Aasma Day talks to Andy Lawman, who suffers from schizophrenia and manic depression, about how attending a peer support group has helped him.
AT the age of just 13, Andy Lawman remembers during a history lesson at school, his fellow pupils voted him: “The kid most likely to end up in a psychiatric hospital.”
Little did Andy know their prophecy would come true when he later ended up being diagnosed with schizophrenia and manic depression.
Andy, now 46, who lives in Nelson, recalls: “I was very emotional as a child and I would cry a lot at anything.
“As I got older, I became more eccentric and I began taking a lot of drugs to escape from myself, but this only made my problems worse.”
Andy went on to further education and re-sat his O-levels and did his A-levels. He dreamed of going to university to study astrophysics as he wanted to be an astrophysicist.
However, his mental health deteriorated and he remembers “bizarre things going on in my head”.
Andy remembers: “I had suicidal thoughts and I suffered from paranoia, and had delusions that people were laughing at me.”
When he was 22, things became so bad for Andy, he spent six months in his bedroom and only left to go to the toilet and he ate nothing apart from cornflakes.
Andy says: “My weight went down to seven stones – and I am 6ft tall.
“When I was admitted to hospital, I was suffering from malnutrition.”
Eventually, Andy broke down in front of his mum and told her he could not cope any more with the things going on in his head and she called an emergency doctor.
It was then Andy was found to be suffering from schizophrenia and manic depression.
Andy was admitted into hospital for 10 months and given various medication to control his condition.
When he was discharged, he spent the next few years in and out of hospital.
When he was 23, he even attempted to end his life with an overdose after suffering an immense low after three months of being manic.
It was only after Andy was put on the anti-psychotic medication clozaril that his life improved dramatically.
He has now been on it for 22 years and although it works well, he says medication does not do everything and he still gets breakthrough symptoms.
He explains: “I am a lot better than I was, but I still hear voices sometimes and suffer from paranoia.
“I hear voices a couple of times a week. It depends how stressed I am.
“These voices tell me to do things like rob something from a shop or other horrible things. But I have never acted on them.
“It is horrible. It is like a nightmare, but you are awake.”
Andy receives support from Lancashire Care Foundation Trust’s Community Restart team as well as peer support.
Andy says the peer support from the group Whispers, a support group for those who hear voices, has been invaluable.
Andy attends the monthly support group and says it has been a real help to realise he is not alone and to be able to talk openly about hearing voices without being judged.
Andy says: “When you are mentally ill, you are very isolated socially.
“Going to the Whispers support group gets me out of the house and I can talk openly to people in similar situations about what the voices say to me and what they tell me to do.
“One thing I have realised from the peer support group is that no one else hears these voices.
“Before, I was convinced that other people could hear the voices and that they would judge me for what they were saying.
“I have also made some good friends through the support group and going there has given me confidence and made me realise that I am not alone.
“I have learnt that life is precious.”