The following is a guest post written by Chelsi Halewood. Up until she was 18, Chelsi didn’t know that her dad had schizophrenia. She wanted to share her story of how she came to understand the illness.
“Cross the road, this man looks like a weirdo” is exactly the type of thing 14 year old me and my friends would say. Of course, back then, we didn’t give it any thought as to what we were saying, and we didn’t mean to stigmatize or hurt anyone by saying this. We were impressionable young girls who had been told to stay away from strangers. And that was before I knew that my dad had schizophrenia, and that’s what the term “schizo” actually meant. Now, it’s sad to think that young girls would say or think that about my dad because he’s the kindest, most generous man I’ve ever known and he would never hurt anyone.
I was about 18/19 when I found out that my dad had schizophrenia. I remember that day like it was yesterday. I was waiting for the bus to go home from college and and my phone rang. It was my dad and he was staying at my uncles about 200 miles away and he said to me “I heard you shouting me from next door, I’ll be around now” I remember being so confused saying to him, “what do you mean, I’m waiting for the bus and you’re miles away” he said “no I can hear you and your Nan shouting me, tell her I’ll be around now”. I still didn’t have a clue what he meant, when I got home I told my mum and that’s when she told me that my dad had schizophrenia and what it actually was.
When you have schizophrenia and go into psychosis, it’s like you’re living in a completely different world. You hear voices, and you believe that what’s happening in your head is true, so it can be really dangerous and scary for the person who’s suffering with it. My mum and dad have been split up since I was 2, so I’ve never lived with my dad, but I’ve always been really close to him. Because I’ve never lived with him, it had always been easy for him to hide this from me. He would just go up to my uncle’s till he felt better and his tablets had started to work again. I’ve noticed that when he goes into psychosis, it’s like he knows that something’s not right so he tries to hide it from me and most of the times he does it really well.
But now, I’m 26 and I can spot the signs of when he’s going into a phase again. It takes a few weeks before it goes really bad and he still tries to hide it from me, even though I know what’s happening. It’s like he’s scared that he will say something to upset me so he is just really quiet with me, I can’t get a conversation out of him at all. I’ve read so much about the condition and when somebody with schizophrenia is in a psychosis state, they say that they can’t tell between what’s real and what’s not, so you’d think that my dad would just say whatever he’s thinking to me because that suggests he doesn’t know the difference. But when he’s starting to hear voices and think things that aren’t true, he does know that something’s not right but because he’s not sure what thoughts are real and what thoughts aren’t- he just doesn’t say anything to me. But this is only with me. He has no filter with my Nan and my Aunty, so when he does start saying things that don’t sound quite right to me, that’s when I know he’s really bad.
Since finding out about his condition he’s been hospitalised twice, one of which was over Christmas just gone which was one of the most difficult times I’ve ever been through. I would visit him and he would think I was someone else with a mask on, he didn’t believe it was me. Even though I knew he didn’t know that his thoughts about this weren’t real it was still so difficult for him to question who I was. He would try to pull at my face to take the “mask” off and it took a few weeks for him to realise it wasn’t true. Sometimes it’s like he’s getting worse as he’s getting older and each time he has a break down he doesn’t recover as well as the time before. Even now while he’s at his best he will sometimes forget what he’s just said and now there are always things that he believes are real but they’re not. Since he was last in hospital he’s now under court order to have an injection rather than tablets so he won’t ever miss one. He seems to be doing a lot better on the injection but it’s a constant battle for him and for his family and the people closest to him.
It’s difficult sometimes to see him have these thoughts, the worst part of it is thinking how scared he must be when he talks about some of the things that go through his mind. Sometimes I just want to scream at him and say “it’s not real, just remember it’s not real” but the best thing to do is to agree with him and then try to change the conversation to take his mind off it.
It can be mentally draining for the people around someone who suffers from this condition too, you feel worried and helpless and you just wish you could make them feel better. They know no different but you do and it’s like you lose them for a while. I’ve found the best way to deal with it is to stay close to the other family members around you who are going through what you’re going through and take time out for yourself when you need to and don’t feel guilty about it. Just remind them that you’re there for them because sometimes they can slip into a state of depression so it’s important to remind them that you’re there and you love them no matter what. Look out for early signs of psychosis and get professional help as soon as you can, the earlier that professionals are involved the better and it takes some of the pressure off of everyone around the person suffering from schizophrenia. Once professionals are involved they will be ok and start to get better. Just be there for them and try not to get upset by the things they say.
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