I’m A Schizophrenic, And So Am I.

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Fran out and about in the community, doing one of her new favourite activities – BINGO!
Written by Interchange Customer Frances

The journey started for me when, at 64 years of age, I received information suggesting that I might like to belong to the National Disability Insurance Scheme. I answered “Yes, that I would” and then forgetting completely about it, I heard from the NDIS when I turned 65 early in January the following year.

The two things that were continually brought to the forefront as my “goals” were:

  1. I would like to be able to live a healthier and more organised daily life.
  2. I would like to participate in activities that I enjoy within the community.

My husband had passed away from cancer in late July 2011, after we had been together for thirty years. He had supported me with my schizophrenia and I had supported him with his cancer. His was a horrific ending, as we did not have laws supporting euthanasia in Australia at the time, so he went without food for 12 days and water for 5 days before he took his last breath. He had two daughters and three grandsons from his first marriage when he was very young, and he doted on the boys and adored his daughters and his only thought at the time was for the five of them and having to leave them so early.

I had had schizophrenia since the age of 12, so everything I had experienced from then on had been the thoughts of “being easily embarrassed” to “everyone is laughing at me” to “I’m scared and anxious so I can’t mix with people.” I had four attempted suicides over the years, one putting me in a ‘Locked Ward’ and from there graduating to an ‘Open Ward’ for some months in a local hospital.

The one person who had stood by me more than any other was my brother Neville, but I will say that we had a very strong family unit, being one of ten children.

When I was about 60 I began to get unsteady on my feet and presented as a fall risk, which proved to be an accurate description as I had five falls in the next five years, two of them putting me in Intensive Care. I now use a walking stick for support and am wary every day of slipping or falling over.

As a schizophrenic distressing thoughts were standard, and I lost a complete sense of self when my husband passed away. He had left me with a roof over my head and I was very grateful to him for that, however, once he died I locked myself away in the unit he had left me, pulling the curtains closed and barely mixing with neighbours, as I had lost all confidence in myself. My mental illness had taken complete control and I did this for eight years before the NDIS and Interchange entered my life and slowly, things started to change.

In the Spring of 2019, I was introduced to Gail who works as a Support Worker for interchange and had made meals for my sister June, who lived in a group home for people with disability in Armadale. Gail had the patience of a saint and as I mentioned to the NDIS and Interchange that I had always wanted to learn to cook, she put her hand up to teach me. At first, I was extremely wary of having someone in my home, if only for three hours once a week, but after some months I started to get used to her, and now call her a valued friend. She was never pushy and understood that I had a mental illness, so she gradually started to talk with me on her visits, and I became less scared of her.

The NDIS has a certain amount of funding for each person they help throughout a year and I was able to get a computer man out every Tuesday for ten weeks for a couple of hours to go through computer basics with me, which was a great help.

Meanwhile, my support worker Gail, helped me to use my computer skills, by suggesting that it would be a good idea to record all recipes so that, when she wasn’t there I could cook something for myself in her absence. I now have a long list of recipes that we practice and she even buys magazines with recipes in them and we try those. I got so confident with my cooking that I was able to put on a roast for my younger sister and her partner. Another time I invited my nieces over with their partners to share a morning tea with home-made cakes and scones.

Both were daunting tasks for me but I managed to get through them without much of a problem, and I was able to discuss my success with Gail, who always had an ear for my stories and was extremely patient with me. My brothers are now the recipients of cakes, so some of my time was being put to good use.

I was assigned to a Support Co-ordinator and we discussed other things I had wanted to do in my life, and one of those was that I had always wanted to learn Chess. My support worker, Gail now accompanies me to the South Perth Library every Friday for two hours of chess with a wonderful man called Albert. He was somewhat of an expert on chess and played since the age of 2-3 years. I have been learning chess for eight weeks now and know all the pieces by name, and their various moves they are permitted to make, although I call the Rook the Castle and the Knight the Horse. I haven’t won one chess game against Albert, in fact, I barely make it to the middle of the board before he checkmates me, but it’s fun to play!

I do take a meander wandering throughout the library and love reading Catherine Cookson books and search for them in second-hand shops and thereabouts, where copies appear readily available.

I pushed my luck with a physiotherapist Emma, trying exercises in the heated pool doing Hydrotherapy at Fremantle Swimming Complex, but sank like a stone so gave away that idea. I knew after I had experienced one lesson, that it was not for me.

I thought to myself, I could go to Bingo for three hours on a Thursday afternoon where I wouldn’t have to talk much to people but I could keep my brain active, and as the caller on the first day was not one for beginners like me, I missed a few numbers until I picked up the games. Once again Gail was with me so we acquired a book of numbers for the afternoon; we didn’t win anything but it is a wonderful opportunity to do something different, get out of the flat, and gradually become part of the community again.

I have to admit that I did not believe for one second that the NDIS and Interchange could do anything to get me to open the curtains, let someone into my flat to cook and talk, go to bingo and learn chess, but I was completely wrong.

I was still having thought problems with my schizophrenia though. I was sitting in my chair at home alone in August 2020 crying and thinking the usual: “my sister thinks this of me; my brother thinks this of me; everyone thinks I am strange and laugh at me”, so I rang my brother Neville.

I was very distressed when I spoke to him, raving on, tears running down my face. After I had poured my heart out to him, he said:

Fran, you have had a mental illness that came upon you at about the age of 11 or 12 and now that you are 66 perhaps you may come to realise that people don’t think anything about you to distress you and maybe it’s your thinking that is at fault.

When I hung up the phone, I looked up to the white ceiling in my unit and said to myself:

YES, maybe it is my thinking that is at fault, and from that moment of realisation and acceptance, a great weight was lifted from my shoulders and I smiled because I had immediately found peace and I started laughing and began to plan to enjoy life to the full from that moment on.

It only took 55 years, but thanks to Neville, Gail and the others, and all the doctors who helped me throughout my life. I can finally say: “THANK YOU.”

So now, with the support of Gail, Brett, Tina and Sarath from Interchange, my support co-ordinator Cathy, my occupational therapist, Chelsea and my physiotherapist Emma, I am able to leave my flat, and enjoy my life to the fullest.

If I ever have had thoughts towards others I just say:

Fran, you have a mental illness which will never leave you, and you are not in control of your thinking, so I smile and try to be happy and hope the bad thoughts float away, and they almost always do.

If you would like to find out more about how we can help you to become more independent and live the life you want please visit our Service Section.