The moment I found myself strewn across the concrete of my garden, surrounded by supermarket flowers I had been attempting to burn, with writing over every inch of my skin and a cocktail of Coco Pops and broken glass all around me. I knew that this was what people meant when they spoke of 'losing your mind'.
Upon hearing the sirens that my friends felt they had no choice but to summon, I began to say out loud “let me sleep, I need to sleep, just let me sleep. And I’ll be OK”. Of course, no one did, and I was soon wrestled into the back of a police van, sectioned and staying in a psychiatric hospital.
It was summer time. I had just finished my first year of university studying film production, and I wasn’t getting to do what I was expecting to do. Which was simply to make the films I wanted to make. I was bored. I wasn’t able to express myself. It felt like my creative voice had been bound and gagged to a whisper. Before I knew it, it began to break free. It was no longer a voice, but a cacophony of chaos.
Sleep became unnecessary. Ideas became a rabid plague. My friends were simultaneously confused by, and unable to keep up with, what I was saying. So my camera and dictaphone became ears and eyes, one’s that would not judge, but indulge the anarchy my mind had succumbed to. I was putting beef burgers into DVD players and arranging breakfast cereals across my kitchen floor. Documenting it all felt absolutely vital. To me, I was communicating incredible notions that would change the world. But to everyone else, they just saw a mess.
What I was experiencing was what people refer to as psychosis. It’s generally considered to be a mental illness. That has never really been a truth I’ve felt able to accept. I kept being told by the staff in the hospital that what I was going through was negative. All I was hearing was “you need medication!”, “You are ill” and “You are a danger to society!” - I disagreed.
Frustrated and quite desperately scared for my safety, I tore up all their leaflets and instigated somewhat of ‘a scene’ with some of the other people staying there as patients. An alarm went off and I somehow weaved my way into their office. I refused to leave until they told me when they would release me. That was a bad idea. I was ‘de-escalated’ and put on a higher section (meaning they could legally keep me there longer).
It bothered me that it was seemingly so easy to be judged as 'insane' by people who had never met me before. These people had no idea about the person I was. The only people in the hospital that seemed to understand, were the others there in the same situation as me. I could talk to them.
The ones whose role it was to heal, treated me as a set of problems and that my every deed was a reflection of them. For example, when one morning a nurse sat down and picked up a newspaper, only to find all the eyes in the photographs had been cut out, his reaction to me laughing at his annoyance was to consider it a symptom of a paranoia. In fact, I was just making a collage of eyes.
After a week, I realised that in order to get out of there, I had to conform. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, but I kept my mischief to a minimum, took their drugs with a smile and presented as accepting of everything they told me. And it worked. It turns out telling people you aren't crazy, however passionate you are about it, makes them think quite the opposite.
That experience left me with an extremely cynical view of mental health care. I had people coming to visit me and make sure I was taking my medication once a week. They were much nicer, but I still didn’t want them to know how I was really feeling. I tried to to go back to university, but I ended up dropping out.
The medication everyone around me kept making sure I was taking, left me completely empty inside. Empty of words, empty of ideas and empty of creativity. Which, because from an early age I’ve wanted to make films, left me heartbroken. I had nothing to give to it anymore. The only thing in life I was ever good at, felt like it had disappeared.
Eventually, I sank so low that I had to get help. I had moved back to my home town, and when I found myself with nowhere else to turn, I found there was still help available to me. My case had been passed onto the early intervention in Psychosis Team local to me. Even though I hadn’t spoken with them for a long time, they still met with me. They let me explain how I felt, they let me define what I experienced and they allowed me to decide what I needed. That wasn’t what I had come to expect from the world of mental health care.
Little by little I began to find some peace in the darkness that I’d been living in. Initially it was desperation that made me realise something had to change. But it was the people who offered me their ears who inspired me to act on it.
'Hope' is a word I used to loathe. It always seemed so biblical, intangible and unrealistic. It was a concept I found myself positively disembodied from. The path to where I am today, was not a straight one. Nor is it the one I left or one I’ll ever reach the end of.
The people that helped me, didn’t put me on it - they allowed me to find it. They didn’t try to fix me; they just reminded me of the things I was good at and they found me things to do that helped me realise that I still had a worth to the world. They gave me the time and the strength to ignite a hope in myself and when I was asked to make a film about psychosis for them (below), it made me fall back in love with filmmaking again.
The experience of ‘psychosis’ isn’t something I regret happening. I’m grateful it happened. It woke me up. To see it as something that is simply ‘unhealthy’ or ‘bad’, reduces my experience. More to the point, It’s for me to define. I’ve never felt truth to best serve when it’s given, it’s better when it’s found. It meant much more than a few words could funnel, if any could at all.
At the time I was my most ‘ill’, all the people around me were left riddled with questions when I felt like I was putting every last piece of all the world’s jigsaw puzzles into place. All the anxieties and angst I had felt growing up, suddenly ebbed away. Everything finally made sense. There was strange type of clarity. I hadn’t lost my mind, I had merely started to find it and learn about how powerful it could be.
We all walk around in little bubbles of reality. Some we choose, some we mould and some are given to us. My particular bubble went through some quite frantic rippling. It palpitated and it shook. Nevertheless, it’s a fairly decent spherical shape these days.
We're sure you'll agree, this is an incredible articulate and illuminating insight into Psychosis and how is sometimes handled within services from John. We thank him so much for his honesty and openness. Do you live (or have lived) with psychosis? How does your experiences differ or compare with John? Let us know in the comments below.
You can keep up-to-date with John on Twitter, where he's @SiSaysPSYCHOSIS