May 3, 2013

HenryFor most of my life I’ve been dealt with a cycle of anxiety, depression and psychosis that has been (at times) crippling, and (for the most part) misunderstood by those around me.

When I was first admitted to hospital, I knew that I had psychosis but I didn’t really know what it was. I didn’t know what it meant, what caused it, or what kind of stigma was attached to it. The doctors were unhelpful, telling me psychosis was a grey area and therefore hard to define.

Possibly this was the reasoning behind the label they slapped me with. I was diagnosed with Paranoid Schizophrenia, which I know now to be an incorrect diagnosis, and sent on my way. It wasn’t until talking with my newly appointed Community Psychiatric Nurse (CPN) from my local Early Intervention Team that I began to form an idea of what it was that affected me.

Before this point, talking to anyone about my ailment was counter-productive. I’d say the word ‘psychosis’, which most were unfamiliar with (including myself), and then try to clarify with the word ‘schizophrenia’. Not a particularly good idea, in hindsight.

People can be scared by the word 'psychosis'

It turns out that using that word, thanks to the media, tends make people think you’re a serial killer. That or, more bizarrely, that you share your body with an alter ego. (If I had one, I’d call it Janet.) Couple that assumption with some scars on my face, and I had the perfect recipe for scaring people away. Even potential volunteer work was jeopardised thanks to the stigma attached to the illness.

It might seem hard to believe, and possibly quite selfish, but for a long time I was envious of people with depression. I was envious of those with anorexia. Not because I, for a second, feel either of those illnesses are easier to deal with, but because I feel that they’re more in the spotlight. People know, to some basic, uninvolved degree, what the hell those words mean.

I talked to my CPN, my psychiatrist and to others with the illness

Obviously, there’s still stigma attached, there’s still a risk of being ridiculed and undermined, but it seems there may be more understanding of how it can affect people. It was this frustration that lead me to learn more about psychosis and, through talking to my CPN, to my psychiatrist, and to others with the illness, I was able to not only inform myself but those around me. I was then able to keep on talking, not only to professionals but to people in my personal life.

The mutual understanding that I now had with my loved ones pulled me out of my slump, I was able to communicate better, to motivate and (dare I say it?) love myself. I don’t feel ashamed to be open about my problems anymore, because I can explain them.

I've never seen a video that raises awareness about psychosis

However I knew and I still know that not everyone would be able to communicate so easily with those around them. In fact, disorganisation in the way you communicate is a symptom of psychosis, and perhaps one of many reasons the illness has been swept under the radar. I wanted to help, and so I looked to (what I still see as) the main, perpetuating, stigma solidifying force in the universe: the media.

I have never seen any kind of video on broadcast, and rarely even on the internet, that raises awareness about psychosis. Never. I’m sure if I search hard enough, I would find some scrap of something but that’s hardly the point. There is nothing circulating, obvious and available. More worryingly, the only things I do find on anything related to mental health, have something extremely unhelpful attached to them; a negative tone.

I wanted people to understand psychosis without being scared

Everything I see or hear regarding mental illness displays it as this vast, towering thing that swallows people up; chewing at people and never leaving. How is this helpful? This not only makes people more afraid of the mentally ill but gives those dealing with it the idea that they will never get better. It makes them stigmatise themselves.

I wanted to buck this trend and try and get something out there that would give people living with psychosis, their families and those not yet affected by psychosis a chance to understand the illness without being scared by it. I wanted it to be memorable and I wanted it to be talked about.

‘Psychosis Is Nothing Like a Badger’ is an animation I made

Humour is something we can all relate to. So I went about making something I hoped would be funny, whilst remaining inoffensive. ‘Psychosis Is Nothing Like a Badger’, the name of an animation I made in December, is my way of helping the world understand how Psychosis works, that its occurrence is something that could happen to anyone and that it doesn’t have to be permanent. That psychosis, in its own not-so-normal way, is perfectly natural.

Talking is what I want to come out of this and talking is the only way that we can see a permanent change in the social climate surrounding mental health. Having recovered from years of continuous, debilitating mental health issues to a point where they’re still present but very much under control, I can safely say that talking is the best thing for anyone living with a mental health problem and for their friends and family. That stigma can stop this is unacceptable. It needs to be stamped out.

If you are interested in watching the video, it’s embedded below. I hope that it’s of some help to you and that, more importantly, it gets you talking!

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