August 4, 2015

My name is Michael. I’m 33 and I am a university undergraduate currently studying for my first degree. This is how I generally see myself.

At the age of 14 I was diagnosed with a version of schizophrenia.  At the time, the world was a different place  - for one, labels and stigma were a lot more prominent than today. I believed the end was upon me, that there was no light at the end of my tunnel. The knowledge I had of my illness at that point was limited. I was scared that I would become the person everyone mocked on the estate, the kind that spoke to themselves and shuffled nonchalantly as the days warped from one to the next.

I was already on medication at the time. This was changed so many times before finding the correct combination - by the time this was achieved, I was in my early twenties and far from the scared child I had once been. Nonetheless, stigma had driven me from my home town. I never truly felt accepted or settled in that community once my diagnosis was public knowledge. 

My nurse showed me I was more than my diagnosis

Stigma had made me the person people avoid: their lack of knowledge and understanding isolated me from people my own age. Thankfully I met someone who showed me that I am more than my diagnosis, that the stigma did not define me or encompass what I was or whom I had to be or become. That person gave me confidence to be me, to stop hiding my true self from the world. That person was to be my community psychiatric nurse for many years to follow. He helped me break barriers that people had built up in my mind over the years due. He gave me a sense of belonging, a new renewed hope that people were not always cruel and unwelcoming as I had believed, but that they had the capabilities for love, for compassion, a tolerance for difference.

At the age of 29 I made a bold decision to go back to education. Things had changed since my diagnosis, and life in recent years had been better for me as a person. I felt it was the right time to try to better myself: I began college and successfully completed an access course to higher education in psychology. I then went to University of Bedfordshire to start my new life.

My son makes everything worthwhile

Four months into my degree I was blessed with my first and only child, my son. At this point, my girlfriend was very far away from my campus. The support I had at university was ok, but not great, and I was feeling stressed.  I was granted a transfer due to my circumstances and now live a matter of minutes away from them both. I see my son every day and he makes everything worthwhile. His mother and I are partners but we do not live together as even now I still need my alone time. My son shows me that people are how they are raised. I may not be able to change the world, but I will raise an informed little man that may one day be able to.

My life has been one that at times has scared me and let me down, but I wouldn’t change a thing for the world. The path I’ve walked has made me the person I am today: the good, the bad and the indifferent.

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