Hope in the Time of Psychosis: Jessica’s Story

14/05/2021

For Mental Health Awareness Week, 32-year-old Jessica explains how she became diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and shares her story of finding hope whilst experiencing bouts of psychosis.

  • Imagine that people are following you. They’re tracking your every move. You’re like an undercover agent and can decode messages from the newspapers and graffiti. Or maybe everyone around you is an actor and your whole life is on the telly for all to see. This is a snapshot of what it feels like to experience psychosis.

My name is Jessica and I experience psychosis and have a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder.

I was 29 and working in a high-pressure job in marketing when I first started experiencing the symptoms of psychosis. I’m 32 now and things are more stable and I’m hopeful for the future.

It took around a year of experiencing psychotic symptoms before I got diagnosed with psychosis. The symptoms crept in slowly: the feeling things weren’t real, the sensation I was being followed. I was often unsure if the people I met were really who they said they were and I had the nagging feeling that cars were part of a giant surveillance plot to track my movements. By September 2017, I was acting increasingly erratically and I lost my job.

Around a year after I first experienced the early symptoms of psychosis, also known as the ‘prodromal’ stage, I had a psychotic episode. During this time I had strongly held unusual beliefs, such as that I’d been kidnapped by a cult or that I was on a The Truman Show-style television show. Initially I was treated in the community by the crisis team, but my behaviour became increasingly out of character and in July 2018 I was hospitalised under a Section 2 of the Mental Health Act. This is when I first got the diagnosis of psychosis.

  • During this time I had strongly held unusual beliefs, such as that I’d been kidnapped by a cult or that I was on a The Truman Show-style television show.

Psychosis is a condition where someone experiences reality differently, and it typically manifests as delusions and/or hallucinations and/or disorganised thinking and speech. I’m in the first camp and experienced delusions that people were against me, alongside the feeling that everyone was an actor. I also saw ‘signs’ in the world around me in everything from a fallen leaf to a plate of food. I thought these were really ‘symbols’ that contained messages that I needed to decode which would help me figure out who was in the conspiracy against me as well as give me instructions for what to do next. I also felt a sense of all-consuming guilt. On top of all this, I was barely sleeping. My family and friends were extremely worried about me and my dad drove me to A&E and I was referred to the crisis team.

For my treatment, I was placed on antipsychotics. Soon, the conspiracies and delusions began to fade. As well as medication, I’ve received Early Intervention support which means I regularly see a mental health team to talk through these experiences and a psychiatrist to adjust my medication. I’ve also had Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which helped me to reframe the way I think and how this affects my life experiences.

My main way of managing my condition is to regularly take my medication and ensure I get enough sleep. I have to be extremely careful when it comes to situations which are tiring or stressful as this can cause psychotic symptoms. We’ve compiled a list of my early warning signs which my friends and family can use to help pinpoint when I’m showing symptoms.

  • I had stopped taking my medication because of side-effects such as foggy thinking, weight gain and the relentless desire to move, which is called ‘akathisia’.

Unfortunately, this period isn’t the only time I’ve experienced psychosis. Fast-forward a year to August 2019 and I had stopped taking my medication because of side-effects such as foggy thinking, weight gain and the relentless desire to move, which is called ‘akathisia’. I thought that I could recover completely without medication and could move on with my life, but I was wrong.

I had dipped my toes back into the waters of the world of work with a part-time job. Unfortunately just two shifts into the new job, I was hospitalised for a second time. I was seeing ‘signs’ in the world around me in everything from car number plates to graffiti. I felt that these things contained messages just for me which could be decoded. I also felt that people were in a conspiracy against me and - it’s painful to remember this now - I shouted at people on the street because I thought they were part of the conspiracy. I was eventually sectioned by the police.

This time the hospital told me my diagnosis was schizoaffective disorder, which is a bit like a mix of schizophrenia and bipolar; I can experience psychosis with periods of very energetic mania and depression-like low mood.

  • At first, I felt completely hopeless and struggled to accept I was ill and I think it’s important to acknowledge this period of hopelessness. But as time has gone on, it’s become easier to manage my condition.

At first, I felt completely hopeless and struggled to accept I was ill and I think it’s important to acknowledge this period of hopelessness. But as time has gone on, it’s become easier to manage my condition. The medication is really effective for me and gives me hope for the future and what I will be able to achieve. I’ve been stable now for a year and a half and although I still have psychotic experiences when I am tired or stressed, it’s much more manageable. I’ve even managed to take some courses, in floristry and mental health.

Just as recovery can mean different things for different people, so can hope. These days I find hope in the everyday. In the steamy coffee I have with my morning croissant. In the rain-like pitter-patter of my fingers on the keyboard as I write a short story. In the quiet concentration as I scribble a piece of art in the afternoon. In the soft lull of conversation as I spend time with my friends.

We celebrate my ‘Madness Anniversary’ every year to mark me being another year illness-free. Last year there was cake, and presents too - it’s a little like a birthday. My next big goal is to make it to two years illness-free. Then five years. Then… you get the idea.

The advice I’d have for someone newly diagnosed is that it gets better. It might seem hopeless but managing your condition is possible and with the right help and support, you can still go on to live a fulfilling life.

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