Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site

Certified at 35


Child's face distorted by opaque glassCertified at 35

Certified at the age of 35. I felt less than five, little more than three. They dragged me kicking and screaming, raging into the psychiatric ward.

I felt like an accident waiting to happen, or a bomb about to explode. My head felt like it was going off.

I could hear all the important people in my life ticking me off. 'You don't make the grade,' said old school teachers. 'I don't love you,' said ex-boyfriends. 'Go to hell,' said my enemies. 'Get a life,' said supposed friends.

The mental hospital was now my life. I felt stifled, almost set upon with a rifle.

I felt myself shrinking the more I talked to my shrink. I could no longer pretend I was fine. I could no longer shine. However, I could secretly pretend I was divine, at times, like a goddess or the Virgin Mary.

How I wished I could just shrug off my illness. But my illness held me tight. I was put under the microscope, nurses and doctors examining and controlling my every move from morning to night. I felt at a crossroads: choose the easy, safe, narrow path, or go deep into the heart of the vast, unexplored jungle.

I felt stripped and bulldozed, as all my possessions were taken off me, and I could do nothing to get them back. I could pull no strings, as even my shoelaces were done away with. I felt as dispossessed as my clothes.

I wished I could get back on my feet, take off in my own private helicopter to greener pastures.

I felt uncared for, both by myself and by others. As I stared out the barred window, I caught my neglected appearance in the glass. I felt like a stranger as I took in my lanky, heavy hair and body.

I wished I could be light years away, when life treated me well. Life was once easy. Now everything was effort: getting up, looking after myself, moving around, stringing a sentence together. I felt stripped of my powers.

How I wished I could prove myself as a strong, successful individual, stand on my own two feet rather than being dragged through the mud by those professionals and the patients who rubbished me for not conforming.

I longed for home. But there was no turning back. I felt chained to the mental hospital.

I felt as enraged as a bat out of hell, as I found myself getting battier. I felt hard done by. I wanted to scramble over the walls of this deep, dark dungeon, but failed time and time again. The system had clipped my wings.


In many ways I still feel like a child. Wild and out of control, like a mad car or raging inferno. I miss important cues and literally push into all of life's queues, interrupting conversations and generally getting ahead of myself.

Still I feel myself losing the race, particularly to those who don't understand the complexities of my illness and see me as annoying and troublesome.

A lot of the time I feel I am getting nowhere. My life is not mild, though often it can seem very still, when it's hard to get off the bed, or chair, or sofa.

At other times I run riot like a two-year-old. I used to pace around the psychiatric ward for hours on end, unable to keep still. 'You're going to make a hole in the carpet,' said the nurse. There are many holes in my life.

My life is not in my hands. I rely on a disability pension. My money gets managed by state trustees. I am given a hard time about how I spend my money. Often I feel like a kid deprived of pocket money, or a beggar. In the workplace, I'm told what to do and how to act by individuals half my age.

I do need guidance and control, as I find it hard to restrain myself. I will make bad headway if I am not shown the way. I am very taken in by appearances; someone just has to smile and I will give them what they want. I can't tell good people from bad people. I am susceptible to dangerous strangers. I need to be protected.

With my OCD also at play I am (as Freud would have it) stuck in the oral stage of development, wanting to consume and gratify myself all the time.

I am desperate for attention. At school I did all kinds of strange things, such as walking down the middle of a fully seated assembly hall or breaking out laughing and crying in a quiet classroom.

These attempts to get attention isolated me. I was laughed at or pushed aside. Kids would imitate the way I walked and make fun of my nervous gestures. I was bullied and ostracised (not only at school but also later, in the workplace, before I was diagnosed) until I would cry. On camp I could only dream of imaginary friends.

I have come a long way since then. Even though I was diagnosed a schizophrenic just after university, where again I made a complete fool of myself, coming out with my disability in later life has opened many doors where before there were only walls. There is now a lot of pleasure and fun in my life, a lot of opportunities.

I can laugh at myself rather than being laughed at, and the world does not seem such a terrible place. I have many more friends. I don't feel as alone, or that I am going nowhere. But I dream of becoming fully independent and finally feeling like an adult, able to take control and manage my life.

Isabella Fels headshotIsabella Fels is a Melbourne poet and writer. Her topics include her own particular illness schizophrenia. She has been published in various publications including Positive Words, Mental Illness Voice, The Big Issue and The Record.

Person behind glass image from Shutterstock

Topic tags: Isabella Fels, schizophrenia, mental illness



submit a comment

Existing comments

Your courage and determination are inspiring, Isabella. You are a poet and writer - a very fine one - that is who you are. Keep having lots of fun!

Pam | 25 February 2014  

Wonderful insight, I relate in some ways & not others, not much between what is considered sane or otherwise, have a friend & my husband told me it was so obvious she was manic depressive when she was forced into care, I actually never thought there was a problem, seemed 'normal' she was just an awesome person, so full of life that sometimes she needed a big rest... so pleased to see you articulate to all, you are a wonderful person, still learning to manage your life (that's how we improve I'm told) and have so much to offer... well done, fabulous post :)

Shelle | 25 February 2014  

This is a wonderful, sensitive article, Isabella. We need more honest and courageous people like you who share with us the difficulties and challenges they face. Thank you.

Frances | 25 February 2014  

Every reader should ask themselves - immediately after they have read it - what was the one sentence in this that struck a particular cord with you. For me it was "In the workplace, I'm told what to do and how to act by individuals half my age." I realise that says much more about me than about this wonderful, brave person.

Frank | 26 February 2014  

Isabella,thank you for this brave and revealing story. Your courage and inner strength will take you far. You have made a difference and I wish you well.

Anne | 26 February 2014  

Thank you for your bravery. Your article echoes so many lives and demonstrates hope.

Danny Higgins | 26 February 2014  

Dear isabella This is just such a wonderful joyous celebration of the gift you are to the world.You are so much needed just the way you are.

Margaret | 26 February 2014  

Dear Isabella, this is the finest and most courageous writing I have read from you. It deserves a V.C! Thank you for exposing the life of a person with schizophrenia....you speak for thousands who can't do so; for thousands who live this life without even receiving any treatment, the thousands who live on the edge of our society...until they decide their life must end. When, as will happen in May, funding is again lowered for the severely mentally ill...you will be their champion!

Caroline Storm | 26 February 2014  

Beautifully written Isabella. Your insight and strength are inspiring. Thank you for helping the rest of us to understand.

Marcelle | 26 February 2014  

Thank you so much Isabella. this is a beautiful and honest writing and provides insights that are gift for all who read.I love your last 2 paragraphs and especially the contrast between opening doors where before there were only walls - a lesson for life for all of us. do I/we open doors or create walls? Mary

Mary | 26 February 2014  

Thank you, Isabella. You write tough sentences and telling rhymes. You get the picture right and leave us thinking. Keep on writing the words that make us see how it feels. You remember the positives too, wanting to fly off in your own private helicopter. Your words are a way through the mess, but they get us to understand.

Philip Harvey | 26 February 2014  

Isabella! I have never met you, but feel I know you, because your secondary school principal, Sr Valda was a close friend of mine and she often spoke about you with deep affection and concern. Valda has now gone to God. She did not forget you in life, so I guess you have a friend in the communion of saints. It is a delight for me to see your face. I would like to read your poetry some time.

Veronica Lawson | 26 February 2014  

I pray may son one day be able to be where you are now

pat | 27 February 2014  

You are very brave woman, I too have schizophrenia PTSD & major depression and it is with now telling my story it helps others which is what I like to do. Well done

Jamie Norris | 27 February 2014  

Thank you for your writing this description of your experience Isabella. Your courage in sharing this helps us all speak about mental illness and it helps break down the shame many feel.

Sue | 27 February 2014  

Thank you for finding an inspiring way of sharing some of your experiences of a very tough road. Something very beautiful shines through your work. I look forward to reading more of your writing!

Kerry Holland | 28 February 2014  

Isabella, So honest, so true, will pass on to my son who has had to similarly struggle.

Mary L. | 28 February 2014  

Beautiful article, Isabella. As you can see, a help to many in their struggles. Know that you, and they, are loved; and that our dear lord walks with you and sees you as the wonderful person you are.

Eugene | 03 March 2014  

A reat essay, Isabella. You say a lot in a small space. What we specially like is the way you convey the sense of being imprisoned and helpless but also your ability to see beyond the despair. I think you show very clearly how writing about your problems can have a real healing effect but above all that you have learnt to accept your self. Keep up your writing. David and Henrietta

david roberts | 16 March 2014  

Similar Articles

Senior citizen's road trip to dignity

  • Tim Kroenert
  • 27 February 2014

Woody surely has dementia, which would explain his certainty that a sweepstakes flyer stating that he has won $1 million is authentic. While one son would prefer to put Woody in a home, the other, David, agrees to honour his wish to cross state lines to claim his fictitious winnings. Woody is aware of his own dwindling physical and mental agency, and understands that the small gifts of dignity afforded to him by David are not small at all.


On becoming a housewife for the first time

  • Lisa Brockwell
  • 25 February 2014

I find myself on tuckshop duty with my dearest friend; we didn't see this coming at university. I learn more than any woman like me needs to know about slashing paddocks. I visit the vet at least once a week. I picture my husband dying in a car crash; this dark bubble rises out of the mud of me much too frequently. Shouting at my five year old, I can't believe it is up to me to keep this baby alive when I am all naked flailing heart.