The following is a culmination of a 25-year living experience with Paranoid Schizophrenia and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
Here’s the real kicker. The illnesses, the psych ward and a difficult childhood have all played their part in getting me to a place where I now enjoy and cherish each day. Getting to this has meant years of hard work. Some in the mental health team would possibly put my recovery down to the “Medication Gods” finding favour with me. But the truth is thousands and thousands of hours of dedicated and diligent effort was bound to eventually reap rewards.
So in the following pages I’ll take you through my initial psychosis, then the psych ward experience, my recovery and then I’ll tell you why I think l really became unwell. Thanks for joining me.
Journey into Psychosis
“He’s the star player… I really want to go out with him now!” Those were the first voices I heard when I became psychotic. They were the voices of two girls riding a motorcycle past my family home in Rarotonga not long after I had finished playing one of the best rugby league games of my life for our under-21 village team.
One of those girls I was extremely attracted to. Whether or not that factor contributed to my psychosis I don’t really know. From that point on I would hear voices continuously for the next six months. Not only hers but others as well. The total number of different voices I heard was about 30. Every waking moment, of every day l would hear them until I fell asleep.
Not long after that game I returned to Aotearoa and resumed my job at the freezing works. However as the psychosis grew so did my anger, which resulted in me quitting and moving back in with Mum and my Step-dad. I became isolated, paranoid and aggressive.
The days revolved around eating, drinking alcohol, taking pills from the medicine cabinet then my daily exercise routine at the park across the road (usually the only time I would leave the house).
The whole time I was hearing voices but told no-one. Some voices said that they were going to attack me. So on this particular weekend I armed myself with a steel bar and a sharp butcher's knife then waited from them to turn up. Mum and Les were both away and I was the only one at home.
Someone did turn up that day, my GP. After he asked me some questions he requested that I see a psychiatrist immediately but I declined the offer. Next thing I know two police officers turn up with section papers and before I knew it I’m in the psych ward without any guarantees of release. And I would find that whole experience more like a concentration camp than a place of healing.
Counting every Minute
When I first went into hospital I didn’t actually know where I was. The staff were in civi’ clothes, the patients smoked and chatted much like a smoko room and I hadn’t yet made that connection. I was soon taken up to the all male lock up ward ‘Craig A’ at Porirua Hospital. Surprisingly all the patients there seemed like really nice guys and although the staff were pretty solid I didn’t trust or like my primary key worker.
When you’re in hospital your only thought is how fast you can get out. Regardless of how ill I was I worked out within a day that you need to play their game. Getting out relies on taking meds and behaving yourself. So I agreed to meds and was put on Modecate, Stelazine and one other I think. You would have thought I’d be a zombie but actually I couldn’t sleep - so they gave me Largactil as well. A combination of this cocktail soon worked its way into my system and that’s when the bad stuff started to happen.
The number of side effects are too numerous to count. I spent the next six weeks in this hotel of horrors. I would lay down on the floor and literally count each minute. 9:30am..9:31am...9:32am...I was begging each minute to pass by so I could at least find some respite in my sleep. Trouble was sleep time was 12 hours away and I had another 720 minutes to count...then of course I was so focused on sleeping that when it became time to actually sleep l had insomnia. My life had been no picnic even before I became unwell but when I was medicated I was totally suicidal for the first time in my life. I went into hospital unwell, when I got out I was disabled.
This is an important lesson for the mental health system as a whole. The system as it is currently set up is creating a dependence on it by default. When I went into hospital I was extremely fit, incredibly hard working, motivated and well adjusted even with the psychosis. Within a few months of leaving I had put on 100 pounds of fat, was now a chain smoker and my primary concern was how I was going to cope with the rest of the day. It’s no wonder I was in such a mess. My diagnosis of Paranoid Schizophrenia was merely a peripheral issue when contrasted to the treatment I received in the ward. The mental health system created a dependence on their services and on the welfare system by default.
While there are many diligent, caring and incredibly talented workers in the system I knew that it was up to me to find my own answers. The best and worst advice I ever got from a community nurse was “we don’t have any magic wands here”. The truth is they don’t. The magic lays inside each and everyone of us. They don’t have all the answers… and never will.
Keep running the Maze
Throughout my nearly 25 year psych history I’ve been blessed by many mental health professionals. Some were poor, some good but most were awesome. But the most important lesson I ever learnt was to keep searching. As long as you keep searching for the answers to your recovery, you’ll eventually find them...or they will find you. Here are some examples.
When I was obese I tried dieting a couple times and was even sent to a dietitian since my physical health was deteriorating so much. Although I did lose some weight I regained it all plus a bit extra. Long story short I found a book that went against the whole diet industry and the conventional medical advice at the time, yet I lost 40 kilograms on it. I’m still this weight 10 years later.
I gave up smoking also through a book. A book simply based around changing your beliefs about smoking. It was still darn hard to quit but without the book it would have been probably impossible.
I even created my own system for overcoming my OCD Checking. Around 2000 I developed overt compulsive checking behavior but held off seeing the mental health team for another five years. When I finally saw a CBT therapist I was officially diagnosed with OCD. I only ever did one exposure exercise when it finally dawned on me what my real problem was. It wasn’t my anxiety that was destroying me it, was the fact that I couldn’t remember if I had checked something properly after I had checked it. So over the next twelve years I developed a unique memory system that helps me to remember what I’ve checked has been checked properly. The longest a single check of the whole house ever took me was one hour, now I check no more than two minutes for the entire day.
Even this story I’m writing now is due to a system I’ve used to overcome my negative Schizophrenia symptoms. My primary advice to you regardless of which illness you’re currently experiencing is to keep searching. When you’re lost in a maze your only chance of finding the exit is to keep moving. Take meds, do therapy, ask for help but if you’re still stuck don’t think you’re out of options. The mental health system doesn’t have all the answers and never will.They may tell you that they don’t have any magic wands but what they haven’t told you is that you are just as capable of finding better solutions than what they can come up with. When it comes to recovery, you’re ultimately the only ‘Merlin’ that you’ll ever need.
Demons into Diamonds
When I was first diagnosed with Schizophrenia I thought of it as a monster trying to destroy me. I don’t think that anymore. In fact I think the opposite. That this mental ‘illness’ was a gift sent to me so I could make changes in my life. It was a wake up to push the reset button and get my life back on track. Had I known what I was going to go through with hospital and all the darkness post that then I wouldn’t have chosen it. But there’s a calling deep inside that all of us must listen to or else it sends a stronger message.
It’s no wonder l became paranoid, thought people were out to harm me, that I couldn’t trust anybody. These thoughts have been part of my DNA since I was a kid. In my childhood I was beaten, shifted from school to school and from house to house. I had to find full time work at 16 and was out flatting by 17. And I can also remember the exact day my spirit died and I gave up on this life. I was 12 years old and was hit so hard across my face that my feet left the ground. I cried for a couple minutes then got up, composed myself and walked down the street in my village in Rarotonga as if nothing ever happened. That’s the day I made a deal that I would go to a place deep inside myself that no one else would ever reach. I stayed that way for the next ten years until I returned (ironically) to the same house and heard my first voice. My spirit could not let me live this way any longer. I had to become open to the world for my own good. And my Schizophrenia was going to send me voices and paranoia to highlight the very things I needed to change.
Schizophrenia isn’t a monster. It’s a natural healing process, calling our attention to our wounds and the deals we made to survive them.
Now, my life is wonderful.