‘Is Mike really dead?’ I went to his funeral only yesterday. I spiraled.’: Woman shares journey with psychosis to break stigma, ‘It shouldn’t be a scary word’

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This story includes descriptions of suicide and mental illness that may be triggering to some.

“My mental health journey started in my early 20s. I’d just finished university and moved back home to our very rural village. I had difficulty adjusting to the remote countryside after living in a city with people my own age. I also struggled to find a job and didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I developed severe anxiety and depression and, ultimately, ended up feeling very alone.

But I wasn’t alone, I had Mike. Mike wasn’t just a friend, he was part of the family, a fact made official when his sister married my brother. Mike started to experience serious mental health problems in his late teens, and a little while later, I started struggling with my own mental health. Mike understood in a way no one else did, he was there for me, and I was there for him. We became inseparable. We sat together in the darkness, we fought side by side, and there was no doubt that whatever difficulties we faced, we faced together.

Two people walk together in a field
Courtesy of Stephanie

One day, Mike lost his battle with mental health and passed away from suicide. Our whole family was shaken, and I was distraught. I didn’t know what to do now that Mike was gone. It felt like half of me was missing. The following weeks were a blur: there was so much that needed sorting out, and his family included me in all of it, which meant a lot to me. As the last person to have spoken to Mike, I had to be interviewed by the police officer investigating Mike’s death. It was a very thorough conversation that went on for many hours. I was overwhelmed, but mostly, I felt confused as to why the police were asking so many questions. In the end, Mike’s death was ruled as

The day of Mike’s funeral came around, and it was a beautiful service, exactly what he would have wanted. When I spoke to everyone afterward, they all seemed to be saying the same thing, his death ‘was expected.’ I seemed to hear that phrase again and again. When I returned home that night, it was all I could think about. It felt like everyone was trying to convince me of something, and to me, it seemed very suspicious.

The day after I was sitting in my bedroom, it was a hot day, and all the windows were open. I suddenly heard these two middle-aged women, voices I didn’t recognize, talking in the garden. They were talking about Mike. I ran to the window to see who these women were, but there was no one there, I couldn’t see them. I quickly shut all the windows, but I could still hear them talking. I was so confused. I shoved on my shoes and went out for a walk. I could no longer hear the women, but I was still in shock.

Woman lies on her back in bed
Courtesy of Stephanie

It wasn’t until later that day when I had returned home and was in the kitchen that I heard them again. The same two women talking, but this time they were narrating what I was doing. ‘She’s taking a spoon from the drawer.’ ‘She’s putting the milk in the fridge.’ These women sounded so real, I was convinced they were standing just behind me, but every time I turned to see them, there was no one there. I was scared; I didn’t know what to do.

I spent the evening in the garden with my family having a bonfire. At the end of the night, I came inside to change my dirty clothes and the instant I walked into my room, I knew someone had moved my wardrobe. This solid wood wardrobe that is impossibly heavy and no one has ever been able to move in my whole life—I was convinced it had moved. In that moment, standing in the doorway of my room,
it suddenly all made sense, the voices, the police interview, everyone’s comments at the funeral, it all became perfectly clear in that one moment of clarity. Mike wasn’t dead. The police had taken him, and now they were also spying on me by putting cameras in my room. The two unseen women had been sent to warn me, and now I understood, I knew the truth.

I ran downstairs and frantically asked my mom, ‘Is Mike really dead?’ I will always remember the look of absolute shock and confusion on her face, which slowly turned to heartbreak as gently explained to me that yes, Mike was dead, I went to his funeral only yesterday. I stormed off, enraged she was now lying to me too and she was on their side.

From there, I only continued to spiral further. Everyone and everything became part of this lie about Mike being dead. As I was already under mental health services for my anxiety and depression, a doctor phoned a couple of days later to see how I was coping with my recent loss. When I explained it all to him, how the police had taken Mike and how the voices had told me so, he instantly referred me to the mental health Crisis Team and to the Early Intervention in Psychosis Team.

From there, I was diagnosed with psychosis, was started on medication, and later received therapy. It was the start of a huge learning curve for me. I knew nothing about psychosis, and for a long time, I didn’t really think I had it. I wholeheartedly believed I knew the truth and everyone else was just lying to me. Eventually, I gained some insight into my illness and started the long road to recovery.

Given my story, it would be easy to think grief causes you to develop psychosis, however, that is not the case. It just so happens those two events coincided for me. Given my family history, my own mental health, and numerous other factors, I was always at risk of developing psychosis. I don’t feel like there is one particular thing I would blame for my illness: psychosis is just psychosis, and
it just happens to be part of my story now.

Woman holds out her hand where a bird sits
Courtesy of Stephanie

I still don’t really know how I feel about what happened to Mike. Part of me accepts that what I believed was incredibly unlikely to have happened and was probably a delusion. But there’s still that gut instinct feeling inside me, which sometimes manages to convince me I was right all along. I’ve had other delusions since then, but none have proven as hard to disprove as this one.

I also still hear voices every day. Those two middle-aged women, who only ever talk to each other and never to me. It’s like sitting on a bus and constantly listening in to someone else’s conversation. Sometimes, it sounds like they’re many seats away; sometimes, it’s like they’re sitting right behind me. These voices are mean and unpleasant the majority of the time, but they are just part of my everyday
life now, and I’ve become pretty good at ignoring them.

Being diagnosed with psychosis had such a massive impact on my life. I remember when I was first coming to terms with the idea, I did what everyone does and turned to the internet. I found it horrifying! It scared me so much to see all these terrible stories of ‘lunatics’ and ‘psychos.’ According to the media, at best, I was going to become a lonely crazy person shouting at pigeons in the street, and at worst, I was going to become a full-on murderer. I felt it was only a matter of time before I became a monster.

Woman wearing shirt supporting mental health awareness
Courtesy of Stephanie

I’ve lived with this illness for a while now, and over time, I’ve realized that really is not going to happen to me. I’m still just the same old me—no more murderous or angry towards pigeons than I was before my diagnosis. I’m just an ordinary person living with a mental health condition, it’s as simple and unremarkable as that. And that’s why I now share my story online. I want there to be at least one person out there saying, ‘You’re going to be okay, psychosis isn’t going to turn you into this terrible person.’

My main message for anyone currently going through psychosis is to not be intimidated or afraid of the diagnosis. ‘Psychosis’ should not be a scary word: it’s an illness like any other, and an illness does not have the ability to define who you are. You are just an ordinary person going through an extraordinary experience. Psychosis may impact many areas of your life, but it will never stop you from being you.

I want to say a massive thank you to everyone who has read my story. I feel so lucky to have had this opportunity, and I hope somehow my story might lead to others engaging in more open, honest, and accurate discussions about psychosis, as I feel that is the only way we’ll be able to reduce the stigma.”

Woman sits with small dog outside
Courtesy of Stephanie

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Stephanie of the United Kingdom. You can follow their journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

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