Alice's Story - "No one should be given up on"

22/04/2021

Alice is 44 and lives in Lancashire, with her cat. She is an artist and film maker. She is on her way to becoming Dr Alice, as she’s passed her Viva and is now in the final stages of completing her PhD in Fine Art photography. She has a close network of friends and speaks to them often. She also experiences schizoaffective disorder, which affects your mood and thoughts, and has symptoms of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. This is Alice's story.

At first I didn’t realise I was unwell, but I started getting paranoid, hearing voices, seeing things that weren’t there. I totally lost touch with reality. It was an incredibly frightening experience. The first thing that helped me was music –especially music without lyrics. When I was hearing voices, I would play a record and it stopped the voices - it would just give me a focus for my ears, and I could just hear the music.

Eventually I got back on track, but I lost about 10 years due to mental health problems. I was in and out of hospital and incredibly isolated. Being with other people is so important. It’s those connections made with other humans that you really miss out on, and I had 10 years where I wasn’t properly able to make friends or maintain relationships and it was really difficult.

Being open about my diagnosis has made me seek help. So the more I came to terms with it and had a name for it – schizoaffective disorder – I was able to talk about it, to make friends, and things got easier. This diagnosis came very late – when I was 30, when I’d already been unwell for years.

Just because you have a mental health problem doesn’t always mean you don’t have potential to function at a high level in other ways. But it does mean you need extra help to achieve things. My university, Chelsea College of Art, and my PhD Supervisor, have been incredibly supportive in helping me get my life back on track. After experiencing bullying and abuse in early life, it was so valuable to find somewhere where I felt happy and safe and where people believed in my abilities and potential. These are factors which have made such a difference to me. No-one should be given up on and I know that there are a huge number of people who experience schizophrenia who have not been given the chances I have had to recover and whose lives have essentially been written off. I have no doubt that in any other circumstances, I would almost certainly be dead by now.

  • I will also welcome the first celebrity endorsement of ‘coming out’ with a diagnosis of schizophrenia.

There is a lot of fear towards my diagnosis and a lot of pre-judgement of people with these experiences. I feel that there is a lot of ‘talk’ about mental health conditions these days and people are more open about experiences such as depression. I welcome this openness. I will also welcome the first celebrity endorsement of ‘coming out’ with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. Conditions such as schizophrenia are misunderstood and people who experience them are still very much neglected when it comes to basic human dignity, respect and supportive social policy.

When living in London, before moving to the North West, like thousands of other people I experienced precarious housing situations which have at times compounded the issues surrounding my mental health condition. There are too many people living in this way. It is impossible to build up resilience if you don’t have somewhere healthy and safe to live as a starting point.

  • Over the years I have got to know myself and have noticed patterns in my mental health

I had two episodes when I was unwell last year, in 2020. Sometimes I can have short-term memory problems related to my schizoaffective disorder and so I have to overcompensate for that and plan ahead. Over the years I have got to know myself and have noticed patterns in my mental health – I tend to become more unwell in the autumn and spring and so I’m more able to plan for this now and try to think ahead about what’s going to be too much.

I now have an incredibly supportive group of friends. Because I have been so open about my experiences, I have had less stress about it later. Friends are quite understanding, and we support each other – I have friends living with depression. And sometimes even when I feel I don’t want to see anyone they call me and help pull me out of it! The fact I’ve been through these mental health issues makes me a bit more laid back about it with my friends now.

I’m not quite sure what I’m going to do after my PhD but I’m feeling a lot more hopeful about my future than when I first experienced psychosis and feel extremely grateful to everyone who has been supportive of me over the years.

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