I’ve lost a hold on reality, perhaps, a dozen times. While I’ve never been a danger to others, I have put my own life at risk. My scariest psychosis was when I was delusional and asked a friend to beat me up. That was the point my life began to unravel.
My friend took me to the Emergency Department where security guards and nurses tackled me to the ground, strapped me to a bed and injected me with a sedative, before transferring me to the high security ward. Just hours earlier, we’d been sitting in the kitchen with a cup of tea.
My first psychosis was 25 years ago, at Royal Military College, and I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. It’s often hereditary, but for me it was deemed to be brought on by sleep deprivation, stress and exhaustion. The army reinstated me as a corporal and monitored me for six months, without medication. I continued to come in and out of psychosis before being medically discharged, with a full invalidity pension.
I’m not a big fan of labels, but having one back then was helpful.
It explained why I slipped out of reality, the mood swings, depression and poor concentration. The diagnosis also gave doctors something to work with, and a framework for financial support. I made the choice to carry on working and receive a reduced pension – to try and live a full life.
I’ve worked in several jobs since, one for 13 years. I still experience psychosis occasionally, and although each one is scary I can recognise when one’s coming and try to prevent it escalating. Looking after myself helps so I make sure I get enough sleep, drink responsibly, eat well and keep active.
My last hospitalisation from psychosis was a couple of years ago and, although traumatic, they’re easier to recover from than before. My family and close friends know how to brief the doctors, they might say - he’ll pass through the psychosis in less than 24 hours, and, in the meantime, he’d like to be sedated.
I’m open and transparent about my condition with my employer now, but I have hid it in the past. I wasn’t confident I’d secure a job if I said I lived with mental ill health, and it’s tough to self care when you’re living a lie. Being open means I can tell my manager if I’m on the edge or need some time away from work.
I’m hugely grateful for my life now, and can appreciate the beauty in it. It’s been challenging, a couple of times I’ve become seriously depressed and lost the will to live. But I’ve had support from a psychiatrist, psychologist, wife, partners, friends and parents. They’ve encouraged me to take life one hour at a time and let me drive my own recovery. And they’re always there when I reach out.
My past experiences have set me up for what I do now, working for Neami National in South Australia, helping others living with mental ill health.
I don’t think there’s a magic pill for mental health, recovery is a continual daily process. Medication is part of my wellness plan, but not my only treatment.
If there’s one thing that I’d like to share with others, it’s my life motto – On the tough days know that there’s a good day round the corner, and on the good days know that you have the strength to handle the tough days when they come.
Life isn’t a flat, smooth road, but you can welcome adversity, and be grateful. I go outside and experience the sun, wind and clouds. I see the stars and moon and I know, it’s a blessing to be alive.