Henry Cockburn: If I say I'm schizophrenic people reply, 'So you've got a split personality'

 

I am quite open about my illness and people generally are more interested than afraid of it. I remember that before I was diagnosed as a schizophrenic in my teens I did not know much about it.

I thought it meant someone who would flip out at the most trivial of things. Other people are often equally ignorant. Since my recovery, I have gone back to Art College. I told some of students that I was a schizophrenic and they said “Oh, do you have a split personality?” I don’t know if it was a good idea telling them this because they are young and impressionable.

Stigma is what people think about others and, to a degree, I say to myself: “who cares what they think?” But I should care because I entered the system as I didn’t conform to the norm, though you could also say I was a danger to myself so that I needed to be locked up. People are afraid of madness because it is the unknown. Mental hospitals are shrouded in stigma and I had never been in one until I was sectioned. I remember once walking out of my hospital, and taking the back route which passes through a council estate. I heard a six-year-old shout at me “get back to the hospital”. It got me really down that day.

Violence on the ward was a brutal way of settling scores. I got in a few fights but I would not say I was violent person. Once there was a bloke with a titanium head in my ward. He said that he had fallen off his motorbike on Friday the 13th a year earlier and had broken his skull. One day I threw a potato chip at him and it landed on his head. He went mad and punched me until the staff came to break it up. I am surprised there weren’t more fights. If you take a lot of unstable people, a few with violent tendencies, and coop them up 24 hours a day for week after week the outcome is inevitable.

It is unfair to connect violence with schizophrenia and other mental afflictions. Only a small minority of mentally ill patients are violent and this may not be related to their illness. One man I knew in the ward was a racist. He took four pool balls, put them in a sock and swung it at an African patient, bashing him on the head. This racist incident was isolated and didn’t happen again. Another time a Rastafarian, who was a religious fanatic, threatened to hit me because I said I didn’t believe Mary, the Mother of Jesus, was a virgin.

The reason I was in the most secure ward of the hospital was not because I was violent, but because I was an escape hazard. The most violent thing that happened in my ward took place a couple of months before I arrived. Two people had committed suicide in their rooms: One had burned himself to death and the other had hung herself.

I had a friend called Toby when I was in a less secure ward in hospital. I was 20 and he had been in the sixth form at school. We used to play hacky sack, a game where you have a small ball full of beans like a juggling ball. The object of the game is to kick the ball and not let it fall to the ground. Toby used to play the guitar. I had known him before he was in hospital when he was into drugs in a big way. I walked into town with him once and we went to a park where where I rapped while he beat-boxed (making the rhythm). He thought kids were laughing at us, but I reassured him that they thought we were good.

One day I got in late to the hospital and I was called in to the staff room; I thought I was in trouble because I had been spitting out my medication. In fact it was much worse: Toby had committed suicide. He had jumped in front of a train. I knew that he used to cut himself, but I didn’t quite know how depressed he must have been. It hit us pretty hard on the ward.

Violence is only one small component of mental illness. People are afraid of it because they don’t know what it is. They are told by the media that schizophrenics are dangerous violent people who should be locked up, though it is much more complicated than that. Some people suffer from hallucinations and delusions and it is up to the doctor to decide if they are mad. You can say you hear the voice of God and be considered sane, but if you say you hear the voices of dogs or trees they question your mental health.

For me the decision was that my behaviour had gone beyond eccentricity into madness. I became very introverted and wary of electrical objects, thinking they could tap into my thoughts. I would go for days hiding in trees and bushes completely naked, and sometimes I did this in the snow. I would plunge into ice-cold lakes or rivers. I could hear trees and bushes talking to me, but I never hurt anyone.

Schizophrenia: The shame of silence, the relief of disclosure

The stigma of the hidden schizophrenia epidemic

Editorial: We are failing sufferers of mental illness

Henry Cockburn: I like to be liked – and finally I’ve found friends who really like me

Is this the 'tobacco moment' for cannabis?

Henry Cockburn: 'I can hear what other people can't'

Fashion advice from the shrink’s sofa

The demise of the asylum and the rise of care in the community

Henry Cockburn: I was trying to listen to my shoes. I thought I was going to be put in a straitjacket

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
footballA colourful discussion on tactics, the merits of the English footballer and rebuilding Manchester United
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Travel
The shipping news: a typical Snoozebox construction
travelSpending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Project Coordinator

    Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

    Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

    £350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

    Embedded Linux Engineer

    £40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

    Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

    £50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

    Day In a Page

    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
    Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
    Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

    Feather dust-up

    A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
    5 best waterproof cameras

    Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

    Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
    Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

    Louis van Gaal interview

    Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
    Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

    Will Gore: Outside Edge

    The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz