This is my second post for SANE and I decided to make it an article that described the events leading up to my diagnosis in a bit more detail and the treatment I received for my illness.
As a result of bullying while I was in High School, I developed depression aged 13 and after a year of suffering with it, I was self harming and suicidal. People in school who were friendlier to me would ask me ‘Why are you so miserable? What have you got to be miserable about?’ I would tell them about the bullying but even my closest friends never really understood how bad the bullying was.
I left school at 16 with 10 higher grade GCSEs which, looking back, seems like a miracle. In the middle of my exams, I developed a phobia of spiders which became so severe that I had to visit my GP and ask for therapy to help me overcome my phobia. I was referred for CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) but due to the long waiting lists, it was a year before I was seen. Unfortunately during the first ‘round’ of CBT my mood was so low that the psychologist I was assigned to sent me back to my GP so that I could be referred to a psychiatrist. At the GP, I was coerced into taking Fluoxetine (AKA Prozac) which I eventually agreed to take. A couple of weeks before my appointment with the psychiatrist, I started hearing a voice. This voice called himself the Devil and despite being comforting at first, he became so horrible and intense that I was soon harming myself badly and attempting suicide after the most trivial of things.
The appointment with the psychiatrist arrived and I was a bit put off that I was only seen by a student. I was seen by myself initially and was asked umpteen questions. After the questioning, the student left the room to liaise with his supervisor and the voice demanded that I said nothing about him. I decided just to drop heavy hints about the voice. When the student came back, I started telling him about the suicide attempts I had had in high school and then told him things like ‘the Devil wants me to kill myself’. He seemed completely disinterested and after I had finished talking he discussed his findings.
He said that if I had depression it was mild and that I could continue the Fluoxetine ‘if I wanted.’ I had thought I was a bit depressed before the psychiatrist’s appointment and after my GP telling me she thought that my depression was quite severe, hearing the student telling me I had mild depression at most was a bit of a shock. I thought that I was somehow exaggerating things in my head and that there was nothing wrong with me. I figured self harm and suicidal thoughts were normal and that the voice was as serious as a little paper-cut. I silently vowed to never tell anyone again about my thoughts and feelings and that I just needed to grow up. I hid my self harming from everyone and wrote my feelings down in a diary in a bid to try and stop them from becoming too bottled up.
A year after the psychiatrist’s appointment, I went through a downward spiral. My grandparents died within weeks of each other and I attempted suicide again. My grades at college were poor but when I was offered a conditional place at University, I pulled my finger out and worked hard. I achieved the necessary grades and moved away from home to start University. The voice was getting worse but I managed to cope with it whilst studying at University and working five nights a week. After my first year exams were over, I started my second ‘round’ of CBT but this time the student psychologist I saw found out about the voice. I was again sent to a psychiatrist but before the appointment, the voice started commanding me to not eat. By the time I saw the psychiatrist, I was developing malnutrition and a few days later, I saw a CPN (Community Psychiatric Nurse). The CPN drove me to hospital where several tests were done and I ended up being sectioned for 28 days as a danger to myself.
In hospital I was told I had been prescribed Olanzapine. All I knew about it was that I was on an initial dose of 5mg and that it was an anti-psychotic. I was given no other information about it and as I knew that many people had become ill as a result of psychiatric drugs, I wasn’t keen on taking it. I repeatedly asked about it but was given no information so I refused to take it. After three days of refusing to take it, I was restrained and injected with it. The shock of the force used led to me breaking down and robotically complying with most things. The drugs made me feel very tired, hungry and completely out of it. I couldn’t think straight, I couldn’t walk very far before feeling faint and when the voice eventually gave me permission to eat, I ate like fifteen horses!
After I was released, I had to drop out of University and move back to live with my parents. My medication was changed a couple of times whilst I was at home and again I was told very little and had to rely on searching online for information about the drugs. Less than a year after getting home, I was sectioned again, this time on a Section 3 - a six month hold. In hospital I tried voicing my opinions about medication but was either ignored or told that my opinions were wrong. No-one seemed to care that the medication led to me hearing two more voices and caused unbearable side effects. I was just told that it was ‘making me better.’ There were times I felt like screaming that it wasn’t but I knew that I was going to be ignored. Eventually after a year in hospital and 5 months in a specialist unit, I was allowed home. The specialist unit had a psychologist who would see most of us once a week. It was these sessions where I got to the route of the voices and they eventually stopped.
A few months after getting home and the voices stopping, I asked my psychiatrist if I could come off the medications. For the first time, I was listened to and was allowed off them. I kept my opinions about psychiatric medications silent as most of my opinions were classed as delusions. A lot of these ‘delusions’ are now considered facts and one by one, all my opinions are being proved correct. Whenever I see a story that confirms what I already knew, I get annoyed, angry even. Annoyed that I was called delusional despite handing over evidence proving my points. Angry that I would spent hours compiling evidence of my beliefs and that it would be glanced at and discarded.
My diagnosis is Schizophrenia. I have conflicting thoughts over my diagnosis but mostly accept it now. What I don’t accept however, is that psychiatrists and psychiatric nurses tend to take everything that schizophrenics say with a pinch of salt. When something is a blatant delusion, for example, someone saying that Brad Pitt was their biological father despite them being older than him, then I can understand why it is discounted and the patient called delusional. But when someone believes in something slightly different, a bit ‘out there’ and they have evidence to back up their beliefs, I can’t understand why they are just called delusional and ignored. Those who work in psychiatry need to listen to patients who may have slightly different beliefs to themselves. If someone has suffered with delusions before, then why is everything they say classed as a delusion?
Not all who work in psychiatry are drug pushers but unfortunately many are. However, I am pleased to see that evidence supporting my notion that talking therapies are more beneficial than medications is coming to the surface. I have recently joined Twitter and am pleasantly surprised to have found many like-minded people to myself in both Mental Health sufferers and psychiatric workers. On Twitter, I am joining the fight to end the societal stigma surrounding Mental Health but I am also wanting to start a campaign to change psychiatry’s view that medication is the best cure for Mental Health issues. Don’t get me wrong, I know that some people benefit from psychiatric drugs and if you are one of them then please don’t stop taking your medication as a result of my views. However, if you are someone who does not benefit from the medication you are taking then my advice is research the medication you are on and discuss your findings with your doctor. Find out how effective your medication is, but from others who take it. Doctors may tell you that a drug is effective, reliable and comes with few side effects but unless they have taken the drug themselves, they will have no personal experience with it. This is why you need to speak to people who have actually taken the drug.
If you are someone who works in psychiatry then I would ask this one thing of you. Please listen to the people who you are helping and make sure that you are actually helping them, not just keeping them in a robotic state. I have felt like screaming at doctors and nurses in a bid for someone to listen to me and take me seriously and this is the one thing that I wish would change within psychiatry. I am one person though, and I don’t expect that this one article will change the world. I am hoping however, that this will make even one person in psychiatry listen more to their patients and help stop them from screaming to be heard.