June 26, 2013

AliceI am an artist based in London and I have schizophrenia.

I have been very lucky in having many kind and supportive friends with whom I have been open with about my diagnosis, but it wasn’t always so. When I was first unwell I found it incredibly difficult to be open about the condition, particularly in a work environment.

My first job was as a photographer for a newspaper in Devon. I had my first psychotic episode in the office where I worked in 2003, at around the same time as the notorious coverage of Frank Bruno’s ill health in the Sun.

Some of my colleagues were incredibly supportive but some were bullying

Some of my colleagues were incredibly supportive but some were bullying and very unhelpful. The company I was working for decided to demote me when they found out about my illness. I think attitudes are improving thanks to campaigns such as ‘Time to Change’ and the work of others to tackle stigma and I have found that my own openness about the condition has helped other people in my life realise that my illness does not define me.

I spent many years in my twenties living at home with my parents because I was too unwell to fully gain my independence. I would always stay in because I was frightened of going out. However, I was very lucky to meet a supportive friend who, when I was feeling a bit better, suggested that I should try to go to university and study Fine Art. I applied and was very surprised and excited to be accepted at Chelsea College of Art. The move to London was quite a scary prospect, but my friend was studying too at the time and, with his support and encouragement, I was able to do it.

I decided I would be open about my illness

When I moved to London I decided from the start that I would be open about my illness. This didn’t mean going on about it constantly but being honest to my friends and letting them know what might happen and who to call if I was to become unwell. To my surprise, everyone was incredibly understanding and other people told me about their own experiences of mental health problems.

When I became unwell again at university, my friends there helped me through the roughest times and helped me get back on my feet. I had an incredible three years at university and found the staff and students wonderful and made many good friends. When I finished university I was put in touch with a mental health charity and was able to volunteer as a photographer for them and this gave me a renewed sense of purpose.

Art has helped me express difficult feelings

I have recently gained an MA in Fine Art Photography from the Royal College of Art and been fortunate enough to take part in a few art exhibitions since graduation, and am trying to make a career out of my art work.

I think art has helped me a lot in being able to express difficult feelings, and my creative endeavours have helped me channel my energies into something productive. I would recommend getting involved in something creative to anyone with a condition such as mine. It can be a good way to feel better and to do something practical, even if you are not feeling very well and can have great benefits.

There is a lot of stigma attached to schizophrenia

Stigma is still one of the major problems attached to conditions such as schizophrenia.

Last year I witnessed a man I knew being almost thrown out of a local coffee shop for looking a bit eccentric when he was unwell. It made me furious to think that people can be so unkind. When that happened I was able to have a conversation with the owner about my own mental illness and asked him if he would be so unpleasant to someone with a physical problem such as a broken arm or leg? The coffee shop owner opened his mouth like a goldfish but no words came out and the man who was unwell had a coffee with me and then went on his way.

It makes me very angry and upset to see the lack of stories about how so many live with schizophrenia in a brave way. Violent acts by people living with schizophrenia are actually rare and it is impossible for people to have a proper balanced understanding of conditions such as mine, without the nature of reporting being addressed. I understand that is important that violent incidents are reported in the press, but it is also equally important for people to understand the brave lives that many people with schizophrenia lead.

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All disabilities, that have a presence, produce a reaction. If it is a disability we relate to we will have empathy and understanding. If a person's behaviour, for whatever reason, crosses the boundary of what people perceive to be 'normal' then defense mechanisms are used to protect ourselves. These will range from just ignoring, to actions to contain the behaviour. It is a very difficult area and also depends on the context and the people around. With regard to the press; they are wedded to labels and stories which heighten peoples emotional reactions to increase sales. That isn't going to change unless the public change and stop subscribing to the 'offenders'. There is a hierarchy of papers and magazines that cater to specific tastes. Conversely the Media is obsessed with 'perfection', 'celebrity' and delights in their 'fall from grace' Ultimately it is education that will make a difference and personalities such as Steven Fry are leading the way. Non of us can share in the intensity of another person's state of mind, but we can recognise the internal world of pain.

The media

Hi Alice....Maybe 20 odd years ago i worked part time as a reporter for a local radio station. I covered christian affairs for a sunday morning programme and enjoyed it emensliy. Unfortunatly i gave the job up due to mental health issues. Due to modern medications and a whole range of clinical psycology sessions i have never been as well as i am now. I really would like to give working in the media another bash and ive got all the equipment i need and all ready submitted work to the station but ive had no response from them. Living in hope makes life worth living. Schizoprenia can manifest its self in many different ways such as ' FIGHT' or ' FLIGHT ' Flight is where a client removes themselfs from an unwellcomed situation whilst not making a big issue about it. To fight is to display violence in an uneasy situation and the media only covers this type of story. Anyway Alice, i wish you all the best in your work and your artistic endevours. GOOD LUCK

My beatiful 18 years old son is going through some tough times

Hello, I never write publicly about personal matters but you gave me hope. My son was just diagnosed but he refuses to talk to anyone. He is so scared of the stigma. He denies, denied and tells me off for suggesting help because he thinks the label will ruin his future. My son does not have the support of friends as he used to live abroad. He too is an amazing artist and wants to study fine arts . I hope soon he too will be better and achieve like you. Thank you! C

Hope things are going well

I hope things went well for you and your son in these 2 years. It's very hard. My son was also diagnosed 2 years ago at 19 years of age and I totally understand what you're saying. Things have improved slowly - still not perfect, but I have hope they will continue to do so. Friends are the main problem - he has no close friends at all. We also lived abroad so I also understand your son's situation. My son's much more open about his diagnosis now - but my heart broke when he told me a few weeks ago his diagnosis always looms before him in his mind when he's about to try something new. It's hard to watch your child go through this. I want so much for him to regain his sense of worth and pride in himself, and not regard himself as just a diagnosis. Fingers crossed:)

Openness is the key to recovery from Schizophrenia.

I was diagnosed with Schizophrenia 21 years ago. However I succeeded in life by being open about my diagnosis. Today I am a qualified Lawyer and a Mental Health Nurse. I strongly believe the brain is like any other part of the body that is susceptible to diseases, and people with physical condition do not feel ashamed to disclose there diagnosis why should I be ashamed to disclose my emotional distress. I know there is stigma attached to emotional distress especially psychosis (Schizophrenia) due to ignorance and negativity bias by the media in reporting mental illness and crime especially homicide. However concealing diagnosis of schizophrenia only worsen the symptoms and the prognosis. I concur there is no much success story about people with a diagnosis of schizophrenia who are excelling in all there endeavours. Charities will play a great role here by using people who are recovery from schizophrenia and doing well in there set out goals and objectives in life especially in careers and academics to demystify the myth that people with a diagnosis of schizophrenia are worthless, violent, and emotionally bankrupt. The general public opinion can be swayed and changed in this process. Everybody in my cohort knew about my diagnosis and I excelled in the programme because I was not scared people will find out. I must confess few students were unfriendly however majority were on my side. I have a dream to eradicate stigma associated with mental health issues. We should all know and remember the brain is the power house and more sympathy and empathy should be shown to people who have a condition that affect their brain. I am available and ready to volunteer my services for free to promote the end stigma campaign.

support for people with schizophrenia

Sadly, I think that unless you have family support or unusually supportive friends or mental health workers who are willing to go the extra mile then people with schizophrenia are still likely to 'slip through the net' when it comes to recovery. My family were only happy to be supportive 'from a distance' whereas I had really wanted to return home after becoming ill in my twenties in order to have some stability whilst I tried to focus on how to recover. It's only now that I am almost aged 50 that I am further along the recovery road and after a very bumpy start I now thank God for being here and have found my Christian faith a huge support. I still take antipsychotic medication and regretfully am diabetic now with metabolic syndrome due to the resulting weight gain. I still find that some health professionals and people write me off because of having several health conditions, and especially being a plus size. I would have loved to have gone to art school or studied nursing, but now, aiming to be realistic am looking at options closer to where I live as I have friends and some support in my area.

my schizophernia story positive

firstly my language is not english so if you want to go through it coopreate it started when I was 20 I was keeping things inside my heart I was not expressing myself the case that time was I was in love with the girl who dint loved me back at the end ya I was depressed tired and left alone in my room all the time and one day when I was drunk I finally found courage to express with my friends and I was doing okay but i wass still depressed and as the time was moving I was hit by schizophernia I was hit by the thought of another girl from the same class whom I though she used to love me back and I had this dream about myself and the world that I was the most powerful man on earth like some kind of god and her whom I thought to be goddes and was made for me I had this dream that 21st century could be diffrent if humanity was there it would be a better world I was in this dream to create a better world for living that was the reason I was here me being in a form of god to help this dream come true in earth I had this extreme feelings on everything my hallicunation hearing voices was music lyrics as if she was calling me I used yo think I people used to hear my thoughts and my thoughts were positive and powerful as I had extreme feelings which could pass to others everyone could live a happy life I used to think if the management of money could be done eceryone could live a happy life that was my dream and now as my doctor says if I smoke weed it will hamper but I smoke and my brain has more amount of dopamine than it should be so my thoughts moves fast when I am high and still I haven't given hope I still dream of making a better world to live though I am sick.

Reply to Saroj

Dear Saroj, thank you for sharing your story. I only just read it (2018)and I am hoping that by the time you read this, you will be well on your way to full recovery. I would just like to kindly suggest that maybe you should balance your weed intake with CBD oil. CBD helps in your condition when used with your prescribed antipsychotic medication. I hope in your country it is affordable as it can be quite pricey but it's worth a try. What also helps with the psychosis is eating 3 balanced meals a day as well as healthy snacks and some pomegranate juice to keep your energy up. Take plenty of naps and a daily walk in the sun to boost your vitamin D. You do want to not take anything that increases your dopamine levels so keep that in mind. Also please avoid conflict from now on as you are now extremely susceptible to stress. It helps to have a peer buddy to help you with some tasks, especially when the depression and lack of motivation hit. He or she can also help you think positively when the delusions and persecutory thoughts strike. Finally, when you can manage it, it helps to study for a profession or rewarding career when the voices have quitened down. The growth in self esteem that results from achieving is instrumental in overcoming schizophrenia. Also please develop a strong faith and relationship with your Creator so that He can bring you back when your mind wants to stay inside forever. Please also remember that there are people in the world who care about your condition. You are living with a very debilitating disease, but with the right support, love, encouragement, food and medication, you can live a fruitful and productive life. Please believe this. All the best for your future and hold on to hope.

Beautiful Minds..

How in the world people can bully anyone, and specifically after knowing the fact that someone is mentally ill. This is fundamentally a sign that those who bully are psychotic and mentally-ill rather who is getting bullied. This is where mainstream and social media must drive to quell this basic human nature of bullying even for fun. The society must come forward to provide workplace for all. Everyone accept with every other person for the contributions and not on their problem points as aspects that determine success or failure of a capitalistic society. [I am not paranoid on such terms, but just blaming the core setup that is all geared towards performance and money-driven happiness & survival setup/governance]. May God give all the required strengths to all differently enabled people!

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