My struggle with paranoid psychosis
Posted Thursday 13 September 2012
I was lucky enough to be in a profession that was also my passion. The added bonus was that I worked as part of a great partnership. But then things started to change.
My friend and boss developed a bowel condition and his wife was diagnosed with MS. Though he put on a brave face, he began to struggle to keep on top of things. One evening, I listened to his endless chatter from one subject to the next and that weekend he collapsed. He took some months off and I took on his workload. His medical certificate said ‘depression and anxiety’; later he told me he assumed he had had a nervous breakdown.
I felt really guilty that I hadn’t seen it coming. When he eventually came back to work, he was a totally different man. His new life didn’t include me: he’d get irritated at everything I said or did and I was gradually shut out of his family life and side-lined by him at work. This was really difficult and I grieved for the person I had lost whilst he slowly got better. This experience meant that I took a much greater interest in mental health, and even attended a course funded by my employer, to help me be more aware of mental health problems in general.
Then a ‘reorganisation’ of departments at work led to us being split up. I struggled with my new life; my role was changed and I was no longer at the pulse of news which meandered around my former team. I felt totally abandoned and unfulfilled.
Two years later, a chance came up to return to my former team, but I didn’t get the job and was crushed even further when my old friend left it to Human Resources to inform me. Then someone we both knew described him as a ‘two-faced user’ and I was shocked; were we talking about the same person? I then started to learn just how much the brain is like a computer and my circuits started to malfunction as one piece of a ‘memory jigsaw’ fitted with the next and the next. I felt out of control and I unhealthily started to analyse and question every aspect of our relationship. I even began thinking that he must have been making jokes about me for years and I decided to keep out of his way.
I then started to get negative vibes from my current team and I worried about people talking about me or putting me in a bad light. Some people started challenging me on my options, about my wages, my role, my approach to work and everything. It felt like I was being bombarded with smirks and lack of team-play. A colleague even implied that my emails were being looked at by senior staff, so I became very conscious of everything I said and wrote.
I tried to act my way through the days and to be as professional as possible, but I was scared of what bullying I may be subjected to next. One day, three derogatory comments were said in my face and suddenly, for a few seconds, I felt suicidal. I was shocked. I had always been someone who loved life. I didn’t tell anyone.
A year later my mother became ill and died. My attempts to get a job elsewhere came to nothing. A male friend, in his concern of me, followed me everywhere, leaving me no space to breathe at home or at work. And then came the day that I wasn’t sure that I could trust my last handful of friends or my family. At that point, I went into crisis.
I spent two weeks in the mental health unit at a hospital, deeply scared that I was not even safe from harm there. My nervous breakdown was coined ‘depressive paranoid psychosis’ and I felt nervous with absolute fear and doubt in my abilities. My brain felt like jelly with the churning of thoughts going round and round in my head. A few months off work followed before I came back part-time. But I couldn’t cope with being anywhere near the people I had worked alongside. I had absolutely no confidence or clarity in any aspect of the work I was doing. I eventually took my escape route through redundancy.
Despite trying to get memories of everything out of my mind, they continued to haunt me almost every hour of every day, even a year after I left. The catalogue of memories were partly real and partly in my mind, but both were just as damaging. I doubted most things and was suspicious of most people. I was sensitive to negative comments and it took me six months to summon enough concentration to even pick up a book. I totally forgot what relaxation really was, I still had no job and didn’t even know if I would be useful, even if I managed to get one. Even strangers saw something in me that wasn’t at peace.
I was eventually weaned off one of my prescription drugs and started to feel more confident about volunteer work and attending job interviews. But then, out of nowhere, it all started to happen again. My brain started linking the past with the present and the present with the imaginary until I was creating stories in my head which felt scary and totally real.
It never ceases to amaze me how physically and mentally strong people can be but also just how fragile they can be too – it doesn’t take much to go from being well to being in crisis. The original version of me was strong and independent, but my story shows that mental health issues can happen to anyone and this is something I didn’t truly understand until I went through it myself.
Mental health problems at work are common. But there are small, simple steps you can take to make your workplace mentally healthier.
If you're struggling with your mental health at work, find out how you can cope or what help you can get.
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