I'm Mad, But Not Bad

Erica Camus is a freelance journalist and a mental health activist with a history of paranoid schizophrenia
Erica Camus
Freelance Journalist

From Erica

The Onset

The onset was fast. It was December 2003 and the midnight screech of police sirens, usually no more than irritating, suddenly seemed deafening and unbearable. Sleepless and paranoid, I would wander the house at 3am seeking spy equipment. In the daytime, flickering TVs and "wrong number" callers to my mobile, things others would hardly register, seemed to signal imminent danger. 

At the time, I believed that I was at the centre of a conspiracy populated by a quasi terrorist gang of scriptwriters, songwriters and presenters who communicated with me via the TV, radio and computers. This group of people, who I believed lived in London art squats, wanted me to suffer excruciating, lifelong physical pain in prison.

The Treatment

After six weeks of terror, no sleep and exasperatedly trying to explain my conspiracy theory to anyone who would listen – my mother took me to the GP. A few days later I had a consultation with a psychiatrist. We agreed I should try a medication called Amisulpride, an anti-psychotic, on a daily basis. But I remained convinced that these squatters were after me despite the psychiatrist, Dr Srinivasan, referring to my theory as a "false belief".

Still, I responded well to the medication and stabilised quickly. But it wasn't until much later that I was diagnosed with "paranoid psychosis". I now know psychosis is not a condition in itself, but a symptom. Around one in 200 people will have a psychotic episode at some point, and may find it hard to distinguish between what is real and what is imagined, sometimes seeing or hearing things that are not there.

One day at work I had a breakdown and accused a coworker of installing spy equipment in the fax machine. I was shortly let go and fell into a dark and suicidal mental state.

I decided to pick up all my things and move to New York. Before departing to the States, I remember peering over a nurse’s shoulder at my medical notes as I was getting undressed for a smear. "Psychotic". There it was. It was a frightening word. Even I was afraid of me and what that meant I'd do. I immediately decided not to have children, because I might murder them. It took a long time for me to realise that I wasn't a threat to other people.

Managing Today

However, since 2003 I've been taking medication, thus successfully managing my psychosis without too much problem. So does my diagnosis mean I'm mad? No more than you are, I think. So long as it's managed with medication I'm okay and not overwhelmingly, or astoundingly, paranoid or psychotic. I have a small circle of close friends that are the best in the world. I work independently and have even started my own fashion label, Medfed, which is colourful and fun. It aims to challenge the bleak mental health stereotypes that are often in the media.

Women's Health Magazine, The Independent