18 May, 2000
Discovery, Dee Palmer spoke to Janet an ex-schizophrenia sufferer
about her experience of the illness.
Coming Out of the Darkness
is a serious and debilitating illness. For many it still carries
great stigma as sufferers
are all too often portrayed as mad, unbalanced and violent.
The reality is very different.
The first hint that Janet had of her illness
was aged 15, when she went on an educational trip to a hospital
with her school. She was walking down the corridor when all
of a sudden she felt that the ceiling and walls were closing
in on her. She heard voices saying she was wicked and evil.
Janet was used to being bullied at school and turned around
expecting to see another pupil abusing her. She was astounded
to find that there was nobody there. The experience was so overpowering
to her that she just cowered. She was struck dumb.
breakdown that followed lasted quite a few months. When her
mother realised it could be a mental illness she shied away
from it, because she was worried about the stigma. She forbid
Janet to mention it to anyone and so when Janet went before
psychiatrists she couldn't speak about her experiences. All
she could say was that she was full of fear.
parents took her on holiday and she started to get flashes of
normality. Smells would become more real, more pronounced. Colours
became more vivid and normal life appeared to be restored. Then
she would lapse back into the illness and it would be a few
hours before reality would return. This continued for a time,
with decreasing frequency, until eventually she felt she had
recovered from her breakdown fully.
this point, Janet didn't
think she would experience the voices again but she was wrong.
A few months later they returned. These episodes were to be
repeated on and off for about 25 years.
would hear voices that sounded like someone was talking to
her from the real world, sometimes they would be behind her,
and she would turn around to look and find no one there.
voices would tell her to do cruel things to people, but that
wasn't in Janets nature.
with the illness
I can't say I got used to it, but eventually after
25 years I did realise there weren't people there'
help her cope with her illness Janet began to have psychotherapy.
In an effort to get her to tell him what she was experiencing,
and knowing that it was difficult for Janet to talk about her
experiences, Freddy, Janet's psychoanalyst traded secrets with
her. He would say" I'll tell you one of mine if you tell
me one of yours".
told her that he was taken to Auschwitz because he was an
Austrian Jew in World War II. She thought that this was a
very difficult secret for him to share and decided that she
could confide in him. She told him about the voices that she
heard. It was a great relief for her to at last be able to
share her experiences and identify her illness.
that Janet can label her illness she feels happy that she
can deal with it. A
combination of the psychoanalyis that she received during
the 1970's, the small amount of anti-psychotic drugs that
she now takes, and a supportive husband enable her to function
As part of the process of treating the schizophrenia, Janet
was advised by her psychoanalyst that it was necessary for
her to distance herself from her mother. When she was unwell,
she had to be in continual contact with her parents.
And at the height of her illness Janet couldn't function if
her mother wasn't in the same room. Her husband helped her
to make that break and separate from her mother. Janet now
has a more normal relationship with her mother.
Janet is now a professional artist, and is able to distance
herself from the emotional difficulty of her illness and be
more objective about it. Producing work about it has been
a therapeutic experience, allowing her to express some of
her experiences visually. She hopes that the work she makes
is helpful to other people to understand the condition.
her degree show, which she had to produce as part of her studies
for her art degree, she made a whole installation. It was
a maze of curtains. She cast her hands, face and feet into
latex, and sewed these on to the curtains. There were also
ceiling curtains and text waved on the floor of the voices
that she would hear. Behind the face pieces were 32 little
speakers that were wired up to a stereo system above, so when
you walked into the maze you would hear voices above you and
behind you. This illustrates to some degree what the illness
was like to have.
viewer described the installation as 'strangely beautiful'.
attributes her husband and her art as the two things that
have enabled her to put the schizophrenia behind her.
is a term that refers to several diseases, rather
than one single condition.
in 100 people world-wide will experience schizophrenia
during their lifetime.
20% of sufferers will make a full recovery. While
the majority will lead ordinary lives most of
the time, with occasional problems.
does not lead to a split personality.
with schizophrenia are no more likely to be violent
than anyone else.
is an illness that can be treated.