In 2011, it looked like “game over” for me. I had a full-blown psychotic breakdown and spent seven months in hospital. The future was unknown and, based on the severity of my illness, it didn’t look good. I simply couldn’t function and spent most of my time lying on a bed staring into a wall.
Upon discharge from hospital, I tried to return to education, but it proved to be too much for me. I also tried part-time work but, again, too much - my voices got worse and I couldn’t focus or socialise at all. As a result, I spent most of my time at home in my room. While this did nothing for my social skills, it was quiet and peaceful - exactly what I needed to recover. I was treated medically, met with my psychiatric nurse every week and started doing ceramics with my Danish grandfather.
Then, out of the blue, on the first day of 2015, I had a relapse.
It took me a full year to return to my prior level of functioning - at least six months of isolating myself in my room, unable to see my friends, speak or even make eye contact. Ouch! My communication abilities were devastated: it could take me six weeks to send a simple text message. When I eventually managed to make a phone call, after three months (yes, three months) of deliberating, I was shaking so much (a combination of nerves and medicinal side effects) I could barely get the words out.
In 2016, I decided to start a blog because I felt compelled to tell people about my experiences and express myself ‘on the page’ in a way I simply couldn’t verbally. Created in the safety of my own room, it was the perfect solution. Blogging openly about schizophrenia proved to be both incredibly therapeutic and something I quickly realised was lacking in the psychiatric community. I still receive positive feedback for sharing my story, which came out in book form in 2018.
Yep - that September, I became a published author in Denmark (a day I will never forget). I also provided over 100 illustrations for my book, which I thoroughly enjoyed seeing come to life on the pages. The book received 6-star reviews and is now used actively in the Danish psychiatric system.
The last few years have been spent continuing to focus on my recovery. In 2019, I received my “førtidspension” (disability pension). It was a long, slow process to get the financial support I am entitled to, but after many interviews, meetings, attendance at interactive courses and discussions with doctors, psychiatrist and social workers, we got there. As I cannot work or study, I am eligible for benefits. This was very evident to those who knew me and ‘looked after me’ but the current system makes it an extremely long-drawn out and arduous process (especially for people like me who don’t have the resources to speak up and argue our case).
Given that COVID struck last year and pretty much wiped 2020 from our calendars, that brings us to 2021. Perhaps the best year of my life so far. I’m better than I’ve ever been and I’m capable of so much more than we ever thought I’d be.
I can send texts now. I can speak up at family events. I can initiate conversation and maintain eye contact. I can tidy my room with ease (before, I could have a complete meltdown because it just seemed too overwhelming). I can clean/do chores on a regular basis - something I found challenging and exhausting before. I can go into town and collect my medicine - by myself - and buy a book, dental floss and mascara on the same trip without really thinking about it. Not long ago, I struggled just to set foot outside the door - it could take me weeks to return a parcel (which I now have no problem with, either). All the things that ‘normal’ people take for granted – but are HUGE milestones for me and those who suffer from severe mental illness.
And now, to top it all, I am about to move into my first flat. So, right now, I’m focused on practical tasks such as downsizing all my belongings, paying bills, and going to IKEA. “Put that in your pipe and smoke it”, schizophrenia!
Having my fantastic support network: a devoted family, wonderful friends and other supportive figures in my life (plus modern medicine and outstanding psychiatric care) has played a HUGE part in my recovery. I could never have done it without them. I cannot thank them enough.
Perhaps, another thing I can attribute my recovery is my own drive and ambition. Not long after I was diagnosed, I decided that I would be an exceptional case - the exception to the rule. (I’d already been told I was an unusual case; why not make the most of it? 😉) I was not going to sit back and let life happen to me. I was not going to say “Oh well, that’s my fate decided, might as well just give up now”.
I’ve always had a very clear vision of how I want to be - or, rather, how I know I can be. I will not stop until I’ve proven it. It may sound strange, but in my head, I’m not quiet. I’m not timid. I’m not shy and passive. I’m not an outsider - I’m just like you, in my own way. In my head, I know my worth, and I am gradually finding more ways to express it. I also know that there’s nothing wrong with being the way I am.
So, here in 2021, I’m continuing to change my narrative: I’m not a passive loner who sits in front of her computer all day - I’m a creative innovator dedicated to her craft; I’m not a clumsy weirdo who can’t figure out how to talk to people - I’m a mature young woman who knows when she wishes to speak; I’m not the world’s most pathetic loser when I make a joke and no-one laughs - I have many good qualities, and just need to keep trying and showing them. Today, I’m far more able to put my negative thoughts, feelings and impulses to one side and focus on what really matters to me. (Let’s see how all this works out next time I feel the slightest bit self-conscious … but it’s a start 😉)
Voilà … that was my take on things this time round.
Over to you.
Who do you look up to? What keeps you going? How can you change your own narrative to feel more empowered?
What have the last ten years looked like for you?
Let me know.