“I thought Obama was sending spies to kidnap me” – Leon’s story
For National Schizophrenia Awareness Day, Leon explores his experience of schizophrenia, particularly recounting distressing hallucinations and delusions that evoked very real fears and anxieties for him on a day-to-day.
I stormed into the psychiatrist's office, detailing my case against a famous magician who I was accusing of stealing my thoughts. I demanded that she help me contact the authorities and arrest him for harassment, but no one took my complaint seriously. I decided that if he didn’t stop using the TV as a form of mind control, I’d track him down myself. Medication stopped this, before I went beyond the point of no return.
I was meant to be there to have an assessment for potential PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) treatment. Between making the appointment and attending, my mind had gone entirely. I was in the middle of a psychotic episode as part of my later diagnosis of schizophrenia.
Most of the time, my voice told me to harm myself. It often took over from the guilt I experienced – a symptom of my PTSD - and told me I was a disgusting, terrible person. At its worst, it was relentless, gnawing away at my resolve hour after hour, with the same self-destructive message.
After a while, the voice turned into several different people. Some of them took the form of those I felt I’d let down by arriving at incidents as a police officer too late to save them. I had an entire army of victims shouting at me every day.
I thought my partner was cramming pencils down my throat late at night and that I was psychically causing dogs to attack people.
Driving became unsafe when the voices started telling me to crash the car. At the very least, I couldn’t concentrate on the road and could’ve hurt many people. I did the right thing and gave up driving, even to this day. I’m grateful that the voices never told me to hurt anyone else. It was all focused on my self-destruction.
I remember talking to one doctor, and it was like a three-way conversation because one of the voices was talking to me from the opposite side of the room. I’ve even had dog toys talking to me.
The legacy of my psychotic episodes is that I can’t trust my mind. I now need hard facts and corroboration to believe anything. I can’t follow my gut, because my gut told me that the CIA was coming to ship me away to a Siberian death camp, that secret operatives were on every street corner. I thought my partner was cramming pencils down my throat late at night and that I was psychically causing dogs to attack people.
I believed that the DWP (Department for Work and Pensions) was sending spies sanctioned by Barack Obama. I even wrote a garbled essay to explain to my parents how it all fit together. They tried to figure out a nonconfrontational way to acknowledge my real fear, without adding validity to my delusion. You should never contradict someone with such a profound psychosis. Recognise their genuine pain and focus on that.
It doesn’t matter if it’s not objectively real because the horror is the same.
Many people forget the abject terror behind hallucinations and delusions. Imagine being stalked every day and threatened by people in the same room as you, whispering and shouting at you. It doesn’t matter if it’s not objectively real because the horror is the same.
I remember calling my mum and telling her I’d barricade my front door because people were coming to get me. I couldn’t stay in a house or room alone and had to have someone with me when I woke up each day, or I’d descend into panic.
The rare times I’d go out in public were horrific. I’d be scanning every single person for signs that they were operatives looking to kidnap me. If I found one, I’d start shouting: “HE’S ONE.” At that point, I’d go from being the person in danger (in my mind) to an actual threat.
A psychiatric nurse recommended time as an inpatient. This was terrifying because I believed that apart from depression and post-traumatic stress, I was fine. I thought she wanted me in “hospital” to carry out torture and tests. After all, I was privy to top-secret information. I did spend time in hospital and it was suffocating, oppressive and dehumanising.
This is real mental illness. It’s not a quirky series of personality traits; you can’t hit the gym and lift your way out of it.
Having such internal chaos is isolating. I was locked in my world of nightmares every single day. No one understood or experienced any of the same things I felt.
Eventually, I found an antipsychotic medication that worked and the voices went away very quickly. I stopped feeling so paranoid and wrapped up in my inner world of turmoil. It almost felt like my mind warmed up again to the land of the living, like an old computer that had been disconnected for years.
For me, therapy never helped. The only thing that healed my psychotic mind was medication. Yes, that medication can be brutal - I’ve gained weight, my teeth are weak, my cholesterol and heart need monitoring and at one stage, I slept 15 hours a day. This is real mental illness. It’s not a quirky series of personality traits; you can’t hit the gym and lift your way out of it. It’s not something teenagers get when their crush rejects them.
I’ll be on medication for the rest of my life. It keeps the demons at bay and allows me to survive and thrive. For anyone who has been seriously mentally ill, bodily weaknesses from side effects are a small price to pay to be rescued from hell.