Two nights ago I laid in my bed trying to sleep. My mind was active and as I laid thinking, I started to hear muffled distant voices in my head. At first they spoke without any clarity but I knew they were there. I knew what it was. After a little while I found myself listening to two women arguing over a cake which one had baked. They began to shout at oneanother loudly in my head.
One voice accusing the other that she had baked the cake wrong and that they should taste the cake to see if it was suitable to eat. The other woman did not want the cake touched and was convinced that it would be fine.
Their presence was strong but I knew what I had to do.
Many years ago, I learnt not to fight with my voices, not to try and get them out of my thoughts but work with them. Accept their presence. So, the other night I just tried to relax and listen to their conversation.
When I first listened, their presence grew stronger and stronger. It did not scare me and I didnt let it aggeravate me.
Although I didnt want it to happen, I found it fascinating. For a while I let them have their say and when I thought the time was right, I gently said to myslef, enough now, go.
Then waited and when there was a 'lull' in their words I repeated my words strongly but calmly, asking them to go. In which they did and I fell asleep.
This is a very rare occurance for me now. I havent heard a conversation like that, which has been so strong with so much clarity, for a very long time.
In the past I used to feel very threatened by my voices and used to fight them and want them out of my thoughts. I learnt that the more I fought with them, the more I feared them, the stronger they became in their abusive words and daily presence in my life.
I found that a personal acceptance of my voices and treating them with a calm approach, which had to be practiced, weakened them and over the years they have dissappeared or at least dont have the strong presence they once had.
I dont know why this happened to me the other night, I dont know why the voices were triggered. If I do have experiences with voices now, they are very distant, in the back of my mind. I know they are there, still feel their presence, they are with me now as I write these words, these words are the trigger. But, they have no strength. There is nothing for them to prove, nothing for them to fight or harm.
I have found over the years, as my confidence and self belief has grown stronger, the abuse has stopped. I believe the voices I once experienced were created by my inner self, my own persoanl doubts in life, my lack of belief and low self esteem, how I thought others viewed me, which was in a very poor light.
What was unsual for me, with the conversation the other night, was, that these voices were abusing oneanother and not me directly. Im not sure Ive experienced that before.
I have received a request from ‘Irked’ magazine asking if I could write some words on the effects of love, work and identity, whilst coping with schizophrenia. The issues I have to say are huge and have great effect on my life and instead of the 1000 words I have allowed myself I could write 6000 or even more, such is the complexity and importance of the subjects in my own and others lives.
So, I will get straight to the point and say that having the diagnosis of schizophrenia and living with my symptoms has taken away many opportunities with all three topics. My illness has made ‘love’ very difficult and has taken away opportunity for work. As for identity, my schizophrenia has left me unsure of whom I really am and has taken much of my ‘true identity’ away and replaced it with an identity that has often has been ‘assumed’ by others. This is because of the labels and misconceptions that are attached to my illness.
I feel that since my diagnosis my ‘identity’ has been made for me and I am Stuart Baker-Brown schizophrenic and labelled, as many are with schizophrenia, as troublesome, a potentially threat, delusional, odd and generally as someone who should be avoided. As though that’s all I am capable of being!
In reality the above is far from the truth and is a ‘mistaken identity’ projected on me by many who know nothing about my diagnosis. I am the 1st to admit, yes, I can be unintentionally troublesome but I have reasons. Many strange things have happened to me, which have scared me, caused confusion and caused me to seem strange to others. But my real identity is a ‘man’ who is greater than his condition, a man who cares and loves and a man who strives to be ‘good and strong’ and creative in life. A man who wants to help others and who is ‘most definitely’ not a threat to society. Nor am I a man who is just delusional and hears voices.
In fact, I am like any good man worth his weight, a man who is far less a threat to society than most!
As for work, well, for many years I have been unable to work because of the strong symptoms of my condition, which have been very disabling.
Also, with great thanks to the people who should have been looking after my well being, I was signed off from work in 1996 and put on benefits for life and told that I may never be able to work again! That attitude from my nurse and psychiatrist helped to destroy me and remove any dignity and self-worth I had left after the destruction of my illness.
There is also the stigma and discrimination to overcome in the workplace. I once heard from someone of authority in mental health that a convict who had served time in prison for an ‘intentional crime’ had more potential finding work than someone with schizophrenia.
My head shakes with disbelief in that statement but unfortunately my heart knows there is truth to it. I believe we all deserve chances to prove ourselves, including convicts, but I use that point to highlight the difficulties for someone in my position to find work and to highlight the huge stigma which we have to face from people towards my diagnosis.
There are many people in my position who could and would given the right chance contribute immensely to the workplace but because of stigma and discrimination we are too often unfairly overlooked and not recognized for our potential.
And what of love? Possibly the greatest and most powerful emotion to mankind. An emotion and feeling we all desire. I have to say, love and schizophrenia have been a very awkward combination. Symptoms of schizophrenia include ‘paranoia and fear of persecution’, so although finding love is possible, keeping that love safe, has, in the past, been hard. Too often ‘trust’ can be a big issue in a relationship and too often ‘trust’ and symptoms of my illness are unable to work together in harmony.
In the past and when my symptoms were very active I sometimes accused my wife of spying on me and working for the KGB or MI5 and this often caused us much distress and unhappiness and so caused a drift between us and love was difficult to maintain.
My illness and the labels attached to it can also make it extremely hard for people like me to initiate a relationship or for others to make the 1st steps towards us. Too often the self-doubt and low self-esteem and lack of dignity that comes with schizophrenia can stop the process of finding a relationship, and so, stops possibilities of love.
And what of family love? Well, it is very common for families to break up where mental illness is concerned. I myself have been unable to have contact with my brothers and mother for some years because of my condition and their lack of acceptance and understanding towards me
So, love, is probably the most important topic to me out of the three. It’s most certainly the topic I yearn for the most.
I will end by saying, that love, work and identity, can be so difficult for us all. Add a diagnosis of schizophrenia to the equation and things can become much harder in life. But saying that, I believe with the right frame of mind and attitude, so much can be achieved.
I know in my life, I am finally finding my own true ‘identity’ beyond my label and with ‘work’ I am starting to find the ability and belief in myself to work again.
And as for love, I am no longer married but I am in search for love from someone who will fully accept me and my true capabilities, as I will accept them. Who knows where any relationship will go and what obstacles will get in my way, mental illness or not? We all just have to keep on believing in ourselves and keep striving forwards with hope.
That’s what keeps saving me.
Schizophrenia can be so destructive and can leave the sufferer feeling powerless and weak, demoralised and broken. Yet, in my experience the condition can be so powerful, not only in a destructive way, but in a very creative way, which has often left me feeling I could achieve much in my life-Writing the greatest books, painting the most wonderful pictures, designing the greatest buildings. Yet, on other days, I have felt incapable of any achievement beyond coping with my condition. That's because of the overpowering symtoms and the poor attitude from 'others' believing I would not be able to achieve much beyond coping with my diagnosis.
In the past and when under psychiatric services, I often experienced wonderful visions of my capabilities and still do, but unfortunately, it was easily assumed by psychiatry, that my dreams in life were a 'delusions of grandeur' a symptom of schizophrenia. It has been assumed that wanting to climb Everest is a 'delusion of grandeur'. I had the same attitude when I trekked to Everest Base Camp in 2003 and other activities I have now succeeded with.
As though my diagnosis would stop me from achieving or things I wanted to achieve were simply beyond my true expectations.
There have been many sportsmen in my family who have achieved much in the judo world and I, myself, have achieved in sport from an early age. I have designers in my family, architects, there have been painters and writers too but because of my diagnosis of schizophrenia, it has been was assumed I was somehow deluded about my suggested capabilities, yet it is accepted that others without the diagnosis can reach their dreams.
I have strong belief that the the majority of the destruction caused by schizophrenia, in my own case, equal to my symptoms, has been down to the lack of understanding of the condition and how to treat symptoms correctly. The ignorance shown to me by psychiatry, psychiatric nurses, people in other regions of the mental health world has been demoralising and heart breaking to say the least.
Frankly, people with schizophrenia can be very creative and I feel a lot of the symptoms we experience should be encouraged and understood more. We are powerful indiviuals with good vision and dreams and this needs to be recognised far greater than it is, rather than be opressed by negative attitudes, poor understanding and poor treatment.
Im my own experience, psychiatry and those outside psychiatry who should have greater understanding of schizophrenia, not only mistreat the condition and show poor understanding but also take away hope and dreams, vision and capability, where hope and dreams and vision and capability should be encouraged for the greater purpose of self belief, where self belief has been lost.
With the treatment of my own condition, I was viewed as a symptom and nothing more. The services that were there to help and guide me knew nothing about my past and did not seem to care about any true potential I may possess. It was assumed that my true capabilities would never really stretch beyond coping with my condition of schizophrenia.
Since leaving the psychiatric services, which I had to do for self preservation, I am becoming a photographer, I am also writing and have high hopes and dreams and feel in time, I can reach my desires. Breaking away from the psychiatric services has helped me to find confidence and flourish. I dont feel so held back in life by the negative views of psychiatry towards my condition.
Hanging onto my own dreams and faith has helped to create my life. I believe that if I would have continued being involved with the psychiatric services, then I would not be in the more fortunate position I find myself in today.
Not too many years ago the services that were there to help and guide me would not have believed or encouraged the things I would start to achieve in my future. I would have been told, that its too much for someone like me!
If my dreams are beyond me as others have suggested, so what!
Dreams are wonderful and without dreams and hopes a big part of life will always be lost. Dreams and hope gives us direction, a path to follow. Maybe its about time some 'delusions of grandeur' were seen as possible goals that can be reached. We would not question an undiagnosed man or woman about their own personal dreams!
If it wasn't for possible 'delusions of grandeur' man would not have achieved so much. There would be no progress, no art, no mountain climbed, no space exploration, no scientific breakthrough, no philosophy, no theory, no purpose.
Im my opinion, those with schizophrenia are good thinkers, creators, artists and writers, good at many things, which are too often taken away from us by those who simply don't understand or encourage us for the great values and powers we truly possess.