Friday 27 April 2018

'Standing in the playground it finally clicked with me, not everyone can hear voices' - Living with Schizophrenia

Four people who appear in the documentary 'Schizophrenia: The Voices in My Head' on Thursday night. Photo: RTE
Four people who appear in the documentary 'Schizophrenia: The Voices in My Head' on Thursday night. Photo: RTE

Nicola Wall

I experienced ill mental health from a young age. I could see things that no one else could see, hear things when others couldn’t and I believed in things that no child, even the ones with the most active of imaginations, should believe in.

I can still remember the exact moment, aged twelve when I realised what it was that made me different. Standing in the playground one day it finally clicked with me, that not everyone could hear voices. My psychosis started so early that I simply didn’t know any better and to this day I still don’t fully understand what silence sounds like or what it’s like to have a conversation without a running commentary taking place in the background.

Once I had my revelation, there was a long and difficult wait before I ever truly got to the bottom of my problems. Before my diagnosis, I was only familiar with the word schizophrenia to a certain extent. It’s a word I associated with fictional characters from books, tv programmes and films. I also heard this word on the news sometimes and I heard it when someone was being described as crazy, unstable or weird. 

The first time I heard the word schizophrenia in relation to myself, was during an assessment at a mental health clinic in my early twenties. During my diagnosis I googled schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder and psychosis excessively. I looked for personal experience stories in the hopes of finding people who had come through the other side and were living with the illness but coping well. This is before blogs were as mainstream as they are today and the stigma around mental health was worse than it is today, there were very few people who were open and public about having schizophrenia at the time.

I also watched documentaries about the illness, this gave me what can only be described as the opposite of hope. Most of them were from the 70’s and 80’s and featured people who were either heavily medicated or extremely unwell. These documentaries were sensationalised, made for shock value and often gave the impression that the participants were only one missed pill away from carrying out a dangerous rampage.

The myths and misconceptions around schizophrenia can be hard to deal with. We have seen a very welcome increase of people sharing their experiences of depression and anxiety to raise awareness and there have been positive changes in people’s attitudes towards mental health. Schizophrenia still has an extremely long way to go. I share my personal experience with schizophrenia on my blog and on social media, last year I was approached by Frontline Films who were interested in making a documentary about schizophrenia. 

People sign up for documentaries and tv shows all the time only to be exploited. I knew from day one, this was not the case. Speaking to the producer, the director and the crew it was plain to see they wanted to do the subject real justice without dramatizing schizophrenia. They wanted to make something that broke down the stigma and misconceptions. They did their research and we were looked after every step of the way. I can’t put into words what it meant to watch the final cut of the documentary and finally see a programme that showed schizophrenia for what it is really is.

When I found out I had schizophrenia, I looked for something that gave me a shred of hope for my future and a bit of faith that my life wasn’t over, all I wanted to know was if living with schizophrenia was manageable, of course I knew it would always be challenging but I needed to know that it wasn’t as impossible as it felt. I never imagined that one day there would be a documentary made in Ireland that provided exactly what I needed back then. Hopefully it will help people going through any kind of psychosis to realise they are not alone.

Schizophrenia: The Voices in My Head gives an insight into the challenges that come with psychosis while also showing us as individuals each with a story of our own. Throughout the programme, you can see that our experiences are unique from each other, we deal with things in our own way, we have our strong points, our weak points, we are all at different points of our journeys and we go through all the highs and lows of life just like everyone else. Everyone in the documentary has some form of schizophrenia but none of us are defined by it.

Schizophrenia: The Voices in My Head tracks the daily lives of people living with schizophrenia, a first for Irish television. Airs Tuesday the 19th of September, 10pm on RTE2.       

  

Online Editors

Life Newsletter

Our digest of the week's juiciest lifestyle titbits.

Editors Choice

Also in Life