Video of my recovery from psychosis by CBT

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Recovery from psychosis by CBT - my story

I was feeling quite low on the day Charlotte commissioned this video so although I smiled with my voice I did not with my face. This is how people who've mainly worked in radio often are anyway: we forget we are performing to camera!  This video was unrehearsed and unscripted, by the way ...

Transcript of video

SCENE ONE - INTRODUCTION

Well I first had CBT when I was at university, studying music, because I got chronic fatigue syndrome and I had this total sleep reversal pattern where at night, I was just awake all night long, and during the day, I just slept solidly and I missed all my lectures.

But what I noticed was during the night, when I was taking showers, I started to feel like I was in a gas chamber, and I was imagining poisonous gasses coming out of the shower head, and this was very frightening for me, and so I mentioned it to one of the counsellors at university and she referred me to one of the clinical psychologists there.

SCENE TWO – CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST

When I started seeing Patrick, the clinical psychologist, he noticed other problems – such as that I was very, very phobic about food.  I thought people were going to poison food, that was around and about in the community, not specifically for me – at this stage of my illness – but I thought it was possible that people had spiked things with harmful things, or there were tests being carried out on the population by the government.  And these were the first early warning signs that I was going to be psychotic at some point in the future.

SCENE THREE – STRESS VULNERABILITY

Fast forward ten years, and I’d done media studies at college, and a journalism degree at university, and I’d gone on to work for a number of broadcasters, setting up newsrooms and being a radio and TV newsreader and a reporter and a news editor and my life was going very well and there was no trace whatsoever of psychosis and there was minimal paranoia.

But then, I was turned down for 21 consecutive job applications at the BBC, mainly because I had ME and it was affecting my ability to do the job. It was causing depression, affecting my ability to use the telephone – which is a central part of a journalist’s job, and the ME was stopping me from driving quite often, so tasks had to be reallocated to other journalists.  And though there are acts, such as the Equality Act, now, which aim to provide safeguards in the workplace, these weren’t really in place at that time.  So after 21 job applications, all of which were turned down, I had the world’s biggest nervous breakdown, known as a psychotic episode.

SCENE FOUR – PRODROMAL PHASE

At this point, I’d been believing that spies had been involved in my failure to be selected for a permanent contract at the BBC.  I thought, from what I’d read in ancient newspaper archives, and in a few books, that are available from Amazon still, today, that it was a certainty, as far as I was concerned, that there were spies vetting my career, monitoring my activities and blocking my career progression – and that they’d followed me wherever I’d been working, monitored my internet use, and sent me out on specific stories where I would come across things that were very sensitive – such as nuclear and defence installations – and other things that were really top secret.  And indeed in some cases I was actually prevented from running those stories!

SCENE FOUR – BEING SECTIONED

So after being sectioned, and attempting suicide in hospital, I was eventually released, and the long process of recovery began.  And as part of this journey, I was referred for cognitive behavioural therapy again -- first in the third sector, then on the NHS – and this has been the biggest breakthrough of my life and has completely transformed it. 

Yes I still have paranoia; yes I still have low mood.  But what I have now is a degree of functioning and a meaningful, optimistic and happy life.  I work, I have leisure activities, I volunteer – and this is all due to CBT.

SCENE FIVE – CBT FOR PARANOIA

So what kinds of things happen when you go into a CBT session?  Well, for paranoia, you look at different strategies.  The sessions begin with a timeline of your history, but the main focus is what you can do, in the present, to help yourself when you’re suffering from paranoia.

So I’ll give you some examples.  First of all we have the pie chart.  Now the pie chart’s a very simple technique.  What you do is ask yourself, I’m paranoid about, for example, shoplifting.  I’m being followed by security guards yet I’ve never stolen anything in my life.  Why are they following me?

So you can rate possibilities.  It might be that anxious people look suspicious, and I’m anxious.  Is that likely? Would a shoplifter be anxious? I think so.  So we give that a high score – maybe 30 or 40%.  It could be I’m known to that particular shopping centre because often appear very anxious so, again, maybe 20%.  And you keep on adding up percentages until what you have left – 10, 15, 20% -- is your belief in that, and so you’ve reduced the anxiety and the emotions right, right down and, all of a sudden, you feel that you’re able to continue in that situation and each time you approach it, the anxiety gets lower and lower

SCENE SIX – CBT SELF HELP FOR LIFE

Even though I consider myself to have made a “personal recovery” – the medical term for a complete recovery being a “clinical recovery”, this means basically that I still have symptoms on an everyday basis. I still have low mood and I still suffer from paranoia.  But each day I deal with that paranoia – and I can usually do so on my own without contacting any of the professionals for support.  So for example I was on a train journey into Manchester the other week, and I heard spraying noises on the train.

Now you might think, automatically: “Is somebody doing graffiti with spray cans on the seat behind me?”  But I thought – was it a biological weapons test by the government on people on the train [laughs out loud] and this is something that I’ve read about in newspapers that happened maybe fifty years ago.  Nobody would suggest, seriously, that that still happens today.

So I rationalised it, using a Why? Diagram on this occasion, to ask: “Why am I hearing spraying noises?”  And I identified it was because the train – it was a hot day and there was a problem with the train, and the train later broke down.  And when the train broke down that was the end to my paranoia, and I could go about the rest of my day, and I was fine from that point onwards.

AND THIS IS WHAT CBT CAN DO FOR YOU!

Resources on the internet for CBT for paranoia/psychosis:

Please type these addresses into your address bar or Google search bar:

  • getselfhelp.co.uk/ - Get Self Help - leading source of CBT work sheets and information for CBT therapists and clients
  • cci.health.wa.gov.au/resources/index.cfm - Centre for Clinical Interventions - another much-recommended, this time Australian, CBT self-help site:
  • aminormal.org - Am I Normal? - if you'll excuse the name this is a brilliant site for first-episode psychosis and lists great books:

More information about psychosis and psychotic experiences:

Royal College of Psychiatrists leaflet - Severe mental illness (Psychosis)

SANE - Whitecrow's personal story of psychosis: sane.org.uk/how_you_can_help/through_your_eyes/story/120

Rethink - Antipsychotic medication factsheet: rethink.org/document.rm?id=664

Comments

What a searingly honest, brave account of psychosis. Well done for having the courage and altruism to share these painful and intense experiences. The more people understand about these issues, the better, and I guess the only way people can be made to understand is by reading accounts such as this.

Thanks so much for your generous and kind comments.  It did take courage to open up, especially on camera, but, like you, I hope the more open people like me are then the greater understanding others will have of psychotic experiences and the more inspired people going through them will be to realise that recovery is possible -- not a complete recovery (there is no cure) but a return to insight and a meaningful and enjoyable life.

Take care

Ian

Hi, Ian:

First, The formatting of this is brilliant: the videos and sectioning. Very readable. It is interesting to me that people often assume that those who struggle with mental illness are not part of the work force, not pursuing higher education. When I was at my worst, with addiction and even bipolar disorder, I managed to go to my University classes, albeit, not particularly well. Psychosis is terrifying---I cannot think of another word to describe it. I'm glad CBT has worked so well for you. I have tried it but was unable to open up, so it was difficult. Perhaps in the future this will change.

Thank you for sharing your story Ian.

Until next time, Natalie

Hi Natalie

Thank you so much for your encouragement.  I'm so sorry to hear you weren't able to open up in CBT, especially as you open up so beautifully in writing and your blog posts are so poignant.

Psychosis and suicidal compulsions are indeed the two most terrifying things I've ever been through.  I'm going to write about the first time I heard voices (which I don't any more) in a future blog.

I really hope you'll be able to open up in therapy in the future and please stay well.

Take care,

Ian

A very brave, honest and insightful account Ian, once again a remarkable blog that I am sure will help many. Thank you

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