A diagnosis of schizophrenia changed the course of Alice’s life.
While significant steps have been taken in recent years to reduce the stigma around mental illnesses like depression and anxiety, schizophrenia still remains a taboo topic which is greatly understood in most circles.
And it’s a shame.
With more than one in ten Australians living with schizophrenia, support from loved ones and health services are key to setting those affected on the path to diagnosis and recovery.
By telling her story, London filmmaker and photographer Alice Evans gives a human face to the illness and calls to focus the importance of funding for mental health resources.
Alice had struggled with depressive thoughts since she was a teenager. She was 20 years old and studying at a university far from home when she started getting symptoms of schizophrenia.
The combination of coursework, her three part-time jobs and the stress of a new environment lead Alice to stop sleeping – and things only got worse from there.
Alice described her frightening experience:
“I felt like the world had lost its colour. Thoughts and sentences began to disappear from my mind. I couldn’t speak [and] I began to hear other voices on the radio and TV. I didn’t know what was happening and had no idea how ill I already was”.
It all came to a head one day when Alice was sightseeing with family and suddenly the world collapsed around her – or so it seemed.
“There were no people around, they had suddenly disappeared and all the buildings had collapsed. I was walking completely on my own in an abandoned city”, she said.
This was Alice’s first psychotic episode.
She ended up confused and disoriented, lost in her own city and too scared to ask for help. Completely vulnerable, she remembers taking buses without any idea of where they were going.
Luckily she stumbled across some friends who took her back to the safety of her parents’ rural home, where she would spend the next 10 years of her life.
On the Path to Recovery: Diagnosis
With the help of her parents, Alice started seeing a psychiatrist who diagnosed her with schizophrenia and prescribed antipsychotic medication to control her symptoms.
“It was actually really good for me to hear the diagnosis. Schizophrenia. At least then I knew what I was working with, I had an answer and could begin to move forward”, Alice says.
Alice felt an almost instant improvement from the medication.
She started taking better care of herself, although she had difficulty accessing talking therapy due to lack of funding.
A Stumbling Block
While the medicine’s effect on her mental health was positive, it brought with it some problems with Alice’s physical health.
After one year of taking it, she had gained more than 63 kg in weight, a common side effect of medications for schizophrenia.
“When I put on this weight it made it much more difficult. I felt unattractive, was reluctant to see my friends and I was still scared to go outside, so it was difficult to exercise”, she said.
To make matters worse, she was unable to hold down a job long-term due to her unstable health.
Alice says: “Anybody who says that mental illness isn’t disabling is wrong, it affected my whole body. Everything seemed to be a vicious circle.”
A Positive Step
Things started to turn around with the encouragement of family, Alice decided to rekindle her love of art and music and join a theatre group.
Although the idea of meeting new people was daunting, to her surprise, she was welcomed with open arms.
When she took the leap and told a close friend, Tristan, about her schizophrenia, he opened up about his mental health problems too.
“It was great for me to talk to somebody who understood”, Alice says.
A Big Leap
It was Tristan who set Alice on the path back to university. With his support, she was accepted to Chelsea College of Art where she realised she could use photography and film to describe her experiences.
Alice says: “I could communicate more through those mediums how I was feeling than I ever could in words.”
A Bright Future
Today, Alice is working on her PhD and teaches others to develop their creative skills as well as volunteering for a mental health charity.
She credits talking therapy as playing a big part in her recovery and implores people to show kindness and support to others living with her condition.
You can follow Alice’s work on her website.