I Have Schizophrenia

After being diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of 21, here’s how I’ve navigated my mental health journey and what I’ve found helpful along the way.

 
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I was 21 years old, living a great life, with people and a job I loved. Yet no-one could prepare me for the season I was about to face.

My physical health took a quick turn, landing me in hospital under close observation, with a plan for discharge the following day. As I lay there in my hospital bed, an unsettling storm of voices besieged my mind. My heart was racing and I felt paralysed by fear. This experience was new to me and I could not comprehend it. It wasn’t until the next day when my parents saw me that they realised something was wrong. This marked the beginning of the journey of what would ultimately be diagnosed as schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia is usually made up of three main symptoms: hallucinations (auditory or visual), delusions, paranoia and extremely disordered thinking and behaviour. All of which impairs daily functioning and can be extremely disabling. I have experienced all of these.

As it is with most people prior to receiving a diagnosis, schizophrenia is never something I thought I would have to deal with. So, it came as a shock for my family and I when we found out what was going on. The doctors determined, after years of monitoring and observation, that one of my main triggers was stress.

This brought about my new reality. I no longer work due to the impact that stress has on my mental health. Most nights I lay in bed in fear and I’m not sure if that feeling will ever go away. Currently, I spend my days creating art, discovering new things that bring me joy, and finding new ways to be productive without inducing stress. My dog, Hachi, a true companion, stays by my side through it all.

imageMental health challenges can affect anyone. They don’t discriminate. They don’t pick and choose who to target next. An estimated 44 per cent of the population has been affected by various mental health struggles in their life. And that number is only increasing.

Over these trying years, I’ve gained many invaluable insights into how to navigate the struggles that come alongside mental health. All of which I hope can be a blessing to others on their own journeys.

Don’t be hard on yourself
In the midst of mental health challenges, it’s easy to fall into the trap of shame and self-criticism. But a crucial lesson I’ve learnt is to be kind to yourself. You’re battling something significant and it’s normal to have setbacks. Treat yourself with the same compassion and understanding that you’d offer a friend on a tough day. Most of all, know that you’ve got this! It will be hard, but there’s help along the way, and you will be okay.

Look after your physical health
Mental health and physical health are deeply intertwined. While it might seem like a small step, taking care of your physical wellbeing can have a profound impact on your mental state. Regular exercise, a balanced diet and sufficient sleep can provide the stable foundation your mind needs to weather storms.

Find grounding resources
Discovering what helps you find peace is an invaluable tool in your mental health toolkit. Whether it’s a calming music playlist, a guided meditation app or an insightful book—these resources can serve as anchors and sources of hope for when you’re really struggling.

Set up a support system
You don’t have to walk this journey alone . . . and I would encourage you not to. Having support can make all the difference. Find trusted friends or family members to share what you’re experiencing with and who can provide a listening ear or a shoulder to lean on. Remember, there’s strength in unity and your loved ones can be a beacon of hope during your darkest moments. If you have no-one in your life who you trust, see if your doctor can connect you in with a community. Headspace.org.au is a great government-led resource in Australia that offers information, support and opportunities to connect with others.

See a therapist or psychiatrist
Seeking professional help is a sign of strength, not weakness. Regular sessions with a therapist or psychiatrist can provide you with the necessary tools to navigate the complexities of your diagnosis. They can also offer guidance, prescribe medication when necessary and help you understand the intricacies of your emotions.

imageLearn about your triggers
Understanding your mental landscape is essential for proactive self-care. Identify your early warning signs: subtle shifts in mood or behaviour that precede a crisis. Recognise your triggers: situations or stressors that tend to exacerbate your mental health challenges. Armed with this knowledge, you can take preemptive measures to safeguard your wellbeing and get support when needed.

By opening up about my own struggles with family and friends, both in-person and online, I’ve witnessed the profound impact our stories can have on others. They have the power to foster connection, break down stigma and remind us that we’re never truly alone in our ever-so-unpredictable journeys of life. So, as we navigate the complexities of mental health, let’s also remember the importance of reaching out and listening to one another. Together, we can create a network of support and understanding that will carry us through the toughest of times.

During my journey, I’ve come to appreciate that healing and recovery are not linear paths but rather intricate mosaics of progress and setbacks. It’s okay to have days when it all seems overwhelming, but it’s crucial to remember that these moments don’t define your entire journey. They are but small chapters in the larger narrative of your life. Every step forward, no matter how small, is a testament to your resilience. And let me remind you that you are more resilient than you might ever imagine. With the right support and self-care, you can come out of even the darkest of seasons into the warmth of brighter days. So, be patient with yourself, embrace your uniqueness and trust that, in time, the clouds will part, revealing the light.

My journey still continues . . . but I’ve journeyed a long way since that day I first went to hospital and got diagnosed. While there may be no universal solution for mental health struggles, these lessons have been my keys in navigating and maintaining my wellbeing.

Wherever you’re at with yours, remember that you are not alone in this battle. Together, we can break the stigma surrounding mental health challenges and muster the strength to face whatever life throws our way.

Stefanie Power is a native of Australia’s Gold Coast. She is dedicated to raising awareness about mental health while sharing the teachings of Jesus. With a passion for mental wellbeing, her advocacy work fosters empathy and support for those facing challenges. Her faith serves as a guiding principle, emphasising the transformative power of love, kindness and compassion to create a better world.

If you or someone you love is struggling with their mental health, please reach out for help. You can call the Mental Health Access Line on ‘1300 MH CALL’ or access resources and help online with Beyond Blue, Lifeline, or Sane Australia.

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