The right balance – Ellen’s story


Trigger warning: restraint, detention, forced medication

Ellen shares her journey with schizoaffective disorder, from her adolescence to the present day. Despite numerous hospital admissions, Ellen has found joy in her relationships, acting hobby and career as a beauty therapist.

I’ve struggled with mental health difficulties for most of my life. High school was the worst as I was a very shy, anxious child. After being bullied badly, it brought on obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and trichotillomania (pulling out my eyebrows and sometimes eyelashes), because I felt so bad about myself. The trichotillomania and shyness caused further bullying all throughout my school years.

Things got better at college and I made a wide circle of good friends. But at university, my mental health was affected again. Despite making good friends, I was very unhappy, lonely, isolated and homesick for two years, as well as dealing with first heartbreak and a LOT of stress in all areas of life. When I went back for third year, I began to feel suicidal so took a year out.

Things continued to go downhill. I became depressed, lost interest in everything, as well as a lot of weight. I felt a huge emptiness, like nothing would make me happy. I had difficulty sleeping for nights on end and would be awake all night long, my mind racing. Things started to spiral and I began to lose control.

  • I felt I had to obey these voices, thinking they were coming from angels or God.

I became obsessed with Facebook and was constantly texting the guy I was still in unrequited love with. I began hearing voices, which instructed me on what I should write in text messages to him and my friends. I felt I had to obey these voices, thinking they were coming from angels or God. I later felt elated and thought I was the celebrity on the front of a magazine I’d been reading. I was going through a severe psychotic episode.

The next morning, the mental health team and two police officers came to my house to take me to hospital, where I was sectioned. I refused to take the medication at first because I didn’t think I was unwell, so I had to be injected. The nurses held me down and I thought they were trying to stab me with the needles, it was terrifying!

I had a lot of delusions, voice-hearing and some visual hallucinations whilst in hospital. I took part in the different activities at the hospital and started taking a high dose of antipsychotic medication, which made me feel very sedated and increased my appetite. I was lucky to receive a lot of support from family and friends whilst in hospital, and had regular visits from my parents. After six weeks I was allowed home.

  • Things started to spiral and I began to lose control.

I continued to have countless support from psychiatrists and nurses, and have since continued to take medication daily. I was later diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, which is the symptoms of psychosis and mood disorder. I was able to do very little for a long time because of my illness and the sedation from medication.

2013 was a turning point. I dropped out of university to train as a beauty therapist. This was the best decision, as I found my passion for beauty and also had a main part acting in a theatre play. In 2014, I set up a room practising my level two beauty treatments and had a lead part in a pantomime, where I found my love for acting.

I ended up relapsing at the end of 2014 and was hospitalised again, but for just two weeks. In 2016, I completed my level three qualification in Beauty Therapy and also gained a Student Of The Year award. I started a part-time job at a spa, where I worked for two and a half years and had another lead part in a play.

  • I still manage to live a happy, fulfilling life and am lucky to have a supportive family and good friends.

Bar 2020, I had further relapses each year, from 2018 to 2022, including another hospital admission where I was severely unwell for ten weeks. I was sectioned again and put in an empty room called ‘seclusion’ for three days, where I was treated very poorly. This was a very traumatic experience.

I’ve learnt to manage my illness and look out for early warning signs. It’s likely I’ll have this illness for the rest of my life, as it is episodic. So I have to try and avoid too much stress, as stress brings on my illness. Getting the right amount of sleep is also crucial, as too little can trigger my illness. Avoiding a lot of alcohol is also important for my wellbeing.

Despite my illness, I still manage to live a happy, fulfilling life and am lucky to have a supportive family and good friends. I’ve set up a beauty room from home, go to weekly acting classes and pop choir. I’ve spent a year volunteering, helping a child at school. I’ve also written a memoir on mental health to help other people, which I hope to publish. Thankfully, I have been well for the past two years. With the right balance, I can continue to lead a happy and fulfilling life.

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