Back in September 2016, I found myself in a psychiatric ward – the last place on earth I wanted to be.
Truthfully, it felt like rock bottom.
I hated it, and it felt like life couldn’t get any worse. I remember feeling scared, confused, upset and being on heavy medication.
Looking back, I wish I could tell the person in there that things would get better. That now, seven years on, I’m an author, nearly married and have a full-time job, working for a mental health charity.
That being sectioned was far from the end of my life, no matter how much it felt like it at the time.
In fact, it made me realise just how ill I was and therefore, was the start of my recovery. The start of building the new me.
And while I can’t tell the old me that, I want to tell everyone who is now suffering with their mental health.
I was 26 when I suffered from a psychotic episode. I’d recently moved back in with my parents and brother after splitting up with my girlfriend of three years.
The relationship had started well, but as it fell apart, I began to feel depressed and anxious. We did what we could to save it but, after couples’ counselling didn’t work for us, we had to admit it was over.
I wasn’t expecting the break up to be easy, but I wasn’t expecting the endless sleepless nights, with bizarre and intrusive thoughts racing round my mind relentlessly.
Sleep-deprived and stressed, it wasn’t long before I was talking rapidly, jumping from one subject to another.
I started having delusions that my brother wanted to harm me, that he was watching and tracking me. I heard his voice in my head. I also began believing that organisations were following me online.
My feelings were confused. I was scared, frustrated, sometimes angry. Mum was trying her best to get me help, telling me how worried she was about me, but I refused to believe that anything was wrong.
After seeing a doctor to appease my mum, I got put on a two-week waiting list to see the mental health team, but within that time my behaviour escalated.
I remember throwing random objects out of my bedroom window, thinking someone would see them and save me. My parents called 999 and I was taken to A&E in an ambulance.
On the way, my senses were hyper-alert, and I’d jump at any noise, terrified. I don’t even remember being told I was being sectioned, just being taken to the ward in a taxi with two men, who must have been NHS staff.
Back then I thought people being sectioned meant being forced into a straitjacket while kicking and screaming.
I hated life inside the ward.
I usually love my freedom, and knowing I couldn’t leave really stressed me out. I felt lonely because contact with friends and family was limited. Luckily, the staff were amazing – even when I wasn’t the most pleasant or polite due to my psychotic state.
I was given medication, antipsychotics and mood stabilisers. These helped my brain slow down, allowing me to get the sleep I desperately needed.
I also had group therapy, and enjoyed an art group, which distracted me from my dark thoughts. I was sometimes allowed to go for short walks with staff and get a coffee, and also use the gym facilities, read and watch DVDs.
I had a relapse around 10 months after stopping medication
Eventually, after a couple of weeks in the ward, I was able to start reflecting and focusing on getting better.
I mostly got along with other patients, but some scared me with their erratic actions. One day, a man randomly screamed in my face. I can only assume he didn’t like people near him, so I kept my distance.
When I left the ward after four long weeks, I was relieved, but also quite naïve. Feeling far more like myself, I thought I would get my life back straight away and was ready to jump straight back in.
I certainly didn’t expect the massive uphill battle ahead.
After taking a few weeks off work to settle back home, my employer allowed me to start a phased return to work, starting with two half days a week.
Even this proved hard though. One of the side effects of my medication was lethargy and I had no energy. Getting out of bed felt impossible and I’d find myself napping on my commute and during my lunch break.
The idea of the phased return was to slowly get me back to full time, but after nine months, I had to admit that it wasn’t going to happen and I was made redundant.
Then followed six months of unemployment and a return of my depression. This resulted in me doing something reckless, something I wouldn’t advise to anyone: I quit my medication without advice, or telling anyone.
I stopped the pills because I blamed them for making my life miserable; I didn’t think recovery was possible with them holding me back.
At first this gave me a welcome energy boost and I started volunteering for a charity. I even started exercising, losing some of the weight I’d put on since being sectioned, which boosted my confidence and self-esteem.
Then, I discovered some much-needed comfort and hope when I started reading mental illness memoirs, leading to me sharing my own experiences through writing and talking openly about what I’d been through.
Sadly though, I had a relapse around 10 months after stopping medication; I had to spend time at a local day treatment facility, as well as start taking medication again.
The relapse was another psychotic episode so it was similar to before. This time though I experienced more anger as part of my behaving out of character, which was difficult for those around me and gave me a lot of guilt as I recovered.
I was also offered Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, or CBT, this time – which allowed me to learn self-compassion and how to deal with stress.
Since then, life has slowly improved. I’ve finally got my medication right. Now, I find I can think clearly during the day and sleep well each night, with minimal sedation side effects.
I’m currently working in the marketing team for a wonderful mental health charity called Hertfordshire Mind Network and will soon be happily married, two things I used to think would never happen to me. My partner knows all about what I’ve been through and is beyond supportive.
I wish more people knew that getting sectioned doesn’t mean life is over, that it provides the treatment you need to start a recovery, instead.
If I wasn’t sectioned, I think my first psychotic episode would have lasted much longer (as well as my recovery from it). Now, I know that intervention was vital.
I also hope that being sectioned gets a better level of awareness and understanding, as it is not like what people think. You are taken care of by compassionate people, who get you back on track to better mental health.
I think it is impossible to recover alone, and I feel like it’s not worth trying, in my opinion.
Getting my life back feels amazing, and even though it’s been a brutal journey at times, it’s allowed me to become a better version of myself and I wouldn’t change any of it.
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