It was 2006 and over the previous three years I had spent more time in hospital than out of hospital. I’d been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and had become quite recluse. This point in time was, looking back, perhaps the low point of my life, I had almost given up on friendship altogether. I’d hardly seen my friends since becoming unwell.
But in 2006, a friend got in touch with me. We had met at a party the year before, though I had not been well then and had spent much of the party in tears. But he texted me and asked what I was up to, I said nothing but he was welcome to come round. I lived at my mother’s but I had my own apartment within the house; I had my own kitchen, bathroom, living room and bedroom. In the years before getting ill, my flat, as I called it, was a place where my whole group of friends used to live, and we had a lot of fun. However, I had not had friends over for years, so when my friend asked if he could pop round, I was delighted.
To begin with it felt quite awkward – we just watched telly and hardly spoke, but my friend started coming over every night. I went from wanting to always be on my own, to feeling happy for the first time in years. It took time, but I always look back at this as the time when my recovery started, when I thought I wanted more for myself. I didn’t just want to survive I wanted to be happy and friendly, like I had been before the beginning of my illness. For a few years my personality had been shrinking, there seemed less person to my being, but engaging with my friend brought my personality back out and I began to shine. Then a second friend started to join us and I felt part of the gang again, not just a peripheral figure, but almost at the centre again.
Another big step forward for me was joining a local cricket club, two of my friends already played for them, the two friends that had been coming round to mine every day. We had spoken briefly about it, then I made the decision, I went for the plunge, I asked to play. The first match I played in I was very nervous, but with the help from my friends, by the end I felt like a part of the team. Long before my illness had started I had played men’s football for my local team, it had given me great joy to feel like a team member. I’d never played cricket seriously before, but after the first game I was hooked, one friend took me to the cricket shop to get me kitted out. The boost to my confidence and self-belief was massive, I felt like a part of the community, the older guys and the young kids engaged well with me. My mother always says those friends did a great job of helping me realise my potential, not just sit and smoke.
After a few months, I got my driving license back – it had been three years without driving and now I was settled enough to drive again. This opened my life up. I started a voluntary job and eventually got paid work; it was a time in my life when I had the confidence to accept independence and responsibility. Currently I have my own place, I work voluntarily in three jobs and I am looking at a long term recovery. I see less of my friends as they are married, but we still keep in contact. They say they remember those times fondly. When my friends got involved in my life, there was a huge turn around to my illness; they made me feel like more than just a patient, they made me feel like I was more than an illness. Without the help from my friends I wouldn’t like to think where I’d be, but I would be much worse off. If I had had to tackle these problems on my own, I wouldn’t be where I am today, they opened my eyes to the possibilities, illness or no illness, there is a world to engage with.