Writer and journalist Ruth Sax was recovering from COVID when she had a mental health setback that landed her in hospital
I had recently started a job as a broadcast journalist at Premier Christian Radio in London and was learning a lot quickly, getting into the swing of things while enjoying the fun, friendly atmosphere. Then, in February 2020, we started reporting on a virus that was springing up in Asia.
As we rolled into March, UK death counts from this mysterious but deadly virus became a part of our daily radio news bulletins; the first I read out was less than ten but within a couple of weeks it had climbed to more than 100. March rolled into April and we were told by the Government to work from home where we could. Journalists were classed as key workers, so I continued to walk into work.
During the first lockdown I carried on going into work until my landlady, who lived in our house, caught COVID and was very unwell, having to be hospitalised. When she came home to recover, the rest of us caught COVID. It was horrendous: sweats, fever, difficulty breathing, chest pains and sleeplessness led to delirium.
Mixed in with that, we were trying to work as a house not that long meshed together. Different rhythms and personalities now all under one roof with no escape. Thankfully one of my housemates and I clicked right away and, amidst the chaos, we had many laughs during those bizarre, sickness-infused, confused weeks. I thank God for that.
Mental as well as physical impact
I was really unwell with COVID but was furloughed at the perfect time. I thought I had the space to recover, but that isn’t exactly what happened. I didn’t realise at the time how stressed I was. We had been reporting on COVID 24/7 and back at the house all anyone talked about was COVID too, and then we all got it! Add in the sleep deprivation and the result was I started to suffer mentally. Psychosis crept in.
I knew what it was as I’d had it once before when I was 21. It is terrifying; definitely the scariest experience of my life. It had been over ten years since I’d first had it but it certainly came for me with force. It’s something you wouldn’t wish on anybody, ever.
Psychosis is something you wouldn’t wish on anybody, ever
You viscerally believe a lot of things that aren’t true; terrifying delusions and nightmares that you would see in horror movies but they feel as real to you as it does you reading this article right now. Your brain loses it and you don’t sleep.
I left London and went to stay with my parents and knew I needed to sleep but the psychosis had already taken hold. I didn’t sleep, not even for ten minutes, for four consecutive days and nights. I ended up going to hospital voluntarily for five days because I needed medication to sleep. On the wall in my hospital room someone had written ‘sanctuary’, which felt like a tiny glimpse of peace in what was otherwise a waking nightmare.
God’s hand of protection
All through that period of psychosis I was actually very attuned to God and, although severely unwell, he protected me. I was literally crying out to God to help me and reading the Bible like I’ve never read it before. In that week of no sleep, I could have died due to various reasons linked with the illness.
I believed people wanted me to kill myself and I saw many opportunities to do so, which was mentally exhausting because I didn’t want to die. I believed and had the physical feelings of fear and terror (fast beating heart, rambling thoughts and speech, unable to switch off, adrenaline pumping) that people wanted to kill me and my family.
I thought people were communicating through TV programmes and films to me. I believed every sound meant something; the paranoia was off the scale. I began to distrust many people, especially those close to me. It was petrifying.
Moments of love and care literally saved my life
I remember on a number of occasions during those incredibly long 96 hours awake, I just wanted someone to inject me with a tranquilliser to put me to sleep, to let my brain rest. But, despite the terror, I know that God surrounded me with people who prayed for me, held me, stood by me, showed up next to me, walked with me and simply loved me. Some of those moments of love and care literally saved my life.
Slowly, with a lot of help and support from loved ones, professionals and medications for a time, I began the road to recovery. I’ve learned so much during these past two years. I connected with God and those around me on a deeper level, and have become more passionate than ever to share my story in the hope that it touches those who may be going through their own mental health battle. I want them to know they are not alone and that they will get through this too.
If you are struggling in any way with your mental health, reach out to Premier Lifeline, open 9am to midnight every day on 0300 111 0101. premierlifeline.org.uk
And remember God is always there at any time, day or night.
Ruth Sax is a freelance broadcast journalist, writer and photographer. She’s passionate about people and an advocate for mental health.