Colin is 34 and from Rochdale, Greater Manchester, he asked not to be pictured…this is his story
I was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2003, when I was 20. The diagnosis followed an acute psychotic episode, which doctors thought was because my drink was spiked with combination of drugs that could have been lethal.
This doesn’t happen in all cases, but for some people with schizophrenia there can be a single trigger for the symptoms. I’ll never know for sure, but the schizophrenia may have always been underlying and become full blown after the incident brought on by the spiked drink.
I had a few spells as an inpatient in a mental health unit, which meant that I couldn’t pursue my dream of joining the military. I really struggled to come to terms with my condition, and because I couldn’t see anything positive about my future I began drinking heavily. I was relying on my parents for support, and even though I wanted to live independently all the offers of accommodation I had were in areas known for drug abuse and high crime rates.
I found out about Making Space about five years after my diagnosis, when I’d just come out of hospital after yet another spell as an inpatient. My community psychiatric nurse told me that they offer supported accommodation and referred me for help.
I was offered immediate support with counselling, occupational therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to help me build my confidence and come to terms with my future. A few months later, I moved into Making Space’s supported housing in Rochdale,Greater Manchester, where they gave me support with benefits and tenancy related paperwork, budgeting and bill payments, and helped me to monitor my condition.
Before I moved into Making Space supported accommodation, I was a mess. I was just off the ward and living with my mum and dad, and they were doing their best but I really needed my own place. I was at a real low. I wasn’t eating and my self-care was non-existent: I wasn’t shaving or washing. I became agoraphobic because I was hyper-paranoid about world events, and despite living with my parents I felt very isolated.
I’d been in and out of hospital so many times, I was desperate to have some sort of routine and independence and try and live as normal a life as possible. There just seemed to be too many barriers. One of the characteristics of someone with a diagnosis of schizophrenia is you think you’re the only person feeling that way. You see things on the news and relate to them, so for example my diagnosis came after 9/11 and around the time of the Madrid train bombings and I convinced myself all these news reports were messages directed at me. It’s only through attending groups and accessing that support from organisations like Making Space that you realise you’re not on your own, and it gives you a glimmer of hope. But at the time I didn’t have that.
Another major blow was realising I wouldn’t have a military career. I joined the Air Training Corps when I was 13 and was there until I was 19. I had a lot of discipline, I had leadership skills and I had the drive and ambition to get into the Forces. Not being able to pursue that dream was a huge blow. I still tried, though. As soon as I was released from my first spell in hospital, I went to see an Army doctor and explained the situation. He told me there was still a chance I could have a military career if I could be stable – without medication – for three years.
It was an unfortunate thing to say to someone who’d just been diagnosed with schizophrenia – I kept coming off my medication because I so desperately wanted to have those three stable years. Obviously, not taking the medication had the opposite effect to the one I intended, but I was in complete denial about my condition. And every time I stopped taking my medication, I became more ill.
It was only through support from Making Space that I was able to accept the reality of my condition. When you get over the denial and you start to accept all the help that’s offered, you realise you don’t want to be trapped as an inpatient. People can get delusions to dissuade them from taking their medication. Mine was that it was all part of a recruitment test of the military and if I took the medication, I’d fail the test. It was only when I started accepting the help that was being offered that I was able to fight the delusions.
I don’t think I’d be where I am today if it wasn’t for Making Space. I know when I’m about to experience an episode because I become uncommunicative and shut myself away. My support worker would recognise these signs and come and see me and help me get through those times and encourage me to interact. They’d work through coping strategies with me, and help me to adjust my environment, learn what to avoid and make sure I stayed motivated. Making Space also uses a tool called Recovery Star, which is a benchmark for recovery. It has 10 key areas that you can measure, like self-care and relationships, and it’s really helpful for working out if I need to ask for help.
Part of my recovery plan was to give myself something to look forward to, so I made enquiries about getting back into education. There’s no way I’d have been motivated enough to do that without Making Space. I’d have been reaching for the booze, not looking at colleges. I’d previously started courses in both Liverpool and Leeds, but both times my paranoia increased in the unfamiliar cities and I ended up returning home.
Because I had that support and was closer to home, I applied for and was offered a place at Manchester College to study A-Level maths and an access to HE diploma, which is the pathway to university for a mature student without the necessary qualifications. Two years later, I was accepted onto a Chemistry degree at Manchester University and moved the 14 miles to Manchester to fully engage in my studies.
Because I was experiencing so many changes – moving away from my family, returning to full time education, finding a new home – Making Space’s Manchester Floating Support Service was able to give me support. My support worker came to see me every week when I was at uni – we’d have a brew and a chat about the week, he helped me with form filling and letter writing, and worked through time management and stress management with me. It’s really important for me to have that relationship with someone who isn’t a peer, and who has an insight into my history and how things are.
I had two more inpatient episodes in 2015 and 2016 and my diagnosis was changed to schizo-affective disorder (a combination of schizophrenic and bipolar elements). I don’t think that will ever go completely, but my support worker helped me to manage things. I can’t eradicate my symptoms, so instead we talk about how I can deal with them being there. Psychiatrists are great, but they don’t have the time to sit and chat about things like that. The support workers from Making Space offer their time, and that time is precious.
I had to take a break from my studies and move back to my parents’ home temporarily following my admissions so I could establish a neurochemical equilibrium. I’m on course to return to halls in Manchester in September 2018 to resume my studies. I’m stable now, although I do still experience highs and lows. But now that I’m on the right medication, I’m hopeful that I can succeed.