My Experience of Living with Anorexia and Schizoaffective Disorder
By Dr Tanya J Sheldon
Key Themes: anorexia, schizophrenia, depression, mental health
"A Mind Less Ordinary: My Experience of Living with Anorexia and Schizoaffective Disorder" is a book about my illness, but it is by no means a 'misery memoir'. Instead, it is intended to help people who have not experienced mental health problems to understand what it is like to live through them. It is not written chronologically. I begin with a chapter in which I introduce myself; I finish with a summary of where I am in relation to my schizoaffective disorder and its treatment at present. The chapters in between form a series of essays about different aspects of my illness experience.
Psychiatrists use a language called 'phenomenology' to describe psychological symptoms. For example, I have periods of depression, periods of hypomania, and periods of psychosis. But what do those words really mean to a sufferer? That is the question which I seek to answer in my book, stretching the English language to explain as best as it is possible in mere words what each of these states of mind feels like. I have also devoted chapters to my teenage anorexia and to my difficulties with self-harm and suicidal behaviour, as well as to my hospitalisations and the various treatments which I have had both in the UK and in the United States.
Although there are many people who suffer from schizoaffective disorder, I bring a unique perspective because I am also qualified as a doctor. My medical background has allowed me to have greater insight than I would have as a lay person, which has at times been helpful and has at other times undoubtedly made life more difficult. I explain how, as a doctor, I have suffered particular loss due to my psychosis, since the General Medical Council refused to grant me a licence to practise; however, I also write about the wealth of life experience my illness has given me, including living in a condemned psychiatric ward for over a year and hearing patients' perspectives on their treatment which I would never have been privy to as a health professional.
For me, it has been a privilege to be able to write this book during a period of relative health and lucidity. I know that I will not always be able to articulate myself so well, and it is possible that my illness will deteriorate to a point where I lose the capacity to write altogether. Many of my friends have already reached that stage and are eager that I should be their voice. For that reason, I feel both obliged and privileged to leave a legacy of understanding. I hope that mental health professionals will read my book and begin to think beyond textbook definitions of psychiatric phenomena; I hope that carers will read my book and finish it with greater insight into their loved-one's particular battles; and I hope that the general public will read my book and begin to comprehend what it is like to suffer from severe mental illness.
My brain is both my best friend and my worst enemy. For example, it has allowed me to pass final medical exams whilst detained in a psychiatric unit. As I wrote in my 'biography' page, my life has been remarkable; as the title of my book declares, my mind is certainly far from ordinary.
About the Author
Born in 1982, Dr Tanya J. Sheldon has the unusual distinction of having taken her finals and graduated from medical school whilst detained in a psychiatric institution. Diagnosed with anorexia at 17, she recovered, only to become ill again several years later with schizoaffective disorder, an illness which causes abnormally high and low moods, as well as detachment from reality. Having been sectioned three times in the UK, she has made progress since undergoing intensive treatment in the United States. No longer permitted to practise medicine, Dr Sheldon is studying to become a Clinical Educator, enjoys creative writing, and volunteers for two mental health charities.
Let Me Introduce Myself
Let me introduce myself. I am 28 years old. I live on my own in an apartment but I have family and friends nearby, and until recently I had the company of a very noble hamster, who sadly succumbed to heart failure at the age of two. He is irreplaceable, but I will get another one soon. I like to have life around me.
I find that I am interested in almost everything, but I have a particular passion for the arts. I love watching foreign language films on DVD or at the local art-house cinema, sinking myself into a soft chair and allowing myself to be carried away by a quirky or intense storyline. I love to listen to music of all genres from Irish traditional via folk-rock to indie-pop. I enjoy classical sounds too, but I prefer to experience those in person - my favourite Friday evening activity involves buying a last-minute student ticket to hear the local orchestra. I play a few instruments as well. The piano was the first I learnt and, whilst I can no longer play to Grade 8 standard as I did at school, I can easily while away an hour or two tinkling the keys of my digital Yamaha. I own a guitar and violin, but I am a wind player at heart and I love to improvise on my flute or tin whistle. The theatre and an occasional art gallery visit are also treats for me, and I have also been known to frequent the opera. I am drawn to anything which offers an outward expression of the human soul.
I love the outdoors too. Getting out for a walk in the countryside or by the sea brings freshness to my outlook, and the serene beauty of the green landscape which surrounds my city enthrals me. I no longer play sport, but I still get a buzz from standing in the crowd at a rugby match. Indoors, I do yoga for relaxation, and from time to time I enjoy swimming at a local leisure centre, the gentle rhythm of the breast-stroke helping to soothe my body and mind. I shop for fun as well, and I have my own distinct style, preferring funky dresses to jeans or ‘work-wear’.
I am also interested in the more concrete details of human life. I follow current affairs avidly and I enjoy being involved in local politics. I volunteer regularly in the constituency office of my own MP, and I can be found surveying the electorate throughout the year and canvassing come campaign time. Being a doctor, I am particularly interested in the politics of health and illness, and I have been involved both in individual health-related casework and in advising politicians on wider medical issues. I am also a ‘Media Volunteer’ and activist for a local mental health charity and the national organisation, Rethink, offering my time to talk to journalists and organisations who want to learn more about mental illness.
You see, I suffer from schizoaffective disorder, a condition which lies on a spectrum between schizophrenia and bipolar disorder (formerly known as manic depression). I also previously suffered from anorexia nervosa; however, I wanted to tell you some other important things about me first because – as I always say when I give a media interview – there is more to me than mental illness. I do not identify myself as ‘a schizoaffective’. No, first and foremost, I am a young woman with interests and abilities, friends and relationships; a young woman who has been through good times and bad; a young woman who has succeeded in some things and failed in others; a young woman who has certain idiosyncrasies, but who is - in many ways - much like any other.
This product was added to our catalog on Tuesday 07 June, 2011.