After returning to Australia to complete my second year working holiday, I became unwell for the first time in 2010. I was working as a nanny and a tour agent, living in short term accommodation and enjoying a new relationship with a lovely guy.
The first thing that I now realise as a major sign of ill health was the lack of sleep. I just did not need it. I was running on air, feeling as though I was floating. I would talk to random strangers in the streets of Sydney about deep topics and then suddenly become paranoid that I was being watched. The backpacker trade that I was starting to be involved in was making me feel like I was an undercover agent – seeking the best prices of tours. I then started to believe that the supermarket workers were following me in the shop to see what I was buying – they probably were following me to be fair, as I must have looked strange at this point. I stopped brushing my hair, washing and wearing clean clothes as I felt I just did not need to or have the time. Everything was frantic – this was my lead up to a first episode psychosis.
Luckily, I was living with housemates at the time who recognised that I was unwell; sadly, they felt the need to trick me into going to a hospital in the belief that I needed to visit my friend who had apparently been taken ill. I now understand that they were lost as to how they could help me.
I found myself quickly admitted into a psychiatric ward where I was baffled, scared and very disorientated.
My brother was fortunately living up the coast in Queensland at the time; he was contacted by the police to say that I was in hospital and that he should get to Sydney as soon as possible. My parents who live in the UK were also contacted; they booked the next available flight.
My experience of the Sydney mental health service was quite horrific. Maybe I only remember the bad times and people, but they were scarring. I have been told that there are now new laws to protect patients, and I hope this is true.
After five weeks I was able to leave the hospital under the care of my parents, with the agreement that I would be seen straight away by a mental health team back in the UK. Somehow my parents managed to get me through the airports and onto flights whilst heavily medicated and drowsy.
I spent the next year recovering back in the UK. The lovely guy that I was seeing in Sydney moved to live in the UK with me and my parents. I was on a few medications, some that had side effects such as making me look and act like a robot. I also gained weight due to the medications which did not help me feel any better about myself. After time, lots of walks along the Kent coast and many hours of sleep I started to get better. I then managed to get a job as a waitress, but the anxiety caused by one of the medications prevented me from fulfilling the job and so the employer asked me to leave. My confidence was at rock bottom; I felt that my life had been taken away from me.
Slowly things did improve. I was living in a lovely flat with my boyfriend and working as a teaching assistant in a local primary school. I then enrolled on a teaching course and graduated in 2012.
Things were going very well by now, I had a full time teaching job and we planned on returning to Australia or New Zealand with my boyfriend. Things were going so well that I decided with the agreement of my doctor that I could stop taking medication. At this stage I had suffered just one psychosis, which the doctors believed was induced by recreational drugs (I had dabbled with weed and also tried magic mushrooms in Thailand). I felt sure I had recovered.
In 2013 things turned again and I experienced my second psychosis. This was almost an exact replica of my experience in 2010. Once again I thought that I could read minds and sing beautifully – both untrue! I would clean the flat from top to bottom and then lay on the kitchen floor as it was cool and comfortable while looking out at the moon – at this stage I believed I was a white witch. I took myself to the local Accident and Emergency department where I had to wait and convince the mental health team that I needed help. I was sent away with some sleeping pills but my condition rapidly deteriorated over the next few days until I was unwillingly detained under the Mental Health Act for the second time, at the age of 25. I was quickly medicated again and my life shattered once more. If I had been listened to at the first visit to A&E perhaps my experience wouldn’t of been so horrifying.
My boyfriend, family and friends would visit, seeing me at my worst. Often I was unable to talk and make sense; my ramblings were quite shocking as I accused the staff of physically hurting me. Sadly no one believed me, even though bore bruises.
I started to write everything down as I struggled to talk, using a notebook that I still have today and numerous post it notes plastered around my hospital room. I kept the notebook because I still believe that whilst in a psychosis you actually are trying to say something that is real. One day I would like to work out what that so-called message is.
I remember a few meetings with doctors and my parents, I tried to act normal in the effort to be released from the hospital but then I would hear voices at the door and believe fairies were trying to get in to the room, and so would try and let them in. I was discharged after around four weeks into the care of the community mental health team.
The time it took me to recover from this second psychosis was shorter, and I was diagnosed with Bipolar Type 1. I tried to see different doctors to get rid of this diagnosis, but it has stuck.
Once again with the help of my family, boyfriend and friends I managed to get things together and landed myself a new teaching job (the original school said I couldn’t carry on with them due to my health). I was open and honest the first day that I met the new principal – She didn’t appear at all fazed by my experience and employed me.
Plans were back on track, working visas were granted for New Zealand we were saving up for the move. I have remained relatively well since 2013, with one wobble in 2015 when we made the move to New Zealand. Luckily I knew how to nip it in the bud and prevented a third episode. I have learnt the importance of regular sleep, exercise and a stable environment. I still take medication for my condition and am fairly happy with that. I do believe that I am a duller person due to the medication, or maybe I am just growing up.
I have also struggled to maintain a happy weight as I found that my medication causes weight gain, but as everyone keeps telling me, it’s better to be a bit bigger and sane than slimmer and in a psychiatric hospital. I am now living a stable and happy life, working as a teacher in Auckland, with that lovely guy who is now my fiancé. Medication has become part of my life and for now I accept that.