25/02/2015 07:16 GMT | Updated 26/04/2015 06:59 BST

How to Recover from a Nervous Breakdown


I appreciate how serious mental health conditions can be. I spent most of my life suffering from intense anxiety and had three psychotic breakdowns to boot. I know many people never recover from these experiences, and this is why I feel duty-bound to write on the subject. Because I have recovered, and so I know recovery is possible. Not easy, but possible. I want more people to understand that fact, so that more will recover as I have done.

I have just published my second book on the subject of mental health, Surfacing. The first book,Surviving Schizophrenia, is a straight memoir, but this one is part memoir and part recovery manual. In it, I outline ten steps to recovery - things that helped me and which I believe would help others. Here they are, in a nutshell:

1. Writing. Putting together a coherent narrative explaining what happened to make us break down is a very healing process. Alternatively, while we are still building our concentration and stamina, we can write fragments of stories, or fiction, or even a list of things we feel grateful for. Writing helps to order our thoughts and to stabilise our minds. It anchors us.

2. Reading. Books can entertain and also educate us. Whatever your preferred genre, reading will make you realise that the human race encompasses a huge variety of outlooks and behaviours but that we are all normal, in our individual and unique ways.

Better still, join a book group and make it a social endeavour!

3. Self-care. This advice is rather worthy/boring, but I don't want to apologise for it. Try not to drink, smoke, or harm your body in other ways. Take plenty of exercise and eat as many of the right foods, and as few of the wrong ones, as possible. Sleep for eight hours each night. Body and mind work in tandem, and if you want them to work well then you have to put the effort in.

4. Getting busy. With four children to look after, I have been fully occupied night and day for many years. My advice to those who are recovering from emotional breakdown is to get busy, and stay busy. Parenthood might not work as a stabilising influence for everybody (it has been known to have the opposite effect!) So do anything - try to find a job, or if you are not ready for this, then volunteer, or study. Gradually this will help to build up your strength and your confidence and help you to re-assimilate into society.

5. Reject the diagnosis. This may sound like radical advice, but I speak from bitter experience. Identifying yourself as a schizophrenic, or someone with a personality disorder, or as having any other 'mental illness' will only bring you down. Instead, tackle the problems in your life, deal with them rationally, forget the framework you have been given for understanding them. (This is one of the longest sections in my book, I feel very passionately about it!)

6. Look outside the mental health system. Unfortunately, the current UK mental health system is unlikely to provide the answers to all your difficulties. So work with the professionals to make the life you want - but also look outside the system for additional therapies. All sorts of things might help - CBT helped me, the Alexander Technique was also useful. A kind and useful practitioner of any therapy really is worth her (or his) weight in gold.

7. Get your mind on side. Trust yourself, think positive, keep believing that you are ok and you are normal and, in time, things in your life will be straight again. They will.

8. Don't care. This is a bit like the last point, with emphasis on the confidence part of it - don't worry about others think of you, cultivate your self-esteem.

9. Foster independence. This means learning that you are capable and strong and ceasing to rely emotionally on others, even those family members who may see themselves as your carers. Stay physically close to your family though and make lots of friends too, because a social network is essential for everybody.

10. Get a pet. Learning to care for another being is good for you, it gives you a purpose in life. If you have a dog, exercising it is really beneficial. If you can't afford a pet or can't give it stability for any other reason, borrow someone else's dog to walk, or offer to look after a pet when its owner is away.

To sum up all this advice: Love yourself. Believe in yourself. You are full of potential and anything is possible. You can turn your life around.

I wish you well. I would love to hear how you or your loved ones get on - so please contact me on Twitter, Facebook or via my blog, Schizophrenia at the Schoolgate!