My recovery to a full meaningful life with schizophrenia and ME
Like Charlotte, the editor of this fabulous site, I have a favourite mental health quote:
“Recovery is about building a meaningful and satisfying life, as defined by the person themselves, whether or not there are on-going or recurring symptoms or problems.” (Shepherd, Boardman and Slade 2008)
For me, this recovery has taken a generation. Since I lost my grandmother to breast cancer at 12, and became consumed with guilt over her decision to keep it secret from the family and that I’d never managed to notice she was ill, I’ve had mental health difficulties. When I developed chronic fatigue syndrome at 16, during A-Levels, I limped on to university, but after my first year I had the most horrid depressive breakdown, requiring attendance at a day hospital for a year.
I would then return to college to do Media Studies and university to get a 2.1 in Journalism, and go on to work for BBC Radio 4, Sky News Radio, cable television (as a newsreader and reporter) and to enjoy a taste of success. But this shattered dream didn’t last long … because a national broadcaster which knew all about my ME/CFS and increasingly obvious depression and anxiety disorder turned me down for 21 consecutive contracts, and I was sectioned and attempted suicide in hospital. I had been told paranoia-inducing tales of spies vetting journalists and monitoring the more subversive ones. I was contacted by a very unwell gentleman in Harrogate who claimed this was widespread practice and my life was in danger. There were books about this in my local library too.
Eventually, with the help of an antipsychotic drug, a mood stabiliser, a tranquiliser, my fifth different antidepressant and some sleeping pills, I managed to gain insight and regain control of my mind, and hence life. This psychotic episode happened 8 years ago and I was last suicidal 3 years ago. I feel, finally, a huge leap in the direction of recovery and that I have rebuilt my life to a point where it’s now meaningful, fun, full of potential and I’m optimistic that, whilst I’ll inevitably have setbacks, I’m firmly recovered.
Here's an amusing anecdote to illustrate just how far I’ve come. Three years ago I was so suicidal I couldn’t even leave my bedroom, except for meals and ablutions. I then had support workers taking me, one bus stop at a time, to the next village, and hailing it as a major achievement when I managed to do this on my own and meet the support worker there. I was suffering terrifying low mood attacks, panic attacks, paranoia – I was dreadfully ill.
Well last week I made my first solo unaccompanied visit into Manchester. This went so badly wrong that nobody could possibly make this up, but yet I achieved my goal and am a happy man!
I took the first of two trains, only to be told by the guard that it wasn’t a permitted route so I’d need to change twice at two different stations. No panic attack at this stage … though I contemplated taking a diazepam. After changing trains once, at the second station the electronic displays were all broken, and there were just two minutes to catch the connecting train, but as I got off the train I heard I had to get from platform 1 to 4, with the train already in the station, because of a platform alteration. I missed it and so did everybody else.
Panic attack! No displays, and no staff to ask. “What do I do now?” I thought. Well I went up three flights of stairs, over a bridge, down three more flights of stairs, and onto platform 4 where there was a guy in bright-orange uniform.
“The next train to Manchester Piccadilly is the Hazel Grove train in 15 minutes,” he said, unapologetically. Great. Panic over I thought. Just wait here and then I’ll soon be in Manchester for my meeting. But then another passenger came over and said: “Actually it’s platform 3”. So over we all went up and across and down and back almost where we started. Then just as the train was due, I heard over the PA system: “This is a platform alteration. The next train for Hazel Grove will depart from platform 4.” Panic attack again. I could see the train arriving, and I thought to myself – could I possibly, with chronic fatigue syndrome, make it back up and across that flipping bridge in time. This time I had a mild asthma attack too. Inhaler taken, I stumbled as fast as my legs and lungs could carry me.
Well I did it, and I made my meeting in Manchester and we went to the Arndale Centre shopping afterwards as a reward.
So there you are. Not one split-second of paranoia. There were a couple of fairly significant panics. But without diazepam I made it into Manchester and back all alone. Except on the way home, there was signalling cable theft on the line and I didn’t get home until 7.40pm. There’s something to be said for learning to use public transport again when you have urges to drive into oncoming traffic like I do, sometimes even at red lights. Trains are never dull. They're always eventful. And infinitely less dangerous than driving (yes the DVLA do know about my suicidal school of driving and they haven’t taken my licence off me yet -- though I haven't driven for years!).
But best of all, you always delight in finding out a little about the other passengers whose lives touched you that day, and you hope that you touched theirs a little too. Our collective stories that day of misfortunes on British public transport should be published in an anthology. It would sell well!
If you'd like to read more about my writing and blogging please visit my website: www.ianbirch.com or my Time to Change blog. Thank you for sharing my journey and I hope to see you again soon.