January 2018 - Freedom of Mind

In this post, Gilda Lockheart shares what it’s like living with psychosis and how her performance work has helped her to better understand these experiences.

TW: Graphic Descriptions of violence, Death, Psychosis, Suicidal thoughts
*Note from the editor* You may find this an intense read so please make sure you look after yourself.We feelthis post opens up conversations about a side of mental health that isn’t talked about as often, and it is important we recognise all sides of mental health and mental illness . It’s heavy, but personally, I also found it eye-opening.

If you’ve been affected by any of the issues raised here, there are people you can talk to. Check out our Talking and Support page or ring the Samaritans helpline on 116 123.


I am nine years old, and wake to the sound of weeping. Afraid that somebody in my family is upset, I jump out of bed and rush to my parent’s bedroom door, but no sound comes from their room. I then go to my sister’s bedroom, but she is silent too.

The crying is incredibly loud, as if it was coming from right next to me. I go back to bed, confused and frightened and, after a few weeks, I think it must have been a nightmare.

I hardly see anyone talking about psychosis, despite new research which estimates approximately one in thirteen people can expect to have at least a single psychotic episode by the age of seventy-five.

I am now twenty-six and I have had recurring periods of psychosis since I was nine years old. Sometimes, it can be two weeks or even a month of persistent, negative voices whispering into my ear and visual hallucinations all focused on death: people throwing themselves off of a bridge, a man hung and swinging from a tree; melted faces, bodiless and hovering in mid-air, and mutilated bodies crawling down the stairs.

But I have also been free of psychotic episodes for years at a time.

My psychotic episodes are occasionally benign and funny: the voices can tell decent jokes, and I once saw a vortex to another dimension open up in a wall, which I thought was actually pretty rad.

However, my psychotic episodes are far more often horrific and disturbing. I found it an incredibly isolating illness; when I first started university, at age twenty, I remember my class having a discussion around depression and anxiety – which I have also experienced, mainly in conjunction with psychosis – but nobody else mentioned hearing voices.

I was surprised to find research that stated psychotic episodes are relatively common, and I wonder if it’s the absurdly untrue, negative stigma around psychosis that keeps people suffering in silence. It’s a common misconception that the word ‘psychotic’ means ‘dangerous’  and Hollywood and the media have often portrayed those experiencing psychotic symptoms in a negative light.

I didn’t have many episodes as a child. I recall once seeing a little girl walk past my bedroom door, and more unexplainable crying and singing, but these memories are so vague that they are unreliable.

Psychosis only began to affect my life in a significant way from the age of eighteen. I have since been told by mental health professionals that late teens to early twenties is most often the age it first starts, or begins to really kick off. The visual hallucinations became far more disturbing and lasted for longer durations of time.

I am eighteen years old and at home by myself. A headless man appears in the room, a few feet away from me. The atoms that make him form fly together as if it were a jigsaw puzzle. I am frozen in shock, and he staggers towards me, arms outstretched, zombie-like. I think he is going to strangle me, but as soon as he is within touching distance, he disappears into thin air. This all happens in less than a minute, and I wonder if I had fallen asleep on my feet, despite not being tired.

From then on, I saw people or corpses every few months. Even when the people were whole, there was something wrong with them: blank, staring eyes, slightly transparent, anatomy slightly off, no facial features. The voices were far more frequent too, but, at this point, they were a dim chatter in my head, and so vague that I could only make out a few distinct words amongst the chatter. They did not speak directly to me or about me.

I thought that there was only one reasonable explanation: my house was haunted.

Eventually I moved out at age twenty to go to university, and I couldn’t wait to leave my haunted house. My first semester at university was fine, which further convinced me of the existence of ghosts as the explanation for everything I had seen and heard. But one day, as I got up early in the morning for one of my lectures, a face began to form right in front of me, then proceeded to drip and melt as if it were made of wax. I then began to think that it wasn’t my family home that was haunted, it was me.

I eventually quit university because of my deteriorating mental health, and I doubted I would have passed anyway with all the missed lectures due to increasingly frequent psychotic episodes. The voices began to change: they became more individual and distinct, and said negative things about me and to me, telling me that I was worthless, nobody liked me or cared about me and that I should just kill myself. Unsurprisingly, I was plagued by anxiety, depression and exhaustion. When I first started university I had made plenty of friends, but I soon started to withdraw and eventually became so isolated that I spent most of my time in my room and barely spoke to anyone.

Eventually I worked out that there were mental illnesses with psychosis as a symptom, and I no longer believed in ghosts, but being mentally ill was a far more terrifying prospect and I continued to keep it to myself.

For years I was too afraid to confide in anyone or to seek help, but I was finally inspired to speak out by writer friends in the writers’ group I regularly attend, who shared their poetry and short fiction about mental health. In October 2016, a friend asked me to read a piece of my writing at a public event for Worcestershire LitFest and Fringe on the theme of mental health. The piece was called A Ghost Story, about my journey with psychosis, and I’ve since performed it again at Acts of Searching Closely festival in London (2016). The first time speaking about my experiences of psychosis in front of the public was scary; I was afraid that I would be judged negatively, but I was surprised at the positive reaction. Lots of people spoke to me afterwards, asking about psychosis and revealing that their family member or friend had had a similar experience.

I now run a performance collective called Brain Cocaine, and our work is inspired by our own experiences of mental illness and healing from trauma. We specialise in performances for individuals or small groups that aim to raise awareness and to help audiences tackle their own traumas and mental health issues in a positive and therapeutic way. I have discovered that talking and making performance work about my mental illness is not only cathartic for me, but also helpful for others around me. I make relatively little money from it at present, but the thing that keeps me getting up to drive to London in the early hours of the morning to do a big show are the individuals who have said that my performance has helped them to overcome their difficulties and has made them realise that they are not alone. It is very much worth it.

I have never gotten much out of counselling, but now my work has become my form of therapy, and has also begun to shape my life in a significant way. While I feel I have lost out on many opportunities in life because of my illness, my performance work has taken me across the country to festivals and events and has given me a new passion in life. When my mental health started to seriously deteriorate, I never imagined that I would have the courage to talk about my feelings, let alone have an audience of hundreds of people want to listen. I like to believe that there is a silver lining to the negative things we have to endure in life, and I can honestly say that without having experienced depression, anxiety or psychosis, I would have a lot less to write about and could have never made the majority of my work. The fact that my psychotic episodes have had a positive contribution to my life helps me to accept my illness and makes the difficult periods far easier to deal with.

I am now on medication that works to control my psychosis, and find that the very rare episodes I experience now are related to extreme stress, and I have to be mindful of how much pressure I put myself under. I returned to university and graduated with a first-class degree, and now hold down a regular day job beside my performance work, and for the majority of days, I live a perfectly normal life. I believe that if more people experiencing psychosis were to speak out, especially about their successes, then we can change the way society views the illness and help people to realise that we are perfectly normal people who sometimes hear voices.


McGrath, JJ, et al. 2016. Age of Onset and Lifetime Projected Risk of Psychotic Experiences: Cross-National Data from the World Mental Health Survey. Schizophrenia Bulletin. Electronic source available online:
Mind. 2016. Psychosis. Electronic source available online:

Brain Cocaine –
A Ghost Story. Gilda Lockheart. 2016. Available online:
Video credit to Acts of Searching Closely.
Image from performance of “Born To Die” at Worcestershire LitFest and Fringe 2017

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This week’s blog post is from HJ – our very own… well, we’ll let her tell you! Writing on how to support those with anxiety

Hi! I’m HJ, a 27 year old thingymabob and Freedom of Mind’s PR Coord. I have had severe anxiety since I was 4 years old. It is not triggered by social situations, however I can draw parallels to the feelings when describing social anxiety. Everyone is different, but I have decided to write a ‘how to…’ article, drawn from my own experiences, to shed light on how to look after those in an anxious state.

Enjoy, and always be kind. X   

Don’t laugh about the situation, until it’s calmed down, and then stay light.

It sounds so simple writing it down, but we live in a world with a very ‘laugh it off’, ‘yolo’ or ‘soldier on’ attitude. This is a fleeting, quick fix attitude that resolves nothing. Don’t laugh at the person, even if it’s meant innocently. Take it seriously, and then when they have got to a better place, try and crack a smile about something around you, or something that happened unrelated to this current attack. It’s not all doom and gloom.


Take responsibility

This one is a slightly trickier concept, but one I am most familiar with and need to stop. Do not blame someone’s anxiety as being the problem if you yourself have done something to cause someone’s upset – take responsibility for your actions. Also, if you are the one with anxiety, don’t think it’s automatically your fault – it’s not always (I’m still learning) people are always allowed to feel anxious. People like to shift blame, and there’s no easier way than doing so on a vulnerable platform of anxiousness. But check-in on your actions – is this the person’s anxious fault, or have you been a bit of a naughty human? A lot of the time my anxiety stems from something quite real.


Don’t say ‘calm down’.

…or don’t say anything obvious at all. Listen buddy old pal, wouldn’t it be lovely if I could just calm down?! Then we wouldn’t have this mess in the first place – I’m not an idiot. I recently got told ‘you shouldn’t think about that right now.’ I know I shouldn’t, but sometimes you can’t control your thoughts. So instead of ‘stop’, try and calm the person down so it comes to a natural halt once they’ve taken back control.


Ask the person to explain what the matter is

If they can, let them talk, talk, talk. And LISTEN. Do not interject their outlet with power speeches and strategies. You cannot read people’s minds, so clearly and calmly ask if they could let you know what is going on in their mind.


Keep your calm for them, and step by step explain what’s going on.

This can come after step 4. If you can imagine everyone having a bottle in their tummy labelled ‘calmness’. When someone is anxious, their bottle is empty. If yours is full of calm, or you have some spare – fill their bottle up. Be outwardly calm. Fear drives fear. Calm explanations are a perfect way to distribute calmness from one to another. I will never forget when I was in India, I was so scared of a bus journey I was on. Someone held my hand and so calmly said ‘can you explain what you’re scared of?’, after listening and remaining un-phased, she explained what was going on right now, through the perspective of a calm eye, so that I could see a different perspective, and be reminded to stay present. (Thank you, forever.)


Reassurance NOT attention.

I spoke with a table of wonderful people about this the other month. It was regarding relationships, but I realised I could apply this to anxiety. We were debating the difference between people that need ‘attention’ in a relationship (‘You look beautiful’, ‘I’m looking at a bunch of girls right now and no one compares FYI’(?!), ‘I’m so lucky to have you’, ‘Have you SEEN this girl/boy?! She’s MINE.’), compared to the people who need reassurance (‘I love you’, ‘You’re doing a great job’, ‘Everything’s cool’, ‘How are you?’) It’s a soft line of difference. But it’s something easily grasped with emotional maturity and intelligence. Anxiety isn’t looking for someone to be attached to them the whole time and to make a spectacle of. It’s quite the opposite. I’ll need reassurance, NOT attention.

If necessary, distract.

On the same bus journey I was talking of previously, someone else in my group got me to sit away from the window (I was afraid of what was going on outside) and we put a blanket around us and watched a funny movie. She was cracking up (she was Canadian and hadn’t seen something as British as ‘Four weddings and a funeral’ before) Her laughter and watching something else, while creating a soft, safe environment (blankets have always been a winner for me!), gave me a sense of calm. (Thanks again, I was lucky on that trip, ey.)


Be honest, and be honest in what you can give them.

Dishonesty is probably my biggest trigger to my adult anxiousness. If you crack my trust, you give space for self-doubt, over-thinking and anxiety to get through. Please don’t get to the point where you say, ‘I didn’t want to say anything to worry you.’ Lies worry me, not truth. Once you lie, it becomes a constant guessing game. Do not tell people what they want to hear, they are not idiots (quite the opposite, they are normally hyper-observant). Tell them what’s real, in a convincing calm way – I promise it’ll make you feel better, too.


Stay patient.

I don’t think I need to go into this point much more. There will be a time when they’re not as anxious, but if you think you’re going to cure someone’s anxiousness with one 5 minute PowerPoint explaining how great they are, then go and try and build Rome in a day. Ciao.  


It is fucking tough. Grow some.

I have a huge admiration for people that stick by their loved ones during anxious moments. I can only imagine how exhausting and tough it is. It is not for the faint-hearted. Here, I would like to thank my family and friends that do so.

I would also like to stress the element of ‘grow some’. To kill stigmatization as it stands, we cannot treat it as a weak and defeatist element of a character, and to pander to that. I never want anyone to make excuses for me just because I carry anxiety in my backpack sometimes. Surely, we are the strongest if we have more weight to carry sometimes?


…And remember the light.

To put it in ways you may understand: If you want abs, you’ve got to put hours in the gym, and your abdominals are going to hurt a lot of the time. If you want a 100k job, you’ve got to put in the hours. If you want to see the world for real, you’ve got to stop drinking buckets in Thailand and go and sit on the streets with the children dying from poverty. If you want a nice meal – you’ve got to put the time in to create it.

You see where I’m going with this? If you want to be an extra-sensational person – you’ve got to have your pain, and your difficulties. If you want to love an extra-special smile, you’ve got to understand how hard it is to get that smile in the first place.


If it’s you – remember your light. If you’re loving someone else – remember their light. It’s a thing.

If you have something you want to say about mental health send us a pitch to

Keep your pitches to less than 150 words and tell us what content you want to make and why you want to make it. It can be anything, from a poem, to an article, to a video, to a piece of artwork – we’re just after stories to tell. We can keep things anonymous if you’d like and we’ll help you to edit your piece then get it up on the blog.

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