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From Zimbabwe to Cornwall


I left Zimbabwe in February 2002, and am happily settled in Cornwall - my choice of abode because my two sons have long been settled here. There is a network of mental health organisations, and I am grateful, as a British citizen at 60, for the free consultations, medication and income support available to me.

After my psychotic bout of schizophrenia in 1976, aged 34, I, a few fellow sufferers and a sane sympathiser called Ian Johnson, formed in Harare a society called Psyche, with the aim of rehabilitating discharged patients and educating the public. As treasurer I was interviewed, together with a psychiatrist on TV. But we did not have the funding to survive and the group disintegrated.

I had become involved with a charismatic Pentecostal sect, called Faith Fellowship, who supposedly cast out of me the demons that caused my illness. Without medication I had a series of relapses, till finally in 1982 I gained insight and became disenchanted with antediluvian religion. I have been stabilised since. The credit goes to pimozide (Orap), a phenothiazine which gives me no side effects.

In Zimbabwe, throughout the course of my life as a teacher, divorcee, then widowed mother of three children whom I supported, mostly alone, till independence, I divulged my illness only to a few intimates, for fear of jeopardising my employment. But now I have made it my practice to be quite open, not without rebuff, in the hope that I may serve as an advertisement of the possibility of full recovery under medication. My other aim is to promote the recovery of fellow sufferers.

Enjoying the magnificent library network, I embarked on a course of reading on madness - especially manic depression - manifesting itself in so many famous people. My twin brother developed this in 1972, and schizophrenia emerged in me in 1976. I read such authors as Kay Redfield Jamieson, Sylvia Nasar, Sylvia Plath and Roy Porter.

I remained creative from 1982 to 1991 while taking medication, but when this became unavailable in Zimbabwe from 1992, I had to revert for the next 10 years to Largactil which dampened me down considerably. Finally, at the end of 2001, my children sent me a supply of pimozide.

I would like to encourage all those afflicted with schizophrenia or manic depression not to desist from medication, especially in the early sedated stages of recovery. It may take time (six months with me in 1982) but stabilisation and coping skills do return. I would appreciate any response from people who have been employed, because meaningful occupation plays such a big role in restoring confidence and a feeling of worth, as well as keeping the mind active and alert.

Eileen Ellis-Whitfield