‘I want to show people that recovery is possible’

Stuart was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia when he was 31.

After a difficult period of coping with depression, anxiety and paranoia, Stuart feels his illness is under control, thanks to a very effective antipsychotic drug. His goal is to climb Mount Everest, having already conquered base camp.

“In August 1991, I was on holiday in Moscow taking part in a march against communism. It was a very stressful time as hardline communists were attempting a coup against Mikhail Gorbachev, then president of the Soviet Union.

“That night, in my hotel room, I got a phone call at about 2am. A very angry Russian man was shouting and swearing down the line at me, asking why I was involving myself in their business. I put the phone down and my heart started to pound. I began to get quite scared and paranoid.

“About eight days later, I arrived back in London. I felt I was being followed by the KGB. From there, fears of persecution and depression gradually built up. I got so stressed. About a month after returning from Moscow, I was unable to work and my doctor signed me off.

“I remember having my first psychotic attack, which was absolutely terrifying. I think it was brought on by sheer stress and anxiety. I was lying on my bed and I suddenly felt pressure on the top of my head, and found myself in total darkness. It was like I’d been sucked into my own mind and had lost all sense of reality. I screamed out loud, then suddenly found myself back in my bedroom again with this really strange sensation round my head.

“I didn’t have a clue what was going on. I decided to move away from London to Devon, to try to escape persecution from the KGB. I thought nobody would find me there.

“In 1996, I moved to Dorchester. I saw my local GP and was referred immediately to the psychiatric team, where I was diagnosed with schizophrenia. The diagnosis was a relief. Yet all I knew about schizophrenia was what I’d read in the papers, that it was related to violence.

“I did some research and got in touch with the mental health charity Rethink. I met one of Rethink’s volunteers, Paul. He is the kindest man I’ve ever met in my life. I could tell Paul my deepest thoughts and fears and completely trust him. He never judged me at all.

“After doctors gave me various medicines, some with unpleasant side effects, I was prescribed a drug that worked for me. It was one of the newer, atypical antipsychotics. I’m now on an extremely low dose of this drug and I don’t really have any symptoms of schizophrenia anymore. I feel it’s completely under control.

“In 2003, I won a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust travel fellowship. I went to Everest for the first time and trekked to base camp. It was symbolic of my own journey with schizophrenia and conquering my own mountains. I want to climb Everest in the future. I think I can do it. I want to do something to inspire people and to show people that recovery is possible.”

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