Living in a flat in the centre of town, drinking too much, and struggling to understand his ‘own peculiar madness,’ Paul knew that something had to change, but didn’t know where to start.
Diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, he was hyperactive, aggressive and hypersensitive, he needed at least two cans of lager in the morning just put him on the level and his psychosis caused him to hear voices and act in a way that he now says he feels quite shameful about.
I met Paul at a community garden makeover day at Mallow Court, one of Bromford’s MyPlace schemes that is home to people with a mental health diagnosis. He was busy painting a fence panel in the sunshine, so I sat down had a quick chat about what living at Mallow Court meant to him. Here he takes up the story…
“I moved here about three and a half years ago after I was referred by my community psychiatric nurse (CPN). As soon as I had a look around I liked the place, and within a week I was in. Living in that flat in town was no good for me and my mental health.
“My psychosis meant that I heard voices, and being paranoid I believed that everyone was talking about me. At the time I thought that God was on my side - like I was divinely possessed or something, so I was going off ranting and raving at people… and the more I drank, the worse it got.
“Over time I realised that it wasn’t my fault, it was something that was probably always likely to happen with the amount I was drinking. Drinking too much obviously knocks your psychology about and if I have one or two drinks now I can feel myself starting to blaspheme… but rather than carry on, I’m now able to stop when I recognise what’s happening. I used to drink two cans of lager in the morning just to put me on the level. Now if I drink one can, I’m tipsy and shaking.
“The stability of being here, and the help and support I get from Neil has helped me cope by learning how to calm down and realise what was going on in my own head, and I’ve learned the triggers for it. I’ve learned that the madness was no good. At the end of it I was like, ‘no Paul, you’re wrong.’ It’s this realisation that I was wrong that has calmed me down quite a lot and, at first, made me quite penitent – I wouldn’t look at people as I was ashamed of what I’d done.
“Recently my diagnosis has been changed to Alcoholic Hallucinosis – I hear voices when I drink alcohol. If I have one drink it comes back and I get very agitated, nervous and paranoid. I experience this about twice a month at the moment. Set off by different patterns of behaviour including guilt… if you’re poking around in your own psychology sometimes you can throw up dirt. Sometimes it just occurs, but mainly it’s my own fault so I’m learning techniques now just to calm it down properly.
“This change in my diagnosis started me thinking about getting a job. I’m hoping to go back to university – I’d completed one year of a degree in history and politics at Aberystwyth University - so I’d only need to compete two years. I’m thinking about getting a job and getting a degree would really help. It would prove that I was back to being ‘sane.’
"I’m thinking by next year if I keep improving I should be able to start working on other stuff… things like getting myself fit and healthy and cutting out smoking. But I’m not thinking that at the moment because I’ll put myself back under pressure.
“This year has started well, I’ve been relaxing and getting over the stress of Christmas where I got dragged into the ‘festivities’ and drank too much – I managed to cut out the drink again in January, I slipped a little in February but March and April were good and I didn’t drink at all, so now I feel like I’m getting my life back in order.
“Since moving into Mallow Court I’ve learned a lot about my own peculiar madness and I’ve learned that I can just switch it off…which is really good. Before, I was at the mercy of the madness and I didn’t know what was going on at all. I’ve seen the ends of the madness now and I know the beginnings of it so every time it crops up I’m just like, ‘no – I’m not interested’… I just don’t get involved. It flows passed me and it’s gone again, which is quite remarkable as I really was in the throes of all kinds of madness not so long ago.
“I’m feeling much better now. I’ve put on around four stone in weight - when I was drinking heavily I was only eating two sandwiches a day. Now I’m eating properly, doing a bit of gardening and I’m outside in the sunshine. There’s no way I could have done this before as I was scared of the sun at one point. I’d blasphemed so much I was scared of the sun god. My mental health workers got me back outside and I was very sceptical at first – but here I am in the sun.
“Places like Mallow Court are so important for people with mental health problems – being around people who understand and care has been key to helping me to cope with my illness and to be able to look to the future in a positive way.”