The Real Dangers of Self-Stigmatization

Click here to read an original op-ed from the TED speaker who inspired this post and watch the TEDTalk below.

Being sectioned and locked in a hospital ward wasn't on my bucket list, but it's something that has happened to me twice. The first time, I was 20 and in the middle of my studies at university. I had been hearing a voice for two years, a voice I believed was the devil. He made me do many harmful things to myself, but his latest command was even more extreme. He commanded me to stop eating, and for two weeks, I obeyed him. I was physically and mentally exhausted after this fortnight, but being sectioned still managed to take my breath away.

Around ten minutes after being sectioned, I was told I was being prescribed an antipsychotic.

"Wait, an antipsychotic? Does this mean I'm psychotic?" I thought.

To me, psychotic meant evil, a common adjective to precede the word 'murderer.' Within a few hours of being told I was being prescribed this antipsychotic, my voice had convinced me I was an evil murderer. I really believed that one day, I would kill my family or murder dozens of people in a heinous manner. I believed I had to stop myself, but suicide wasn't an option in this strict psychiatric ward. There was only one solution that I could come up with.

My hands were saved, but I still believed I was a murderer. -- Katy Gray

In the kitchen, there was a boiling water tap provided for making hot drinks. Bracing myself for the pain, I walked into the kitchen and stared at this tap, trying to make myself turn it on and put my hands underneath it. I felt like I had to burn them to the bone, making them need amputation, or at least damaging them so badly that I would never be able to use them again. I had to keep my family safe, and in my distorted world, this was the only way I could do it.

Thankfully, a nurse saw me staring at the tap and rushed into the kitchen. Standing between the tap and myself, she pointed towards the kitchen door and made me leave. My hands were saved, but I still believed I was a murderer.

That first hospital stay lasted eight weeks, but I was discharged without my symptoms improving. With my illness worsening in the community, I was sectioned a second time less than a year later. During this hospital stay, I finally started recovering from what the psychiatrists were now calling schizophrenia. The second stay lasted nearly 18 months, but the talking therapies I received helped me to realize that the devil voice, along with other hallucinations and delusions, weren't real. It is surreal to learn that four years of your life were false.

It's been two years since I started recovering, and I am in a much better place than I was. However, I can still vividly remember the feelings I had when I wanted to burn my hands to the bone. I remember the desperation, the terror, and the sharp sense that my loved ones were in danger unless I did it. Remembering these feelings spurred me on to try and make sure that no one else suffered like this. I didn't want anyone to experience these emotions and feel like they needed to permanently harm themselves, or worse. I didn't know what I could do to make a big difference in the world, so I did what I could to make a small difference.

Setting up a blog was the first step. Once this started going, I set up a Twitter account. Next, I wrote for mental health charities and created YouTube videos to show the real side of schizophrenia. After having so much positive encouragement to continue, I took the next step up the making-a-difference ladder. I started a magazine.

Still Here magazine was born from a desire to help others with similar diagnoses. I want people to realize that they are not alone in their struggles. Looking back at my darkest days, I think of how much I wish I could have spoken to someone in recovery, someone who could have answered the million and one questions I had. Knowing how much quicker my recovery could have started had there been someone, I want to try and be that person for others.

Still Here is written to show sufferers that their diagnosis is not the end of their life and that there is a light at the end of the dark tunnel of schizophrenia and psychosis. I also want to help the carers, who are leading sufferers through the dark tunnel, who are also struggling immensely. Lastly, I want the magazine to educate people who are interested to learn the truth about schizophrenia and psychosis as I feel this could really help in the fight against the awful stigma of mental illness.

Being sectioned may not have been on my bucket list, but it definitely made me re-evaluate what was on it. Traveling the world and completing daredevil stunts aren't important anymore. Making a difference to the lives of people suffering with schizophrenia and psychosis is what matters to me now.

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