A few years ago if someone had said to me, Josh you will experience psychosis and it will be confusing and frightening and change your outlook on life forever. I probably would have said something unhelpful. I was ignorant back then. I thought people who suffered schizophrenia or psychosis were dangerous and violent. I hadn’t even heard of schizoaffective disorder!
But in 2018 things started to change for me, something had not been right for months and it was like this dark shadow was slowly engulfing me. I became more and more ill. I was slowly being taken over by paranoia. I was hospitalised with psychosis, more than once, although at the time I didn’t think it was psychosis.
In my head, my delusions made complete and utter sense and I had evidence to prove it! Well I thought I did. Some of my delusions were paranoid and some were grandiose. Like the fact that I thought I was king and I had special abilities that I didn’t want because I could accidentally harm people around me. I say this now and it seems laughable really. But at the time it was so real.
A female friend came to the hospital to see me and I refused to see her because I was so delusional. I thought a family member had put camera’s all around my house. Including my bathroom. So, I turned the house upside down looking for the non-existent cameras. When I heard a creak in the wall, I thought it was a camera moving or being turned on or off. I didn’t sleep or speak to anyone for 10 days during that episode because I didn’t know who to trust. I didn’t post anything on Facebook for months as I thought it was secretly being monitored. Needless to say, I was hospitalised, more than once.
At no point did I hurt anyone, get aggressive or do any of those things scary psychotic people are supposed to do. Quite the opposite, I tended to withdraw. Hide away. Run away. Lock myself away and if anyone wanted to know what was wrong? Well, they must have been trying to get information and couldn’t be trusted.
What I will say is it was one of the most confusing and frightening times of my life. The world was full of untrustworthy people and I didn’t know where to turn. I was very unwell and extremely vulnerable.
A person recently asked me if schizoaffective disorder meant I had two personalities, a normal one and ‘psycho one’ as they called it. I have to be honest I didn’t really know how to answer that. But just to clarify, no it’s nothing like that.
To be honest, for a while I didn’t share my diagnosis readily because I found a lot of people treated me differently once they knew I experienced psychosis.
There have been occasions where I have felt very isolated due to my diagnosis.
I suffered greatly and was treated terribly by a lot of people. They didn’t seem to realise that my distrustful and strange behaviour was due to a serious mental health problem. It was put down to me being problematic. That’s how it felt anyway. I was so vulnerable and I felt humiliated. Many people still don’t look at me the same as they used to. That used to really bother me, but now I realise people shouldn’t look at me like they did before. I’m stronger, more assertive and I know my worth.
If you want to support someone with schizoaffective disorder, particularly if they are experiencing psychosis, the best thing you can do is understand that in that moment their reality is different to yours. It’s not personal. Use empathy to try and gain a better understanding of how scary and confusing it must be to believe people are out to get you or monitoring you. Sometimes people who are mentally ill may act in ways you don’t understand, but it isn’t who they are, it is a part of their illness.
So the good news is, with medication and support from mental health services I’m doing much better and I now realise how ill I was before and leading up to my hospitalisation. I’m not the same Josh anymore, my confidence has grown and I feel content and happy with my life. I realise now, I have to make my mental health a priority or risk a relapse.
I’d like people to give attention to schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder and all those mental health conditions we avoid or forget about when we discuss mental health.
There is no shame in having a mental illness. In fact, I believe those who live with, and overcome mental health problems are some of the strongest people I know.
It is hard trying to recover from an illness, it’s even harder when that illness is surrounded by so much stigma.
I am very lucky I have some fantastic friends, a family who are fighting my corner relentlessly and I’ve met a lot of new friends on my journey too. I’ve also been lucky to meet people who have seen the potential in me and have provided me with some fantastic opportunities. I know not everyone has that much support, when you have a serious mental illness, particularly one like schizoaffective disorder, the fact is some people are going to be cruel. But many won’t be and those are the ones worth keeping around.
One of the greatest things I learnt during this period of my life is how resilient I am. How resilient we all are. It has given me the confidence to know that I can tackle whatever life throws at me and that is a rather good foundation for a happier life. There were times I could have taken my life, there were times I was very close and now I look back and I’m so glad I didn’t. I would have missed so much amazing stuff that has happened since then! When you come out of a really dark period like that you appreciate the good times so much more.