This is probably the most personal and open blog post I will ever write as ATP…
The illness began at the start of 2003 but it was not until April /May that even I realised I was ill. Over the first few months of that year I started to notice some of my thoughts and beliefs were shifting from reality – it all started subtlety, but by June I had a false narrative and voices in my head.
When I say voices, it was not random personalities. It was more like my subconscious talking to me and commenting against every thought I had. It was not something I was able to talk to anyone about and kept to myself, hoping that it would go away and I would feel sane again. That did not happen – in fact it was the complete opposite.
The thoughts and voices got louder and I had a constant stream of noise in my head. This carried on for a few months and it all got darker – I was beginning to hallucinate, became depressed and held a constant belief that I was going to die.
My thoughts had created a twisted weave of despair in which the psychosis fed off the anxiety. I was constantly questioning every single thought and having daily panic attacks. All the time this was my secret – no one else knew that was happening.
As the summer moved on I became fixated with death and the fact I was going to die. It is impossible to put into words the kind of beliefs I had. Everything was fantasy, I felt like I was in a film and writing my own script on a daily basis. Looking back I can’t believe I held it all together as long as I did. I managed to sustain a working week and on the whole function around friends and family.
It was at the end of July things got really bad. I was listening to the radio and heard a story about someone who had psychosis, could not live with it anymore and jumped in front of a train to stop it. I tried to fight it for weeks, but it got to the stage where I wanted to do the same; I researched ways to kill myself and thought about the effects it would have on my family and friends. Even after that – it seemed like the only option I had.
I am not going to go into the details but my plan was not able to go ahead due to my brother changing his plans for the day and being at home when I returned from work. That night I broke down and told my brother what was going on in my head. I still have no idea how he dealt with it all so well.
This was the first time I had told anyone about the thoughts and voices in my head, and the dark world I was trapped in. Suddenly everything intensified. The voices got stronger – the belief I was going to die grew and I struggled more than ever.
I told my brother on a Friday night and on the Saturday I met my parents to tell them. They did not really understand what was going on – none of us knew how to deal with it from here. I felt weird – I was starting to tell people my dark secret – the thing that I carried for the last 6 months. In many ways this started to make things worse.
On the Sunday I went home and was unable to sleep – I had a panic attack and could not shift the belief that I would die during my sleep that night. My brother took me up to the hospital and after hours of waiting I was eventually seen by a doctor, given a Valium and sent home.
The next morning I went back and spoke to a doctor in the mental health department who said something to me that actually helped – ‘we see 100s of people like you every year’. I suddenly realised I was not unique, i was not alone in my experiences – but before I knew it, I lost reality again and slipped back into my dark thoughts and the belief I would die before the end of 2003.
The months that followed were horrible. I continued to have panic attacks and my mind played tricks on me – there was still the gap between my world and reality, but at least people knew what was happening.
I tried to be as open and honest to people as I could be, but the whole time I was questioning everything and although I knew I had a mental illness – I believed I was cursed and I had to find a way to free myself. I guess in some ways I did eventually free myself, but it took a long time.
I described my mind and thoughts like a ball of wool that was full of knots, the knots were misguided and over a period of 8 months I had to unlearn things and rebuild my sanity. It was hard – I was in hell and there were so many times that I just wanted to give in.
A network of friends and family helped me get through. I realised there was progress when I had a day without any dark thoughts, but then the next day it all came back. After a while the moments of clarity lasted longer –relapses happened and I was knocked down again. After a long, long time the bad times faded away and became less frequent.
In all honesty – I think it took be a good couple of years to fully rebuild myself and be able to look back on it all as an illness that I was cured from. Over that year I questioned everything – I tried to find every possible way out of the pain and confusion I was going through – but in the end it was time, counselling and support that helped me.
When I first started telling people about what was happening to me, all I wanted was for someone to say to me – ‘I have been through the same thing and it will get better’.
That never happened and one of the reasons I am writing this, is in part, to document what I see as a massive milestone for me, but more a way of helping others who are suffering from mental illness.
There is no shame in saying you are ill, sometimes it can seem like a dark secret, but it is nothing to be ashamed about. Getting better takes time and you will have a roller coaster of ups and down but when the dust settles you will be a stronger person for going through it all.