Katy's Paranoid Schizophrenia Story
When I was younger, I used to play a game where someone would say a word or phrase and you were to say the first thing that popped into your head. If I was to play this game with people in the street and say ‘paranoid schizophrenia’, I wonder what the responses would be. I’m guessing a lot of people would say either ‘evil’ or ‘murderer’ and if you had asked me five years ago, I probably would have said one of those words too.
As someone who suffers with paranoid schizophrenia, I’m used to hearing my diagnosis on the news. It’s always in a bad light. Always. Either a murder or other violent crime has been committed and the media’s insistence on only broadcasting negative stories about schizophrenia ensures that the stigma around this diagnosis stays painfully bad. When I was unwell, I was hearing voices and suffered with delusional beliefs amongst other things. I definitely didn’t spend my time planning inventive ways of killing people. No, I was just scared by the voices I was hearing and confused by the delusional beliefs I had.
The first noticeable symptoms of schizophrenia started when I was 18. I was walking through town on a break from college when a male voice started talking to me. In the months that followed, this voice would tell me to harm myself but it also told me to harm other people. I didn’t want to hurt anyone, and so I never did, despite some commands being unbearably loud. Two years after the first symptoms started, I neglected myself so badly that I was sectioned as a danger to self.
Two days before I was sectioned, I had attended university, and worked my usual shift in my part-time retail job. It was so upsetting to go from a working student to a sectioned psychiatric inpatient in hospital in the blink of an eye. After eight weeks in hospital, where I was forced into taking antipsychotic medication, I was discharged and sent home. My symptoms hadn’t improved however, and I ended up back in hospital less than a year after discharge.
I tried five different antipsychotics but didn’t find any of them to be helpful. The statistics say that around 75 – 80% of people with schizophrenia will find antipsychotic medication to be helpful, but I appear to be in the minority of people who don’t find it helpful. I was symptomatic for four years before I finally found something that helped.
Talking therapy was a valuable lifeline for me. The psychologist I saw was able to unpick my delusional beliefs and managed to help me see that what I was going through wasn’t actually happening. Talking therapy doesn’t work for everyone, but it worked for me. I believe it saved my life. Getting the right help for my illness was what enabled me to recover. Also, being treated as an individual went a long way to ensuring my recovery. Everyone with schizophrenia is different, so we all require tailored support to help us through the times when we are unwell.
Mental illnesses have such terrible stigmas attached that many sufferers end up stigmatising themselves. I know I did. I came close to maiming myself when I was first put on antipsychotic medication. The word antipsychotic made me believe that doctors were calling me an evil murderer and I desperately felt that I had to disable myself to prevent me from harming anyone. Being labelled with schizophrenia made me stigmatise myself even further, but fortunately I was able to recover and learn the truths of schizophrenic illnesses before the label of paranoid schizophrenia was attached to me.
Paranoid schizophrenia has made me hear voices and suffer with delusions, intrusive thoughts and a very low mood, but it has never made me evil. When I struggled with my illness, I was just confused. I wasn’t murderous. If you had seen me in the street, you probably wouldn’t have given me a second thought.
Nowadays, you wouldn’t know I had schizophrenia, unless I told you. A lot of sufferers are quiet and shy like me, and we wouldn’t and couldn’t hurt anyone. Yet the attitude towards schizophrenia, and paranoid schizophrenia in particular, seems to be that we’re all murderers-to-be who should be locked up for the safety of others. But schizophrenia doesn’t mean I have evil eyes or an array of weapons. I’m just me. As Lewis Carroll wrote, “I'm not strange, weird, off, nor crazy, my reality is just different from yours.”
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