I Lost My Mind On The 6.56am To London Paddington – Jessica’s Story
Trigger warning: Please consider the following trigger warning before reading this post. Focus around psychosis, with mentions of paranoia, intrusive thoughts and loneliness.
For my 30th birthday, I got a unicorn cake with thick eggshell blue eyelashes and a three tier rainbow sponge. And another unexpected surprise: psychosis. Sandwiched around my landmark birthday like peanut butter and jam melding together between slices of bread were two involuntary hospital visits.
Things fall apart
I had just left a job in Bath and was living in the nearby town of Chippenham and commuting the gruelling journey to London Paddington four days a week to my job in digital marketing, when I started to lose my grip on reality. Once I’d started this new job and long commute to work, my mental health went downhill quicker than a round of Double Gloucester cheese rolling down the grassy knoll of Cooper’s Hill.
At first it was just a strange sense things weren’t as they seemed. This morphed into a psychotic episode and by the time I was sectioned by the police, I was so detached from reality I thought that I was on the telly. I was seeing signs in the world around me; Spotify was talking to me. Netflix was sending me messages. Things such as fallen leaves and graffiti seemed to have a menacing significance. I was very paranoid and felt like everything was part of an elaborate scheme to trick me and injure me.
I had strange thoughts such as the food my flatmate had prepared was poisoned and that people were following me. I thought for a while that I was a research experiment, and that I was being inducted into a cult – my thoughts were confused and I kept imagining new conspiracies.
I felt less and less able to function and eventually lost my job and had to sell my house. I was acting erratically and did strange things such as cut all off all of my hair.
Kindness amidst the chaos
During this period of mental illness I also felt the strong desire to reach out to the people around me. I would leave inspiring Post-It notes and messages wherever I went. I would even make friendship bracelets, deftly weaving together multicoloured threads and leaving them on the train with notes for strangers to find.
This was my way of combatting the dark difficult experiences I was going through, and I continued even when I was in sectioned and in hospital. I would leave upbeat notes around the ward in an an attempt to lift the spirits of the people who saw them.
What is psychosis?
Psychosis is a mental health issue where you experience reality differently. Psychotic experiences include hallucinations, delusions and disorganised behaviour and thoughts. It happens to as many as three in 100 people in their lives and is usually considered characteristic of conditions such as schizophrenia.
‘Mental health’ has become a buzzword in the national press, with anxiety and depression taking centre stage. Although increased media coverage of mental health has helped create a dialogue around mental illness, conditions such as psychosis and schizophrenia are still very much out of sight.
It’s essential for us to speak up about them to help tackle stigma and encourage a narrative around mental illness.
The calm after the storm
Life is different after psychosis; less chaotic. Calmer. People often focus on the psychotic episode itself but recovery from psychosis is challenging and many people have residual symptoms.
I’ve always been very career focused and getting back to work is important to me as part of my recovery, but sadly, last time I went back to work I lasted two days before I was hospitalised for another month. I’ve had to readjust my expectations of what I am capable of, but I still have hope I will get back to work.
Lost and found
During psychosis I kept losing things: my house, my mind, my friends, my relationship. I still think that psychosis is the worst thing that ever happened to me, but it’s made me who I am today.
What I’d say to anyone going through a similar experience is that it’s important to reach out and try and get the help you need – when it comes to psychosis, early intervention typically has a better outcome.
Hope may be hard to find sometimes, but I still have faith that I can experience a good quality of life even living with my illness. Instead of my career, I am focused now on my friends, family and my health.
We celebrate what I refer to as my ‘anniversary’ each year as it’s another year without a hospital admission. This year will be my third year in a row without being sectioned and like last year, we’ll celebrate… with cake!
Thank you Jessica for this candid and hopeful contribution to our ‘Your Stories’ blog. If you’re looking for help and advice on psychosis, visit the NHS website and/or the B&NES Early Intervention in Psychosis website.
Posted on: 28th April 2022