May 21, 2012

Sticks and stones photoI’ve got a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder. It’s not a very common diagnosis so I’ll explain that it is given when a mood disorder (in my case depression) coincides with symptoms of schizophrenia, such as hearing voices or having strange ideas.

I don’t feel comfortable describing myself in this way. I’ll freely admit that I have felt very sad sometimes and once was so desperate that I attempted to end my life. I’m also happy to tell you that although I’ve never heard voices, I have had some unusual ideas.

One idea I had was that Jools Holland was running an undercover operation to rescue people from psychiatry. This was based on the fact that Jools has a studio complex which he has designed to look like Portmeirion, the Italianate village in Wales which was the setting for 1960’s cult TV series The Prisoner. You may remember Patrick McGooghan declaring “I am not a number, I am a free man!” But I don’t believe that anymore and I no longer feel suicidal. In fact, life is quite good.

Psychotic is a terrible word which is associated in the public mind with extreme dangerousness

Schizoaffective disorder is classified by psychiatrists as a psychotic illness. Psychotic is a terrible word which is associated in the public mind with extreme dangerousness but in fact psychiatrists use it to describe anyone who in their judgement is out of touch with reality. I know lots of people who have been diagnosed as psychotic and I have never felt frightened of any of them.

I disclosed my illness and diagnosis to my employer

Some years ago I disclosed my illness and diagnosis to my employer. I had worked in my job for 12 years and was a well-respected colleague. I particularly enjoyed working with the public but I also hoped to have some reasonable adjustments made under the then Disability Discrimination Act.

There was some consternation at the use of a long word beginning with “schizo”. My employer consulted an Occupational Health specialist. This person never even met with me but recommended that I should be “assertively managed” and that my contact with the public should be limited. I ended up with a manager who shouted at me every time I looked up from my desk and spend most of my time filing in a back room.

Two of the most hurtful words in the dictionary: Schizophrenia and psychotic

When I was a kid, we used to say: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”. I have changed my mind. Two of the most hurtful words in the dictionary: Schizophrenia and psychotic. Those two words can ruin your life.

Time to Change is rightly concerned about the way people speak about mental illness. Those of us diagnosed with psychotic illnesses must be particularly worried about those tabloid bogeymen, the “crazed gunman” and the “psycho killer”. But I don’t mind being called “mad”.

I have a daughter, now in her early twenties. She recently bought a horse, which she had been saving up for since she was ten years old. She often rings me up to tell me how he’s getting on. The other day she said: Mum, I put him out in the field today and he went mental!” Politically incorrect maybe, but I love her for being able to say it without worrying about hurting my feelings.

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