Hi there. My name is Laura, I am 27 and currently studying a Postgraduate Diploma in Mental Health Nursing. I have a first class honours degree in Psychology and spend as much of my free time with animals as possible. It’s hard to believe that ten years ago, shortly after receiving a diagnosis of Schizoaffective Disorder, my Dad was told by a psychiatrist that he strongly suspected I would not get better.
Schizoaffective Disorder is a complex illness, consisting of symptoms of a mood disorder (in my case, severe depression) and then symptoms of psychosis such as delusions and hallucinations. For me, before my perfect cocktail of medication was discovered, these different symptoms would cycle; I would go from feeling so low, suicide felt like the only viable option to, just a few weeks later, being in the grips of psychosis and totally detached from reality. This resulted in me spending over 2 years in hospital, including 7 months in a medium secure unit, and I have been sectioned more times than I care to remember.
So how did I get from being considered ‘treatment resistant’ to where I am now?! A LOT of support and plenty of pills. I am so fortunate to have a fantastic, supportive family and, back when I was in the grips of my illness, the NHS was in a much better situation financially so I received all the help I needed quickly and efficiently. I am one of the lucky ones.
Fortunately, I am very high functioning when my medication is working properly, meaning I am able to live life as though I don’t have a diagnosis which has a prefix too often associated with murderers by the media (a personal gripe of mine). I take anti-depressants and anti-psychotics daily which have unpleasant side-effects (nightmares, increased sweating and postural hypotension to name a few) but they keep me well and out of hospital. It took a long time to find the right medications for me which is partly why I spent so much time in hospital – it was trial and error.
This condition does add an element of unpredictability to my life; I am terrified of becoming unwell. If I hear a strange noise, I worry it was an auditory hallucination or, if I’m having a ‘down day’, I fear that I will spiral into the depths of depression. Having said this, I am not held back by my illness at all! I do require extra support sometimes and I need to remain mindful of my vulnerabilities but I can party with the best of them, I achieve good results at uni and, before too long, I will be working alongside people similar to those who told my poor dad that I might never be well enough to go home.
I do occasionally experience symptoms of depression and/or psychosis and have had periods of acute illness; I required a month in hospital back in 2015. The game changer for my family and me has been the ability to spot the signs of relapse! In my case, these signs include things such as: shaking my head from side to side a lot (something I tend to do without realising when experiencing auditory hallucinations); withdrawing socially; not eating enough; and not sleeping enough or sleeping too much. I recommend anyone with an illness similar to mine to create a list of ‘warning signs’, with the help of those around them, so that these can be acknowledged and identified if and when they occur. These warning signs allow us to seek support from professionals as early as possible, hopefully ‘nipping it in the bud’ before it becomes unmanageable.
My aim in life is to now help others who are experiencing mental illness both through my mental health nurse training and via the YouTube channel where I share my experiences of living alongside Schizoaffective Disorder. Ultimately, I want to encourage people to hold on to hope – I dread to think where I would be now if I had been allowed to lose mine.
Laura Nuttall won a Mind Award in 2015 for her amazing mental health vlog – her videos are frank, useful, uplifting and cover a range of topics including; medication, self harm awareness, depression, uni life and her beloved hedgehog Goose!