Robert blogs about how he has found meaning and purpose through his mental illness.
Content warning: this blog mentions attempted suicide.
I have had schizophrenia for just over 20 years now, and it’s been both a blessing and a curse.
“All the pain, paranoia, voices and horrid thoughts that have come into my head have made me who I am today”
A mate of mine asked me a while ago if all the positives that have come out of my journey with mental illness have been worth all the trauma I experienced when I was younger. ‘I’d never been asked that question before and it really made me think. Although I know the answer is more complex than just ‘yes or no’, if I had to pick a side, the answer would be….. Well yes!
All the pain, paranoia, voices and horrid thoughts that have come into my head have made me who I am today and without them I know I wouldn’t be here.
I don’t know what it’s like not to hear voices and I don’t know who I was before it all began but I do remember the very first time the weirdness began, and it has never stopped since. I was just a kid when it started. I had never even heard of schizophrenia, I was so into my paranoid delusions back then that I totally believed people were out to get me (including family and friends) and however bizarre it might have seemed to others it made total sense to me.
‘I lost everything and tried to take my own life. But I eventually got the diagnosis I needed, as well as the possible realisation that my paranoid delusions might not actually be real.’
That was my starting point…. the start of my journey with mental illness and recovery and as far as I am concerned this is where my life began.
I would love to say it was plain sailing from there, but the reality is that I spent the next five years struggling to function with my diagnosis. I would move around constantly trying to run away from my issues, but it would fail every time. No matter how many times I moved the voices and paranoid delusions would eventually start again leaving me no option but to move somewhere else and start from scratch.When things started getting weird, I would just relocate.
The turning point on my journey in recovery was and still is medication. Although I’ve had a couple of relapses in my past, my meds have kept me pretty stable for the last 10 years and because of this I’ve managed to live a pretty “normal” life.I’ve kept down jobs, friendships and relationships in a place where I’m lucky enough to call my home (Manchester).
“I was lucky enough to be able to return to university and train in psychology to become a counsellor.”
Even after 20 years though I still struggle with my head, especially when I’m having a bad day and I’m unable to control my thoughts and behaviour – although those days are few and far between.
The most influential factor that has changed the direction of the path I am on has been my journey back into education.I was lucky enough to be able to return to university where I have spent the past seven years training in Psychology to become a counsellor. I can’t tell you how much this has changed my life. Looking back If you told me that in seven years I would end up with three diplomas, a degree and masters in Positive Psychology and Counselling I wouldn’t have believed a word of it. But I’m here. I’ve succeeded way beyond what I thought I was capable of and ended up with a vocation I love, get so much out of and am actually pretty good at.
I've learnt about acceptance, understanding and compassion, not only of others but of myself.I know what it’s like to struggle. I know what it’s like to be in desperate need of that one person to hold your hand and let you know it’s going to be OK. And now I’m able to be that person and be part of someone else’s recovery, which gives me more joy than I can describe.
I fully realise that my journey is unusual for somebody dealing with schizophrenia. I count myself blessed and lucky to have been able to live with my illness and find a way through all the struggles, stigma and discrimination that comes with psychosis. I have managed to find meaning to my life and discovered my purpose – to help others.
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