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What the Experience of Schizophrenia Meant to Me

By Chris Andrew

I have been member of Voices for the past ten years - mainly as a survivor/advocate member. My own experience of schizophrenia is a fairly unusual one.

Now in my fifties, I became ill in my late teens and was "hospitalized" until my mid-twenties. My experience of the hospital regime was far worse than the problems associated with the actual illness. In fact, it was not until almost 20 years after my "escape" from the hospital that I was able to talk (or even think) about this period of my life at all.

I joined a local NSF group because I needed to talk about my own problems resulting from my previous "incarceration". Having worked through my own problems I then realized that my own experiences might enable me to help others - and I then began to work within the Voices network.

My experience of treatment within the psychiatric system of the 1960's and 1970's enabled me to sympathise with laboratory animals! Seriously. Once labelled as "mentally ill", one had no further human rights whatever. Whilst a so-called "voluntary" patient I was subjected to electric-shock treatment without my consent, and without any pre-medication or anaesthesia whatever. As a young woman, previously brought up in a safe, secure, middle-class home, I could not believe what was happening to me. The physical conditions in which we lived were appalling - no room for bedside lockers or wardrobes, one's few personal possessions kept in a suitcase under the bed. The wards were filthy, the food was barely edible.

We named our ward "Auschwitz", due to the consultant in charge being Jewish. We felt he was trying to get back at someone, but unfortunately only his patients were within reach. Severe staff shortages led to barbaric treatment and occasional tragedies. Two staff in charge of two neighbouring acute wards, meant that patients on our ward were heavily sedated, or locked up, (or both) when the staff were needed on the adjoining ward. On one occasion, a friend of mine (called Joanne) was "banged up" after lunch. She became hysterical and choked. By the time the staff returned to the ward and unlocked the door, she was dead.

Joanne and I had sat up late the previous evening, laughing and joking through the Mogadon, as we were on a "high" at the time. So my memories of her are good ones. I successfully repressed this episode until the birth of my third child, a daughter, eighteen years ago. As other mums will know, this is the time when the emotional floodgates open. She could only be called Joanne.

I wish I could think of something positive to say about my experiences in Central Hospital, Warwick, all those years ago. I lost home, job, friends and fiancee. I found a faith - Christ came to me in my desperation. This enable me to eventually "escape" and rebuild a life, and has been the basis of my life ever since.