Spencer Mason was 12 years old when he realised that he was experiencing life differently to anyone else.
Now 22, the student from Broughty Ferry has just published his first book, Other Tongues, detailing his journey with schizoaffective disorder.
Schizoaffective disorder is a condition where symptoms of both psychotic and mood disorders are present together.
For Spencer, the past 10 years have been spent trying to navigate his struggle with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
“It started developing when I was about 12,” he said.
“It sent everything rocketing for pretty much the entire past 10 years. It’s having to live like a normal human being when you don’t experience anything that a normal human being experiences.
“It’s people not realising how much of a struggle every day is and how much is dictated in the moment about my ability to do things.”
Spencer, who is studying songwriting at BIMM Manchester, said that the development of the disorder was both “gradual and sudden”.
He said: “There was a day where I noticed that I was perceiving more things in a sensory way than I usually would, but I was young at the time.
“Over the coming months and years, it became more obvious that these were sensory hallucinations. It took a while for me to realise that the voices were perhaps in my head and they weren’t a radio trapped in the wall that I couldn’t get to.
“It’s really strange to know you’re delusional about certain things but you still can’t shake that belief. There are those phobias and fears that are so incoherent and when I say them out loud and try to explain it to people it can feel like ‘oh my goodness I am actually a crazy person’.
“I can’t shake that feeling but also it’s so logical. Some things are just absolute facts and no matter how much you try to resist them those beliefs just don’t go away.
“As an early teenager, people couldn’t understand my justifications of certain things and I couldn’t understand how they couldn’t see my justifications of things.
“That was the first time I really noticed a difference between my experience and what other people were living.
“I didn’t realise that it was abnormal for a really long time. There was a really long period where I didn’t understand how people were functioning with the same problems that I had.”
Spencer’s book, which combines poetry and prose, has been a work in progress for 18 months, beginning after he made an attempt to take his own life.
“About two years ago I made a suicide attempt and jumped out of a window. I broke my spine and that was kind of the first time I’d ever considered how my mental health could affect other people,” he said.
“That’s a big part of the book – we always think about looking after ourselves with mental health but how do you care about the people who care for you? Because some people got really hurt in the process.
“Around six months after that, when I moved to Manchester, I was speaking to a friend who had been affected really badly by my mental health. I decided that, for the first time, I really wanted to make positive moves to try and change myself so I started writing the book.”
An encounter with Dundee-based author Tina McGuff, who wrote a memoir about her recovery from anorexia, was key in Spencer’s decision to share his story.
“She made me believe how honest we need to be with our mental health. It’s great talking about ending stigmatisation but the only way to do that is to actually educate and speak, which is really what I wanted to do,” he added.
“Over those 18 months I focused on writing, developing poems and trying to rack my brain for everything that other people might not know about schizoaffective disorders, even if it may be obvious to me.
“I tried to Google for some self-help books to see if there was anything about coping mechanisms. There were quite a lot of stories and information but there wasn’t really anything about how you live it and how you can function alongside it, rather than recover from it.
“You have to learn to make it a part of your life and accept that, which is what the main premise of the book became; how to make this as accessible to people who would have absolutely no understanding of the situation.
“When you meet someone in the street you have no idea about their background or their daily life or how difficult it might be for them to keep up with the same routine as you.”
The book, which was published on Sunday, is currently ranked number one in new releases for poetry books on Amazon.
He said: “The initial reaction was really beautiful. The amount of messages I’ve received and support from people that I would never have expected has been amazing.”
Spencer is now looking to the future and is hopeful for what a post-lockdown world looks like.
“I’m currently not taking any medication, I prefer to try and just live my best life as I can with the tools that I have,” he said.
“I’m definitely in a better place now than I was two years ago in terms of my mental health but it doesn’t mean that those problems are gone, it just means I have better coping mechanisms.
“I can definitely make it through the next months but I think it’s going to be a mixed bag.
“I would like to stress, particularly in quarantine, the importance of looking after yourself and making sure that the people you love are OK.
“It’s a really difficult time. Humans need to look after each other, we can’t be selfish right now.”
The book can be purchased by clicking this link.
Evening Telegraph article here