So maybe you've just been to see a psychiatrist and have been diagnosed as having a psychotic or schizophrenic illness. Or maybe, something has happened, the police were involved and after a spell in hospital, you have been diagnosed with one of these illnesses. Maybe something completely different has occurred but whatever happened, you have just received the devastating diagnosis of psychosis or schizophrenia.
The first thing to do is to NOT panic. Yes, this sort of diagnosis is scary. Terrifying even. But it's not a life sentence. It may well feel like it, I know. But it is honestly 'just' a diagnosis. A diagnosis does not change who you are. This sort of illness may change the things you do and how you feel but it does not change you as a person. You are still you.
The next thing to do is to get a pen and paper or a computer. Something you can write a document on. You need to write about the symptoms you are currently having. Whether it's hearing a voice or voices, seeing things, believing things that you have been told are not true, whatever your symptoms are. You may not feel like these are symptoms. You may believe that what doctors or psychiatrists are calling symptoms are normal experiences. But regardless of what you are feeling at the moment, write down everything that the doctor is telling you is not 'normal'. This will help you at a later date.
Once you have written down your current experiences, write about events that happened and things you felt before your current experiences started. Maybe you suffered a bereavement or were abused. Maybe you have suffered from bullying or maybe nothing major happened. Whatever it was, write about what happened, or what has not happened, and write about how you felt just before your current experiences started. This will again help you at a later date.
With this document you have written about your experiences (or symptoms, whichever word you prefer), events that occurred before your experiences started and how you felt just before they started, you have now got the piece of information that will keep you well when you recover. You will recover to some extent from the experiences you are currently going through and although it may take time, it will happen. What you have written will show you what to look out for when you have recovered so that if you start having similar experiences again, you can get help quickly. It is called by a few names, Relapse Prevention Signature, Early Warning Signs, Early Warning Relapse Prevention etc, whatever it's called, this document will prevent you from having a relapse. The early warning signs are just that, an early warning that a relapse could be on its way. They're handy as they give you the time to get help and prevent you from descending into a dark place again.
Now that you have kept yourself busy for a little while, start researching the diagnosis you have been given. Learn the treatments that are best for your diagnosis, whether it is medication, talking therapy or both. I always recommend talking therapy as that is what helped me. Medication can help too so it can be worth trying.
A common thought on these sorts of diagnoses is 'Will I have to go into hospital?' If you have read any of my blog before, you will have known that I have had two psychiatric hospital stays, one was eight weeks long, the other 17 months. Those sorts of time lengths no doubt sound scary, especially the second one, but it is rare to stay in hospital for so long. Hospitalisation is only usually necessary if you are a danger to yourself or others. Sometimes a stay in hospital may be recommended to you and unless you are being assessed under the Mental Health Act, you always have the right to refuse.
Being placed on a section and forced to go into hospital can only happen if you are a danger to yourself or others. Sometimes, if a person is refusing to take medication, the rules around sections can be bent. It shouldn't happen but realistically, it does so be wary of this. It can help to be med-compliant from the beginning anyway as this will increase your psychiatrist's trust. It can be patronising to have to get someone to trust you but once you have their trust, don't do anything to damage this trust.
Another common thought around these diagnoses is 'Does this make me a bad/evil person?' Psychosis or schizophrenia does NOT make you a bad or evil person. It does NOT mean you are violent. It does not mean the things that many people believe it does. Often, people will think that the word 'psychotic' means evil. In the media, psychotic is often used to describe a murderer. They are wrong. A better word to describe psychotic would be confused or scared. Schizophrenia is the same. It is a confusing and scary period when first diagnosed with one of these but you can recover.
Which leads onto another common thought, 'Will I recover fully?' The honest answer is, I don't know. However, the more honest you are with your psychiatrists, therapists and other '[posh word]ists' the better chance you have of a full recovery. You could be scared of being honest with these professionals, but if you hold things back from them, they can't help you properly. I can't emphasise enough that honesty with professionals is crucial. Whatever you think is awful and you couldn't possibly tell anyone, I can guarantee that the professionals will have heard it all before. Unless they have only just started working in this sort of job that is. Those who have worked in psychiatry for a few years will have heard the worst symptoms imaginable. They won't be shocked by anything.
Recovery in psychosis and schizophrenia varies from person to person. Medication can be helpful in one person but unhelpful in another person. Talking therapy might be extremely useful to one but useless to another. You need to find what helps you as an individual and stick with it. It could take a while to find what helps but never give up. People with schizophrenia and psychosis can live and work in a normal way once they have recovered and everyone has a chance of recovery. The best way to get the right recovery is to find what helps you and stick with it like I mentioned earlier and again, be completely honest with the professionals! Don't be shy, scared or embarrassed when talking to them. They will have heard it all before. It's like feeling embarrassed at having to strip off at the doctors - they've seen it all before and will completely forget you once you have left. It' the same with psychiatrists!
Two examples of high functioning schizophrenia sufferers are Keris Myrick and Elyn Saks. An interesting article about Keris Myrick can be found here and an interesting article about Elyn Saks can be found here. I would recommend researching about these inspirational women more!
Schizophrenia and Psychosis isn't a life sentence. All you need is the right support. If you have any further questions or concerns, please leave a comment here so I can do my best to answer it for you!