One in four of us will, at some point go through a mental illness. It’s a stark statistic that should, in many ways normalise mental health but instead, it strikes fear. Through the negative stero-types perpetuated by the media and ideas of the ‘mad’ person rampaging the streets in horror movie like blood lust intent on murder, madness has become the by word for those ‘others’ who must at all costs be avoided, shunned and for many locked away from ‘normal’ society.
In an insightful disclosure, Emmanuel Owusu talks about his journey into psychosis and importantly out of psychosis.
Ultimately it’s a re-telling dispelling any myths regarding those ‘typical others’ who experience a mental health episode-there are no ‘others’ we are all susceptible.
The writing of this article has been quite difficult for me as it meant reliving some of the traumatic events that I experienced when I was ill. In 2015 I was diagnosed with psychosis and spent a month in a psychiatric hospital having been detained under the Mental Health Act 1983 for my own safety and for the safety of the people around me.
Psychosis (also called psychotic experience or psychotic episode) is a severe mental health disorder in which thought and emotions are so impaired that contact is lost with external reality. This is when an individual perceives or interprets reality in a different way from people around them. Psychosis refers to most severe psychiatric disorders in which the individual to some extent can be said to be “out of touch” with reality.
There are misunderstandings about the meaning and what it is like to experience psychosis. Lots of people wrongly think the word ‘psychotic’ means ‘dangerous’ but it’s an illness that can be treated just like any other.
Though my mother went through a period of depression in her life, there was no known history of mental illness in my family. I have never taken illegal drugs such as cannabis which can increase the risk of becoming psychotic, so the diagnosis came as quite a shock.
I had a fairly ordinary childhood which was largely spent in Ghana, West Africa in my early years. I remember growing up in contentment and happiness-simply enjoying living out the innocence of my childhood. I moved to London at the age of 9 to join me parents who had made the difficult decision to migrate from Ghana in search of a better life. Again, my primary, secondary school and college experience was enjoyable and unperturbed.
I attended the University of Kent, Canterbury where I studied architecture and excelled, winning numerous awards and attaining a first-class honour. During this time, I experienced a period of depression in my final year but I overcame it and eventually graduated with top honours-I thoroughly enjoyed my university experience.
After the world of academia, I worked as an Architectural Assistant for numerous companies in London for several months before deciding to relocate to Oxford in 2014 having accepted an offer of employment. It is during this period that I began exhibiting symptoms which would lead to my mental ill-health.
During December 2014 I returned to my family home in London for the Christmas break and I was feeling severely fatigued, both mentally and physically. I didn’t pay this feeling much attention and ignored it. However, as time passed, this feeling became worse, I experienced severe headaches and severe sleep deprivation. I started fainting and having moments where I’d become unconscious. As a result, I went to the A&E where they conducted blood tests to see whether something was physically wrong.
The results merely revealed that the iron levels in my blood was low so they suggested I returned home to rest and take some time out of work. I adhered to the advice and rested for several weeks. After several weeks of a searing headache and I collapsed to the floor where I was screaming in pain. I thought I was having a heart attack or a stroke.
I was sent to accident and emergency via an ambulance where the doctors conducted tests which concluded with the diagnoses of post traumatic concussion after I revealed that I may have hit my head on a piece of steel whilst I was working on a building site some time ago.
As further weeks past, I returned to work in Oxford which was not a good idea. I saw my GP several times and having conducted further tests she concluded that I had an anxiety disorder and she prescribed some medication to help me. No longer able to carry out my job duties, I sadly had to resign from my job as I could not concentrate. I was constantly fatigued and simply couldn’t function. I returned to my parents’ home in London feeling like I had failed, I was severely depressed at this point. A few months passed and my condition worsened as my doctors advised they could do very little to help me as we had to wait for the results of an MRI test to establish what was wrong with me.
On May 2015 I was admitted to a psychiatric unit after having multiple psychotic episodes which included me hallucinating and become delusional. This culminated in me forcefully dragging my sister outside of the house into the streets and shouting that ‘I am God’ and she should ‘obey my commands’-I was clearly in a state of mania at this point. The police and ambulance were called and several hours later, I was admitted into a hospital under the Mental Health Act and the diagnosis of Psychosis was officially made. I ended up spending a month there where my conditioned deteriorated to the point where I had to be given a tranquiliser for my body and mind to calm down. Though I don’t remember this, it was explained that I was placed in intensive care unit for several days, breathing and being fed through tubes.
I eventually woke up not knowing what had happened. I returned to the psychiatric hospital where I was closely monitored. I gradually began to improve with medication (anti-psychotics). I attended several in house cognitive behavioural therapy sessions which helped me to understand how to deal with stress and anxiety and taught me that I had the power to control my thoughts-I found this very beneficial.
I was released from the hospital and returned home where I was placed under the care of the Early Intervention in Psychosis (EIP) community team. Following my release, I would still have delusions and hallucinations but it was not as manic as before and as months passed I felt like I was regaining control over my mind and my life. I was continually given anti-psychotic medication during each month with the frequency gradually decreasing as time passed.
As I write this short article in March 2017, it has been 22 months since I was released from the psychiatric hospital. In November 2016, I was formally released from the Mental Health Act which meant not being under any form of medication 3 months had passed since that memorable moment and I am overwhelmed with joy to say, my recovery process is still going well. I have resumed my studies whereby I am studying for my Masters Degree whilst also working part time.
If someone had told me when I was severely ill that I would recover less than 2 years later I would certainly not have believed them. I wouldn’t wish this illness on my worst enemy because in effect, one loses their mind, you lose complete control of your thoughts, life, you feel scared and very vulnerable.
With thanks to varied forms of therapy, I am recapturing my life and as much as I wish I hadn’t gone through this experience, I believe it has made me a stronger person. The saying is very true, ‘what doesn’t kill you can often make you stronger’. This resonates deeply with me. I am now a more patient person, more understanding, more empathetic and I live life to the full each day-I do not let my illness control me or hinder me.
The doctors cannot guarantee that I may not have a break down again in the future. Whilst this is my ‘new reality’ as a person with a history of mental illness and I supposed there will always be a cloud over me, I ensure that I appreciate every moment that I’m alive and I have my sanity.
Continually and bravely striving for understanding through disclosure, Emmanuel has written a book which is in the process of being open to the wider public. #itchysilk will be supporting that book when it is due for release so please stay in contact.