January 8, 2009

I'm a graduate of 52 and my career was ended fifteen years ago when I suffered an acute psychotic episode. I was hospitalised for six months, had six treatments of Electro-Convulsive Therapy (ECT) and found starting all over again one of the hardest things I have ever been faced with. It was like doing a jig-saw puzzle with no picture to follow and some of the pieces missing. The greatest obstacle to my recovery was my severe loss of confidence. Working to retrieve my confidence was a challenge but I got there in time.

Having a mental breakdown showed me who my true friends were. Several friends deserted me. They could not cope with the idea I had had a severe breakdown. One told me that life's too short for nervous breakdowns. Another said I had lost my sparkle. A cab driver who took me to an outpatient appointment at the psychiatric unit, referred to it as the “nut house".

I had been labelled a “psychiatric case" and medicated at the age of fourteen when I became depressed after the death of my grandmother. She had been a major figure in my early life and upbringing. My parents had simply taken me to a psychiatrist without telling me about the appointment. I was too scared to tell the doctor about my dysfunctional family and so was my mother.

After the psychotic illness in l993 my recovery was slow but it was sustained and last year I decided it was time to find my voice.

I opened up a Word document and started to type. The words came tumbling out. I sent my piece of writing to a friend who suggested I get it published. It was immediately accepted by Mental Health Practice magazine and appeared in the magazine last June in the monthly feature My Mental Health.

In December last year I found an article in The Times about an author who had her book published by Chipmunka. I felt motivated to write a book and help others as well as myself. I contacted Chipmunkapublishing and, having returned my contract, set about writing a book. This was very different from writing a short article. This time I could hardly keep up with the flow of words and my fingers really flew. In March 2008 Don't Mind Me was published in E book and was soon in the Chipmunka best selling list. Don't Mind Me is the story of my dysfunctional childhood and teenage depression, my abusive first marriage, my experience of rape and domestic violence, my terrifying descent into psychosis and my recovery

I was thrilled to see my book reviewed in such journals as The Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing and Your Voice (Sheffield). I posted details of my book wherever I was able, on Social Perspectives Network, and social networking sites. I wanted to spread the word. I wanted to raise awareness of mental illness and try to get people to see there should not be any stigma attached to mental illness. I have received many messages of support from people who are in mental distress and many positive reviews and comments about my book, in particular from mental health professionals

In October 2008 Don't Mind Me was published in paperback. It was so empowering to see my book in print. The process of writing my story was very cathartic. It has helped me find closure. I have found that the process of writing about traumatic events has helped those events to lose their power in my psyche and the memories hardly bother me now.

Since writing my book I have achieved something I never thought I would achieve. I have passed my GCSE in Maths. My father had taken me out of maths lessons at school so I never sat the exam. This affected my choice of subjects and though I went on to graduate in Politics I am now finding I love to study science and I am back at college taking a core science course. I have also found the courage to start driving our car again after a break of six years.
I would like to continue writing.

If there is anyone out there who wants to speak out or take action against mental health discrimination I would say, don't hesitate, do it. Get a notebook and start writing. Get the words on to the paper. You can polish the words later. It is so good for the psyche to write. As far as mental health discrimination goes contact your local Rethink office and see if you can go on their free one day media training day to learn how to speak up against things you read that don't seem right. I am about to start working for them part-time on a voluntary basis.

I came off my medication in 2000 and though I have had to take it again for short spells since I have been medication free for over two years now. I developed cataracts and a weakened liver through taking medication so being able to cope without it means a great deal to me. I have re-married too and having the support of a loving partner is something I never thought I would have and is of great help in maintaining my good mental health.

To anyone in mental distress, speak up about your experience; we all need to raise awareness of mental illness which affects one in four of us - it can happen to anyone. Let's all work together to end mental health discrimination.

© Judith Haire 2008

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