I spent three weeks at home before being admitted again. This time though, I was voluntary. I was detained under a section 5 (4) (a nurses section which lasts up to six hours) for an hour and a half, but aside from that I stayed voluntary the whole time. After a month, I was discharged and have been out of hospital ever since.
I’m currently taking Quetiapine (Seroquel) for the third time, and overall, I have been on fourteen psychotropic medications (fifteen if you count procyclidine), nine of which were antipsychotics. I’m in a good place right now, and hoping that the stability I’ve had for the last two months will stay for a long time. I still hear one voice, have intrusive thoughts and occasional paranoia but I’m coping. While I would love to be symptom free again, I know I have to be patient with myself and know that it could be a while before this happens, if it even happens. But I remain hopeful that one day, my illness will be a thing of the past and I will get back into paid employment, off benefits and living what many people would call a ‘normal’ life.