BELIEVING she could rewind time and eradicate homelessness, journalist Leah Milner, 38, was sectioned as she wrestled with psychosis and bipolar.
Here, she explains what it was like to completely lose her grip on reality.
"Convinced my mum was losing the plot, I raced out the front door of our family home, wearing just a dressing gown and my hair soaking wet from the shower.
As she chased after me in her nightie, a young man walking by stopped me, concerned. “Please help me!,” I screamed at him.
“My mother has dementia, she’s having an episode!” But my mum Rosmond, then 67, was perfectly sane. However, I was in the middle of a bipolar episode that would lead to me being sectioned.
I grew up in Finsbury Park, north London a normal happy child, and went on to study English and French at university, before becoming a journalist in my mid-20s.
But although I had several lows following break-ups, and periods when I was suddenly more impulsive than usual – for example, in 2006 I cancelled my flight home from travelling in South America and moved in with a Colombian man I’d met, only to discover he already had a girlfriend – I never suspected anything was seriously wrong with me.
'MORE IMPULSIVE THAN USUAL'
By 2013, I was working as a money reporter for The Times, where I’d won awards for my writing, and living with my boyfriend Jamie* in a rented flat in Camden.
Jamie and I were both in our early 30s and had been together for two years, so I wanted us to buy our own place and start a family. But he wasn’t ready and the more I pushed, the more he pulled away, and I started to feel insecure.
By summer 2013, my mood was deteriorating. Each morning I’d wake up at 5am choked with anxiety, dry-retching as I brushed my teeth. At work, I was consumed with panic, and a tingling sensation crept up my arms while the words on my computer screen danced around.
Realising I wasn’t going to suddenly get better on my own, that September, I saw my GP, who diagnosed me with clinical depression and prescribed sertraline, an antidepressant.
By Christmas, my self-esteem was returning, Jamie and I were getting on better and work felt manageable.
So in early January 2014, feeling I was back to “normal”, I abruptly stopped taking my tablets, unaware doing so can bring on an episode of psychosis for people who have an underlying mental illness such as bipolar.
Soon, like Kanye West who also suffers with this mental health condition and recently threw his hat into the US presidential race, I had delusions.
I became fixated on pay-day lenders and wanted to set up a charity to help people borrow affordably. I was tweeting MPs and imagined I had a huge social following.
Too busy to eat, sleep or wash, my hair became matted as I sprayed it with dry shampoo every day and scraped it back without brushing it.
I didn’t realise it at the time, but I was in a phase of bipolar known as hypomania, which is characterised by extroverted behaviour.
You tend to talk quickly, interrupt others and dominate conversation. Jamie and my parents grew concerned, but then I entered a phase of psychosis.
Currency started to feel like Monopoly money and I wandered the streets of Camden handing out £20 notes and promising shelter to every homeless person I met.
A couple I befriended walked home with me and when Jamie returned from work, he found me handing out our clothes and belongings. Overwhelmed, he called my mum, who took me home.
The following morning, I ended up running out into the road in my dressing gown – convinced it was my mother who was ill.
Mum drove me straight to hospital, but even that was hair-raising, as I kept trying to pull on the handbrake and jump out of the moving vehicle.
After a 12-hour wait in A&E at University College Hospital, I was sectioned. The process involved me sitting in a starkly lit room while four mental health professionals asked me questions.
I was then handed a legal document, but as I stared at the page, words rearranged themselves to form new sentences. I believed I was pregnant and there to have a C section.
I was admitted to Highgate Mental Health Centre in north London and began hallucinating ghoulish figures in the shadows that other patients cast on the walls.
I believed the TV, which was constantly blaring away in the common room, only worked when I looked at it. And I scrawled spirals on notepaper with a pen, thinking that by scribbling anti-clockwise I could rewind time.
The ward was clinical with wipe-clean vinyl-cushioned armchairs, but it wasn’t oppressive. I had my own room with a bathroom, though staff would check on me every night. The nurses were kind and I bonded with some patients.
Others, I tried to avoid – such as one man who ran towards me naked before being restrained. My parents, who split up when I was eight, visited every day. Jamie came most days too, though he hated seeing me with eyes heavy from the drugs, still jabbering away excitedly.
During my time in hospital, the psychiatrist told me I had bipolar but reassured me that with medication and talking therapy I could still live a normal life, which was a huge relief.
After two weeks on strong anti-psychotics, the psychosis passed and doctors suggested I move in with my mum, who was retired, as Jamie was working full-time.
I was referred for cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and attended an NHS recovery centre, where there were art therapy, yoga and mindfulness classes, plus doctors on hand.
But I was still hypomanic and spent compulsively. I bought bags of clothes from charity shops, including shoes that were too big and even a top hat, before my mum confiscated my credit cards.
Including loss of earnings, the breakdown cost me a total of £25,000. Thankfully, however, living with my mother meant I was able to use money I would have spent on rent, bills and food to get back on top of my finances.
By April 2014, the euphoria dissolved and I began sinking into depression. I was convinced my career was finished, but when colleagues and friends tried to reach out, I avoided them.
Around August, I decided to quit my job and become a freelance journalist so I could regulate my workload without letting anyone down. By this time Jamie and I had drifted further apart so we decided to split up, but remain friends.
While single, I froze my eggs in order to give myself some breathing space. Soon afterwards I met my current partner Bobby, 37, a town planning consultant, at a friend’s party.
I told him about my condition straight away and he’s been so supportive. Last year we moved in together, and we’d like kids one day.
I’m at a high risk of postpartum psychosis if I come off my medication, but the combination of pills – sertraline plus quetiapine, a mood stabiliser and anti-psychotic – are thought to be safe through pregnancy and childbirth if the benefit of staying on them is greater than not.
I’m in such a different place from six years ago when I was sectioned, but if I could go back and erase that chapter of my life I wouldn’t. It’s taught me to take care of myself – and never take my mental health for granted.
Credits: *Name has been changed
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