Storying Sheffield

Mark Ellerby: My Story

Many thanks to Mark Ellerby for sharing these extracts from his story. To read more about him, see the end of this post.

My story with schizophrenia began with a nervous breakdown. I had a few of the main things life can throw at you including losing my family home, a relationship ending and bankruptcy of our family business. It is supposed to be one of the most stressful things that can happen to you is that you move house and I was living at the opposite end of the country from my home.

Just when things seemed like they couldn’t get any worse they did: I started hearing voices which caused as much stress as the difficulties going on in my life. The experience was so weird I couldn’t ignore it and the more I heard it the more it came to dominate my thinking.

I believed the voice to be emanating from the government telling me in not so many words that I was going to be punished for causing cancer, unemployment and a number of other things.
Having being a politics student seemed to be played out in what I was hearing and in addition to this the voices became to related to economic issues and political events like the Gulf War.

I could almost visualise who it was talking to me and they related to what they were telling me I had caused in the world. In particular I heard a Christian woman talking to me, an army general and someone in the British government.

The voices and my paranoia about being punished seem to go hand in hand. My delusions and hallucinations came to interact with each other as I began to believe what the voices were telling me was true.

Both of these things together kept my mind focused on these themes of responsibility and paranoia and eventually I couldn’t distract myself at all as I was so frightened something was going to happen to me.

Life was going on as normal all around me but I hardly noticed it as I was so 4 focused on the fear and the beliefs causing it. In the end it came to dominate all my thinking as I couldn’t ignore the danger I was in. But the origins of these problem seemed to be in my past history.


At age 22 I had a few of the things that life can throw at you, bankrupt, homelessness, end of a relationship, work stress from academic research and living away from home. Moving house is one of the most stressful things that can happen to you but in my case things were made worse by all these things happening concurrently.

My immediate reaction to the stress was a nervous breakdown and was immediately followed by going into shock. It was at this point that I began to hear voices and to escape again into listening to them to avoid confronting these new problems.

The more stressed I became by the illness the more it perpetuated my escapism and I wanted to believe its escape was real. Soon though the stress from the illness meant it was no escape as the suffering it inflicted was as bad as the life problems that caused it.

So the escape into schizophrenia did not mean the end of the initial trauma as the themes of responsibility from childhood began to reoccur in my illness. I had a deep sense of being responsible for world events like 9/11 and terrible diseases like Cancer.

I felt like I wanted to be responsible because it diverted my attention to the emotional trauma but by this stage I didn’t know which way to turn. The schizophrenia was just as traumatic as what I was trying to escape from. Confronting the delusions might cause depression and trying to overcome the breakdown might have meant going back into shock with the symptoms of schizophrenia.

There appeared to be no easy solution to this and I ended up just muddling through with life being ill, going from wanting to cure the schizophrenia to thinking that giving it up would just be out of the frying pan and into the fire.


Mark Ellerby has lived with a diagnosis of schizophrenia for 16 years. In order to help others understand the condition, demystify, and educate, he has published four books that explain his own experiences of schizophrenia and its differing stages. They are also aimed at aiding recovery and self help.  Please see Mark’s website for more information and to purchase his books.