I have suffered from mental health challenges for the past decade and have been sectioned and detained for many years – this is my story.
After studying for my BA, I was unable to find a job until I started working at a warehouse as a manual labourer. I was disappointed that I was not able to find employment where I could utilise the skills I learnt from my degree but a job is a job.
I faced bigotry at the warehouse as they would not allow me and my teammates to pray. We requested a small area for our prayers during break time but the management would not accommodate our religious beliefs and refused to allow us to fulfil our obligations.
After about five months of working hard in my role as a warehouse operative, I was fired on the basis that I was late to work a few times. I feel however that I was sacked because of my campaign for the legal right to a prayer area.
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My first psychotic break
At this point, I started my MA in journalism at the University of Sheffield. To fund myself I also started working at a takeaway as a delivery driver. It was at this time that I started noticing strange things such as birds and different colours. I noticed crows, magpies and seagulls and began to believe they were giving me instructions. I also felt that people were possessed by spirits and were psychic and could hear my thoughts. I liked anything white and hated anything black.
While working at my brother in-law’s takeaway for a couple of weeks I began to feel paranoid about him and started to act like the takeaway belonged to me, so he also sacked me from the job. But I began to go to my brother-in-law’s takeaway every day by taxi and started demanding the keys to the business from him.
I would get into taxis without any money and soon the word spread and taxi drivers would refuse to take me to the takeaway which was about 15 miles from home. It came to a point that my brother-in-law would either call the police or shut the takeaway when I went there. This happened a number of times.
Everything came to a head when I thought I was being instructed to fight random people on the street, which I did – as a result the police were involved. I recall being hunted by police and hiding in alleyways and secret places, until I was finally captured and arrested for public disorder.
This was my first psychotic break due to which I was arrested and held in police cells for about 24 hours until I was taken to an acute psychiatric ward in Stockport.
I still saw different colours and birds and noticed distressing sounds and believed I was being instructed to do things. I eventually tried to grab a male nurse who immediately pressed his alarm, and I was restrained and injected.
I was moved to a Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit as a result of my behaviour. It was there that I came into conflict with another patient. He was ill, I was ill, and we fought. Sadly, he committed suicide a few years later. He somehow managed to always throw punches at me amid the sound of the alarms going off.
The road to recovery – living with a mental illness
The paranoia and my hallucinations would only subside many months later after trying many different antipsychotics. I am no longer affected by colours and birds, but when I suffer a relapse it all feels real to me again.
It is my faith that helped me to get through this traumatic time and I would study the Quran and pray to God for myself and for my family. I found religion to be an anchor that allowed me to continue to struggle through the hardship of going through a psychotic break.
Many years later, after starting to hear voices, it is psychology coupled with medication that has also helped me to manage my symptoms. I have learned Cognitive Behavioural Therapy which breaks thoughts and behaviours down and resolves them one by one. I have also become familiar with Compassion Focused Therapy using which I have started dialogue with my voice.
My family have supported me through many dark and desperate times, visiting me in hospital and supporting me financially and emotionally. I do not know where I would be if it was not for my family’s support. They do not judge me regardless of everything that has happened over the years and I am thankful to them.
They have shielded me from the stigma faced by the mentally unwell in my community so I have not faced prejudice and rude behaviour. Unfortunately in the Muslim community, stigma not only attaches to the sufferer but it also attaches to their family.
As a resident at a mental health rehabilitation unit, my standard of living is good although the lockdown has had an impact on that. I have learned to cook, written a book and run a blog and write articles for different publications. So I live quite a productive life.
I have absconded a few times thinking my family were at risk, so, I have not had any leave from the unit over the past couple of weeks. Staff at the unit are amazing, caring and understanding.
My experience of psychosis has been traumatic and is seared in my memory. I hope by sharing my story others will be empowered to share theirs. To have mental illness is not shameful but should be treated like a physical illness, requiring medicine to cure.