For 29 years I’d gone through life without ever experiencing any medical problems. Physically I was fine, and in terms of my mental health - well it was so good I just took it for granted.
Two years ago this changed. A lack of sleep coupled with stress brought on a severe psychotic episode.
Among my delusions, I started to think people could read my mind. When I picked up a newspaper I could see hidden messages. The radio would play songs and adverts that were targeted at me. And I couldn’t turn on the TV without presenters and programmes tormenting my mind. At times I could hear a low frequency noise. It was as if the people I spoke with were wearing an earpiece, and they were being briefed by someone on what to say to me.
I had completely lost touch with reality to the point where even walking around a store I’d see different shop signs and groups of people, and in my mind they all meant something. Whatever I was thinking at the time, the things I saw were a response.
With my behaviour erratic - I ended up ringing the police having ran out the house barefoot - my family persuaded me to speak to a health professional.
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Shortly after a consultation I was given antipsychotic medication. Home visits followed and then eventually I was assigned a mental health support worker who visited me regularly at home. And who still does to this day.
For the first week, my wife took time off work to care for me. She made sure I ate, bathed and was occupied. We sat playing cards, doing jigsaws and talking because I couldn’t interact with any sort of media for fear it may trigger me. It would be months before I turned on the TV, looked at my phone or even picked up a newspaper.
Unable to understand what was happening, I ended up quitting my job and went on to briefly claim employment and support allowance. I stopped exercising and this, along with the side effects of the medication, saw me put on over two and a half stone in weight.
Initially I was scared to speak to people, partly because my brain was still recovering. I was working out what was real and what wasn’t. Whether people could read my mind. And if people could see just how unwell I was.
For a long time this meant I didn’t contact friends. I was focused on trying to get better, and with the help from my support worker we looked at things like coping with stress, spotting early warning signs and developing a crisis plan.
According to NHS England, a proper care package for someone experiencing their first episode of psychosis costs about £8,250, but not everywhere is in a position to provide this level of funding. Whilst truly unfortunate, I found no shortcomings in support. From group activities to help me get out the house and socialise to assistance for my wife - all bases were covered.
When I did feel able to return to work, there were inevitably hiccups along the way. I had surrendered my driving license, and it took a little while to get a temporary one that is now reviewed periodically.
Having found employment I thought I could immediately do exactly what I did before, but I couldn’t. The little resilience I had to any sort of stress meant I couldn’t cope when challenges came my way. I chose to resign.
Battling this and my low confidence, circumstances weren’t ideal. I had used all my savings (and then some) to pay bills.
Fortunately in October last year I got a job working in a call centre, which I’ve been able to maintain - albeit with some adaptations.
Today I can mingle with people. I have seen my friends socially. I have come off medication, and most importantly, I have come to realise what’s important.
Before becoming unwell I was in two minds about having a child. But last year my wife and I agreed to see what happens. I had changed. This May we welcomed a little boy into our world, and I couldn’t be happier.
My life insurance might now be unaffordable (it really is!), and my trousers a bit bigger, but I have lots to be grateful for.
At the moment my health is relatively okay, and for that I am thankful. About 86% of people who experience psychosis go on to relapse, so I know what I’ve got now is special.
The true cost of psychosis can be devastating. But there is hope.
Recovery isn’t straightforward, and whilst medication can be challenging I’ve found there is a life to enjoy. Things can get better.
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