My experience with schizophrenia

When Shaun Taranto was 22, his life turned upside down. He experienced his first psychotic episode. Shaun opens up about the highs and lows of living with mental illness and shares his journey to recovery. 

Looking back at his life with mental illness, Shaun Taranto says one day stands out in his mind as feeling like ‘the beginning’.

“Basically I had a psychotic episode. I was 22 and driving tow trucks at the time and it was pretty stressful. I was overtired and it ended up getting to me. I believed that people were playing mind games with me, that they were trying to prevent me getting any sleep.

“I was frightened and felt paralysed, and I thought people were coming to get me. So I tried to escape from it, and I ran away.”

Shaun was found sheltering inside a house, injured, and was taken to hospital, where he first started to receive treatment. 

“Previously I felt like this was something I wasn’t supposed to talk about,” says Shaun, “But a lot of high profile people have spoken about their experience with mental illness, so it’s making it easier for other people, including myself, to begin to talk about it."
anonymous man hands at a wheel driving schizophrenia
Shaun was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, but like many people living with mental illness, his condition is not black and white. Later, his therapists believed he was experiencing schizoaffective disorder, (the symptoms are similar to a combination of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder) and now he still faces symptoms of bipolar disorder.

“For me now, it’s a mix of highs and lows. Sometimes I feel really depressed, and other times I’m just a bit depressed. Other times I might be a bit manic, I go up and down. It’s taken a long time to get to a point where I can have some sort of control of the illness and it’s not controlling me.”
For Shaun, that has been the hardest thing – learning to take back control of his mind and his thoughts. But with the help of health professionals, the support of his family, and a new focus on regular exercise, he’s reached a stage in his life which he’s proud of, and a future he’s looking forward to. 
Shaun says he discovered that looking after his physical health was crucial for maintaining his mental health. 
He joined the New Moves exercise group through the Schizophrenia Fellowship of NSW, and began to use walking as an outlet to start mentoring others.
“One of the biggest things I have to look out for is that I get enough sleep every night, because it can get very dangerous for me if I don’t.”
He’s felt empowered hearing the stories of others, and is now sharing his own story to continue breaking down the stigma of mental illness. He hopes to increase public understanding and to encourage people to come along to the annual Wellness Walk for Mental Health, being held in Sydney on 16 October 2016. 
“I’m just a person like everyone else, my life has just gone down a different path. I’ve had different challenges along the way but that doesn’t take away from the good person that I am.”
“I have a much better understanding of people now, and a greater acceptance of the way other people are. My illness has helped me feel more compassion and become a more caring person.”
His advice to other people experiencing something similar?
“You have to have hope that things will get better, to keep going and never give up. If you do falter along the way, don’t be hard on yourself. Just pick yourself up and try again to keep going.” 
“It’s so important for recovery to have a strong support network of family and friends, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.”
1,500 people are expected to take part in the fourth annual Wellness Walk for Mental Health on October 16, 2016 . It starts at Government House with participants then crossing the Sydney Harbour Bridge and back. At the finish will be a Wellness Festival for participants to enjoy. The event is all about raising money and awareness for serious and persistent mental illness. If you’re interested in taking part, you can sign up here.

If you'd like to learn more about  mental health, click here for additional Blue Room resources.
If you have any questions about severe and persistent mental illness or are concerned for a loved one, you can contact the Schizophrenia Fellowship of NSW’s phone support on (02) 9879 2600. Otherwise if you are experiencing a personal crisis, or concerned about your mental health, you can contact Lifeline 24/7 on 13 11 14.
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