John, March 26, 2020

“Some of the misconceptions  about me, and others with  my diagnosis, are that we’re  dangerous or unpredictable,  to be given a wide berth.”

My diagnosis is schizophrenia. I’ve had four catastrophic breakdowns in my lifetime; three of these were so severe that I was sectioned under the mental health act. However, for some 12 years during the intervening period of my 3rd and 4th breakdown, I was largely mentally healthy, engaging in relationships and work.

Some of the misconceptions about me, and others with my diagnosis, are that we’re dangerous or unpredictable, to be given a wide berth. I kept quiet about my diagnosis at work for fear of discrimination - I just wanted my colleagues to see me as another ‘normal’ human being.

I find it hard to talk about my diagnosis, I don’t often refer to it due to the stigma around it which I feel is still very much present. Despite some good campaigning work during the last few years, I think there is still some way to go.

Schizophrenia is complicated. Some view it as a syndrome or a collection of mental health illness all bundled up as one. Some argue there is a genetic component to it; others say it may be due to the environment where a person has experienced significant trauma in early life. I've been left shocked after a period of being unwell, as it can creep up without me noticing, so I have to stay vigilant. To help with this I practice mindfulness, observing my thoughts.

In the past my diagnosis has made me feel worthless. I lost confidence and found myself stuck in a quandary wondering what to do, but I got the right combination of help and treatment so was able to pick myself back up. I'm still reluctant to engage in conversations around mental health for fear of exposing myself and certainly wouldn't introduce myself to a stranger as having experienced schizophrenia until I had built up a relationship with them or felt I was on sure ground.

Sensationalist articles in the media about schizophrenia haven't helped my cause either.

Rather than the rabid, crazed and out of control portrayal, most people with experience of schizophrenia are actually withdrawn when they are unwell, frightened of going outside and do not reach out to others. There is a big risk of suicide with this diagnosis.

I don't fit the stereotype. I cook and clean for myself, work part-time and I also volunteer at a community hub which I find very rewarding - they really value my contribution. I have a strong network of support, I read a lot, watch movies and like to be active, as exercise improves brain chemistry and mood. Previously I’ve worked at quite a senior level, travelled internationally and managed six-figure budgets. I've been in serious relationships - the longest was for five years - and though it took a while for me to share my diagnosis, in all the relationships I've been in my partners have been understanding and supportive. Though I’ve been quite unwell in the past I've engaged fully with life.

I hope by sharing my story the conversation can shift and move towards more acceptance and less stigma. I hope people can understand we all get unwell at various times in life and that those who experience mental health problems are just like everyone else - we are not oddities, or strange or a group to be wary of, but individuals that just need some understanding and support. I have a lot to look forward to and think the future is bright. I'm happy, settled and optimistic. Long may it continue.

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