“I couldn’t tell what was real when I attempted suicide.”

In this guest blog Jessica Oakwood writes about mental illness and has previously written for Mind, Rethink and Sane about her experiences.

Content warning: this blog contains distressing references to psychotic experiences and suicide attempts.

“You have psychosis,” they said and handed me a sheet of paper reading, “non-organic psychosis,” with a definition. I knew better though; I was really in a cult or on a TV show and they were trying to trick me. Perhaps they meant me harm?

My name is Jessica and I’m a writer with schizoaffective disorder and I write about mental illness to help others with similar experiences to feel less alone.

A few years ago, I was hospitalised with psychosis under Section 2 of the Mental Health Act. My psychosis involves mainly delusions, which is where I think things that are not based on reality, such as that people are out to get me or that I’m on a TV show. During crisis I also think that objects and media in the world around me is communicating secret messages to me that have significant meaning I must interpret. I use these to work out what is happening in what I call “the conspiracy”, which is the feeling that people are plotting together to harm me.

Unfortunately, after my first month-long section came to an end, the mental health staff at the hospital let me go home. I was still floridly psychotic and attempted to take my own life a few days later, thinking that it was “part of the story”. I was perceiving reality differently and thought that the universe was telling me to die. I went to A&E for a night and then straight back to the mental health hospital for another month.

This was a really confusing time for me, and my memories are hazy. I thought unusual things such as that Extinction Rebellion were out to get me and that I was the world’s most notorious female criminal. I tried to self-harm because the delusions were telling me I needed to be hurt.

After two months in the hospital, I went home and tried to make sense of these experiences and get my old life back by trying to go back to work and tapering off meds. 

Almost exactly a year later I had another episode and made plans to end my life. I thought that was what the world was telling me to do. The universe seemed to be sending me messages and telling me things, I was interpreting the information around me as though it proved there was a conspiracy against me and thought that graffiti and people’s clothing contained messages giving me information about what was going on. It was only months later that I realised it was all in my head. 

I have a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder now and I take antipsychotics but I worry about this happening again. I often worry that I will attempt suicide when I am psychotic and that I will become lucid when it is too late. This is one of my greatest fears. I imagine it happening in slow motion with nothing I can do to stop it. I have nightmares about it all the time.

When I was in the early stages of psychosis, I would often make plans for suicide or attempt suicide. This was a distressing time and I’m glad that I came out of the other side. Although my main suicide attempts have been during an acute mental health crisis, I’ve had suicidal thoughts and mental health problems since I was a teenager, especially after I drank alcohol. I’m sober now and this helps me manage these thoughts when I am not in crisis.

Psychosis often starts when you’re relatively young – the average age of onset is 24 years old – and the suicide rate of people with psychotic disorders is sometimes cited as high as 10%. I was grateful to receive Early Intervention for Psychosis services which help people for three years to navigate life at the start of their psychotic illness.

People with psychosis are rarely mentioned in the mental health conversation but we need to change that because it can have a significant impact on quality of life and carries an increased risk of suicide.

PAPYRUS’s suicide prevention helpline, HOPELINEUK, is open from 9am until midnight, every single day of the year. If you’re experiencing thoughts of suicide and need free, confidential advice and support, call 0800 068 4141, text 07860 039 967 or email pat@papyrus-uk.org

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