A Manchester man who suffers from schizophrenia has got his life back on track despite still hearing ‘disturbing voices’ on a daily basis.
Colin Evans, 31, from Littleborough, was diagnosed with the disorder at university in 2003, aged 20, and subsequently had to drop out and move back home with his parents.
His diagnosis followed a ‘scary, unpredictable and life-changing’ experience which doctors put down to his drink being spiked with a potentially lethal combination of drugs.
But despite numerous spells as an inpatient in a mental health unit and his dream of a military career being in tatters, Colin is now living independently and is in his second year of a chemistry degree at the University of Manchester.
However, the 31-year-old admits he still has days were he feels ‘really low’ and experiences voices encouraging him to ‘do something bad.’
“There is a subtle distinction between a ‘voice’ and a ‘thought’ which I had to figure out for myself,” Colin told MM.
“For me, when I think and ponder thoughts, I hear my own voice but when I hear a command or auditory hallucination it sounds like a very dark, deep, evil voice telling me to do something bad or immoral.
“I hear voices on a daily basis. Sometimes they are so disturbing that they can distract me from working effectively.
“However, I have developed a technique to intercept the thought process and reject anything bad.”
Schizophrenia psychosis is chiefly characterised by delusional beliefs, irrational thought processes, auditory hallucinations and, in some cases, visual hallucinations which Colin has also experienced over the years.
“When I experience auditory hallucinations I try to distract myself by listening to music, reviewing my notes or reading a newspaper.
“Most of the voices I hear are triggered when I experience a heightened sensitivity to audio/visual stimuli and this is one of my ‘Early Warning Signs’.
“They are mainly command in nature and focus on self-harm and not the harm of others.”
Colin added: “A visual hallucination occurred when I took an overdose with over a month’s supply of Amisulpride.
“The reason I did that was because I was reluctantly taking my medication and my mum asked me if I had taken it which made me feel really annoyed and I said something like ‘look, I’m taking my medication’… then promptly downed the lot.
“I remember going to the infirmary and being encouraged to vomit into a bowl. I hallucinated pink elephants blowing yellow pyramids out of their trunks – it was like something out of Dumbo’s ‘Pink Elephants on Parade’ in the Disney film.”
After a 10-year struggle to get his disorder under control with the correct medication, Colin now has his life back on track thanks to Making Space, a charity which provides support for adults living with mental health issues and disabilities.
The charity found Colin his own apartment in their supported accommodation in Middleton and offered him the counselling and therapy he needed to help him build his confidence and come to terms with his future.
“Before I moved into the supported accommodation, I was a mess,” said Colin.
“I was just off the mental health ward and living with my mum and dad, and they were doing their best but I really needed my own place.”
Colin says Hope Court gave him his first steps towards independent living, whilst offering support with benefits and tenancy related paperwork, budgeting and bill payments and healthy eating advice.
The stay proved to be the ‘step up’ that he needed and he is now in the second year of a four-year chemistry degree at Manchester University, living independently.
He said: “There’s no way I’d have been motivated enough to do that without Making Space.
“I’d have been reaching for the booze, not looking at colleges. I’d previously started courses in both Liverpool and Leeds, but both times my paranoia increased in the unfamiliar cities and I ended up returning home.
“My support worker, Wayne, still comes to see me every week and we have a brew and a chat.
“It’s really important for me to have that relationship with someone who isn’t a peer, and who has an insight into my history.
“I’m stable now, although I do still get voices and I don’t think that will ever go completely, but Wayne helps me to manage things.”
Keen to give something back, Colin is now volunteering his freetime to give talks about coping with schizophrenia.
He talked candidly about his experiences at a recent event at Recovery Republic wellbeing centre in Heywood attended by 25 people.
The 31-year-old is giving a second talk at the York Street centre on Friday April 10 at 10.30am.
He said: “If I manage to help one person to turn their life around for the better then I have achieved what I wanted.”
Credit: Mancunian Matters