I was too ashamed to ask for help when I started experiencing psychosis

I awoke, sitting upright in my bed, with the window wide open. It had been locked before. 

I knew immediately that something was wrong. 

Looking down at my watch, my heart stopped – it was the same time as it was in my dream, just before I’d woken up.

I vividly remembered that I had been talking to a headless horseman, in a black room with a spotlight on me.

In different languages, the figure was telling me that my life was going to change forever, it told me that my life was moving too fast, but that it was going to slow down. 

It said that I was going to get my own flat, become a father.

It felt otherworldly. I’d later find out – after my formal diagnosis –  that even in my dreams, I could experience psychosis. 

There’s no denying that at the time, about 10 years ago, I was burning the candle at both ends. Back then, I was 21, working 9-5 as an apprentice, and spending my evening volunteering as a youth worker; networking, or at creative events.

I’d come home way after 9pm, answer emails, or write a song and check up on my social media. I was bombarded by toxic positivity telling me: ‘No sleep, work harder’ – and to ‘Go get it’. So I thought that’s what I needed to do to succeed. How wrong I was.

It didn’t help that I was surrounded by death at the time, too. My father, who I didn’t know well, was extremely ill; my auntie had passed away, two of my friends were violently killed – and I had a gun held to my head. All in the space of about six weeks.

In hindsight, I wasn’t resting or recuperating from the trauma. I was overthinking and overworking, with my mind in overdrive.

After my dream, I remember asking my mum and sister who I lived with if they sat me up or opened my window – they hadn’t. That’s when I started to break down. I began to question my very sense of reality, if I was still in the dream even after I’d woken up. 

I was obsessed, hyper-focused even, with my room being in a certain order before I fell asleep just to make sure I could check I hadn’t moved when I’d woken up.

Looking back, it was clear that I was going through a manic episode, but things are still a little hazy for me. All I remember is being anxious, panicky, depressed; experiencing illusions and hearing voices. I began to withdraw, self-harming and isolating myself.

I thought there was no one that could possibly feel the way I did. I felt extremely, utterly alone. As a Black man, and a creative young person who lived in London, wanting to succeed in life, I was too ashamed to ask for help – it wasn’t in my culture or gender identity to open up. 

I had no clue about psychosis, despite it apparently happening to one in 100 people, and didn’t know much about mental health at all.

Most importantly, I didn’t know there were even facilities that could help me. The doctor was just for your physical health, right? I thought people would think I was crazy if I told them, so I buried it. Deep.

It has since been liberating to find out that people who experienced psychosis were similar to me, but I had to find out the hard way. 

Months later, I ended up in hospital after my sister soon found me in a bad way. I woke up in hospital clothing, hooked to drips in a strange place with none of my belongings, which wasn’t good for my already overactive mind.

Soon, I was sectioned and referred to an Early Intervention Centre where I spent four months recovering and healing. It took me about a week to realise I was actually there as I was so delusional. 

I was told that I was experiencing psychosis, and was diagnosed with bipolar, which felt very overwhelming – as well as a relief. I had something to attribute my alien feelings to. 

The centre didn’t look like your conventional hospital. There were set meal times, alongside talks and sessions about recovery; with a beautiful, serene garden for some much-needed thinking time.

People worked with me, instead of on me. 

Opening up in hospital helped me come to terms with how I ended up there, shifting my perspective on life and my mental health. I learned that my mind needed to rest.

I lived by an old African saying, often recited in my family: ‘Whatever is done can be undone’.

Over the four months I spent in hospital, I went on medication and channelled all of my energy into getting better, opening up to people and coming to terms with what had happened to me.

A mentor soon told me about Rethink Mental Illness – a charity which helps people struggling with their mental health, and their loved ones, to find the support they need to have a good quality of life.

Now, I tell people to seek support as soon as possible – if I did, it would have changed my entire life. We still live in a world where men account for three-quarters of suicides, but it’s up to you to seek that information. I want you to know that there are people out there who can help you, like they did with me.

Sadly, there’s still so much stigma and shame around psychosis. People think you can never recover from a psychotic episode and it’s not true. It’s like wearing a plaster for your physical health – there are things that can help heal you.

Today, I’m still learning about my mental health but I’m more in touch with my mind. If I’m having a bad day, I switch off my phone and walk in the park, or have a bath and I really notice the small differences in my life.

I took the time to be grateful and present and I’m more certain about what I want to accomplish.

I want to use the energy and experiences I have to help others. It’s crucial to see other people like you and it reminds you that nobody is perfect.

Since then, I’ve become a father, a mental health campaigner and I’m looking at becoming a housing officer – it gives me purpose, and strength to keep going.

It’s my job to share my story, and prove that there is life outside of the darkness.

More information about psychosis and Rethink Mental Illness here

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