On 25th February 2022, I was detained under Section 2 of the Mental Health Act 1983. I had entered a psychotic episode which had begun (in earnest) on 19th February. The Oxfordshire Crisis Team had been involved in my care since 21st February, before they deemed me in need of hospitalisation. A year later, I feel comfortable enough with my experience to share it with the world for two reasons. Firstly, in the hope that this article will reach someone who needs it. Secondly, to raise awareness of psychosis and what lesser-discussed mental illnesses can look like.
Anniversaries are odd things. Birthdays, the death of a loved one, breakups, marriages; all celebrated or commiserated, after one orbital period around the sun. They force us to reflect. This particular anniversary is the most unsettling and bizarre reminder of the passage of time that I have experienced in my life to date. I never expected to be sectioned. Subsequently, I never expected to be able to return to Oxford. Somehow, in the space of a year, both of these things happened.
A lot of people are unaware of what psychosis is. Essentially, it is a disconnect from reality which takes the form of delusions or hallucinations: seeing, hearing, feeling things that are not there. These are known as the positive symptoms of psychosis. Many things can trigger psychosis: stress, depression, and marijuana, among other factors. In my case, it was likely a combination of all the three mentioned. Psychosis has negative symptoms too, and often these can be more debilitating in the long-run. People appear to withdraw from the world around them, they take no interest in everyday social interactions, and often appear emotionless and flat.
The positive symptoms of my psychosis took the form of delusions. In their most coherent form, I believed there to be a conspiracy against me by the state. I believed that my room was bugged, that there were hidden cameras everywhere, and that the radio and TV were speaking to me and me alone. A laughable thought now, but a terrifying reality to live in. I believed my friends to be spies. I thought this made sense, I’d always wondered why they were all so good looking.
I remember most of my time in the hospital. It was not a good experience; I had no toiletries or change of clothes for over a week. I was in isolation for 10 days as a result of the legacy of Covid. This made my delusions even worse. About a week into my stay I was diagnosed with psychosis and prescribed aripiprazole; an antipsychotic. This made me very restless, I remember pacing around my room relentlessly. However, the medication settled and I began to return to reality.
The delusions were terrible, but returning to reality was the most difficult part of psychosis. I had done and said some terrible things to those closest to me, accusing them of spying on or harassing me. I had hurt my family, ignoring them for days on end and then berating them for their stupidity. I made a fool of myself in front of several of my tutors, declaring my unrequited love for one and sending bizarre emails containing codewords to others. The forgiveness and understanding of my illness that I have been shown is something I will never be able to repay.
The negative symptoms of my psychosis began to emerge as I returned to reality. This manifested itself in the longest depressive episode I have experienced, lasting from March to October. I was sleeping twelve or more hours a day, not leaving bed, contemplating suicide and playing an unholy amount of board games online. I had suspended my studies for a year, so I suddenly faced an overwhelming amount of time to fill, all while wanting none of it. I wanted to be back at Oxford, like it was before I was ill (I am still nostalgic for that era, but I can now accept that it’s a chapter of my life that has closed).
In the autumn I began to accept that I had to find a new way to live and tried to move on with my life. I got a job, spent more time with my parents, adjusted my medication, started revising for finals and attended Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). All of these things helped. I spent those final months at home working on myself rather than hating myself. This was a much harder task.
Emerging out of a depressive episode is like the first spring’s sunshine. Glorious, full of hope. However, there is no trick to recovery, no magic bullet. It is a difficult and long process that requires commitment, patience, and perseverance. It takes a toll on one’s physical, emotional, and mental well-being, and often requires making lifestyle changes, seeking professional help, and developing a support system. But the great thing? It is possible. I know because it happened to me. I feel the rays of this February sun on my skin and I embrace them like a long-lost friend.
In January I resumed my studies at the University of Oxford, Wadham College. This is the proudest achievement of my life. The days have their predictable ups and downs but overall I am happy, healthy, and independent. I am grateful for each adjective respectively.
In summary, I hope this article has been informative for those of you unaware of psychosis. I also hope that it has managed to reach someone who is earlier in their recovery than I. If neither, I can at least say that it was cathartic to write.
This February, this anniversary, three-hundred and sixty-five days after my sectioning, I can say with confidence that recovery is real. I have laughed until my stomach hurts again, sung in the shower, savoured my coffee, and loved the world so hard it takes my breath away. Here is to another year of recovery, of life, for you, and for me.
Addendum: I would not still be here to recount this story without my family, Hannah, Mike and Zack. There are too many others to thank for my recovery. Of note include Katie Overs, Jo Preston, my nana, my grandma, Jenny the dog, Anthony and Carolyn, Steph Potts, Charlie Grayson, Kiri Ley, Keir May and Leo Nasskau.