"I finally realised that I am, and always have been, a winner."

Nazarene Garmonsway first experienced psychosis in 2015. 

The third-year neuroscience student was walking through a Couplands bakery parking lot when she was overcome by an intense feeling that her body wasn’t hers and she wasn’t safe in it.  

“It was incredibly frightening,” she says.  

Nazarene, who had lived with social anxiety for nine years, began to experience extreme paranoia, hallucinations and delusions. She had been in an abusive relationship for six months.

“To me, this presentation of symptoms feels like a very logical progression given the trauma I had and was experiencing.

“The paranoia I had lived with was associated with my anxiety and the wish to escape that came with being abused. They both lend themselves a little too perfectly to the symptomology to be purely coincidental.”

Nazarene has been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. She sees her symptoms as a form of defence against the things and people that were causing her distress and trauma.

She doesn’t feel diagnoses are constructive, as every person who has a particular diagnosis has their own unique experience.  

“I have a friend who sees neon skies and believes that the archangel Michael is telling him he’s a shit person. I have experiences that I’m not safe in my body, and I receive protective directives. 

“The approach to these two individuals should be different, yet often we’re lumped together under umbrellas that do a poor job of keeping off the weather.”

The 24-year-old’s best experience with the mental health system was in Dunedin, where she had a case worker who went above and beyond in caring for her.  

“I was having real trouble getting up and going to work, and my key worker knew I was a student and I needed the money, so she would literally show up at my house every morning.”

Her experiences with the system since haven’t been great, she says.

Her worst experience occurred in January 2019 after a suicide attempt. In hospital, she told her friend that she wanted to go home. He left the room and, “in a very Shakespearean betrayal,” returned with a nurse and security guard. She  was committed under the Mental Health Act. 

“I was spoken to like a child. It felt really undignified. I was stripped of any sort of control. It was a really horrible experience.”

Since then, she has often argued with her friend about whether he did the right thing. 

“He’s a medical student. He talks about the ethics and law part of it but I don’t think he understands my side of the story. As someone who hasn’t had those experiences of mental distress I don’t know if he ever will.

“Open communication would have led to a situation where there was still trust between us. I will never again go to this person for help when I’m in distress because I can’t trust him to act in my best interests.”

Talking about her experiences and having a wide network of support people has really helped her healing, she says.

Nazarene’s whānau has been affected by suicide, and she feels it was important to speak out “because when you’re feeling suicidal you feel really alone and isolated, so just knowing someone else in your family has talked about it could be really powerful.” 

Having a wide network of support people has also really helped her healing. 

“I think in some points of my journey I fell to only having one support person and found it can be a really heavy burden on some people to bear. It’s not really fair to put one person between life and death.”

Listing her emotional responses in a journal has also really helped. 

“I found a lot of the time I couldn’t control what was going on in my mind so being able to write those responses down helped me to organise everything.

“It’s nice to have some control over my external environment, even when I mightn’t have control over my internal environment at times.” 

Nazarene’s now feeling better than ever and hopes to become a clinical psychologist.  

“I think it could be helpful and healing for people to come to me and I will be able to say these are my experiences, and here are some things that have helped me and maybe they can help you too.

“For so long I saw myself as being less-than as a result of my experiences, when really they have made me into a more compassionate, more authentic person in every aspect of my life.  

“Thank you to my depression, thank you to my anxiety, thank you to my psychosis, but most of all thank you to myself for finally realising that I am and always have been a winner.”