Newlywed whose “brain went pop” when a combination of stresses triggered a psychotic breakdown now coaches others to recognise the signs

·6-min read

A newlywed whose “brain went pop” after the combined stress of juggling wedding planning, a work promotion and a new home triggered a psychotic breakdown, has now trained as a transformation coach and warns that this could happen to anyone.

Used to a demanding job working in the property department of a bank, Sarah Tait, 33, says organising a wedding and buying a property on top became too much and, in January 2019, her mental health crashed – causing up to 20 panic attacks a day and leaving her unable to string a sentence together.

Now back on top after a gruelling recovery process and with huge support from her family and her employer, Sarah, of Chelmsford, Essex, is determined to educate people about the horror of psychosis and to show them how to prevent it from happening.

Sarah coaching over zoom (PA Real Life)
Sarah coaching over zoom (PA Real Life)

She said: “When you see a cloud in the sky and it looks a little bit like a face, you might say to the person next to you in the car, ‘Look at that cloud, it looks like a face.’

“But a person with psychosis would truly believe it is a face, and that the face is chasing them and is going to harm them unless they do something to stop it.”

Sarah’s psychotic episode came after a prolonged period of stress, which began with buying her first flat and was compounded by organising her fairy-tale Italian wedding, which took place in June 2018.

Sarah and Lenny at home (PA Real Life)
Sarah and Lenny at home (PA Real Life)

Wanting everything to be perfect, for several months every minute of her free time was devoted to planning her big day.

“I cared about everything. All the really small details. There was no stone left unturned,” said Sarah.

But she did not realise that the stress was getting to her.

Sarah on her honeymoon (PA Real Life)
Sarah on her honeymoon (PA Real Life)

“I didn’t notice the pressure I was putting on myself. I’d always been organised and on top of things and a bit of a perfectionist,” she said.

It was after her honeymoon in Italy that, robbed of a “sense of purpose” with no wedding left to plan, Sarah’s mental health began a terrifying downward spiral.

She said: “I felt like I’d fallen off the face of a cliff. I didn’t know what to do with myself.

Sarah with her husband and Lenny by the beach (PA Real Life)
Sarah with her husband and Lenny by the beach (PA Real Life)

“I was about to turn 30, I had a new surname I lost all sense of purpose and I had a kind of identity crisis.”

Instead of stopping to take stock, Sarah filled the void by throwing herself into her job with the same obsessive commitment she had given to wedding planning – working evenings and weekends and never giving herself a moment to get her life into perspective.

With January 2019 signalling the need for New Year’s resolutions and an emphasis on people becoming a new and better version of themselves, already mentally fragile by then, Sarah – who was once a Pontins Bluecoat, a holiday camp entertainer – finally cracked.

Sarah with friends before the breakdown (PA Real Life)
Sarah with friends before the breakdown (PA Real Life)

She said “One Friday, I couldn’t concentrate. I felt delirious, a bit like when you’re drunk.

“I said to my husband, ‘I think I’m actually quite unwell.’

“In that moment – perhaps it was my body saying, ‘Hallelujah,’ as I’d admitted something was wrong – I felt a popping sensation in my brain and physically collapsed into his arms.”

Sarah with her husband and Lenny on a walk (PA Real Life)
Sarah with her husband and Lenny on a walk (PA Real Life)

It was the start of Sarah’s psychotic episode – the worst of which was concentrated over one long weekend.

For five terrifying days she convinced herself that her most fanciful dreams and worst nightmares were actually happening, believing she had won the lottery, was pregnant and that she had a brain tumour.

But these were only the subplot to the main delusion that, all the while, she was in a coma, like the TV programme Life on Mars, and that she would one day wake up.

A drawing Sarah did to help explain psychosis to her family (PA Real Life)
A drawing Sarah did to help explain psychosis to her family (PA Real Life)

“My husband was watching football on the TV and I was convinced that the thicker banners around the bottom of the pitch were messages being sent to me to complete missions,” said Sarah.

“At one point I convinced myself I had breast cancer, another time a brain tumour. I even thought I was pregnant.”

Completely tongue tied throughout the episode, Sarah could not express herself verbally and had to write her husband messages either on his phone or using pen and paper.

Sarah with her husband and Lenny (PA Real Life)
Sarah with her husband and Lenny (PA Real Life)

She said: “When I thought I was pregnant, I remember writing in his phone, ‘Make sure you save me not the baby.’

“I was writing reams and reams. It was like I was trying to get everything out of my brain onto pieces of paper.”

After a rollercoaster few days, which horrified her husband and mum – who prefer to remain anonymous – on the Tuesday, Sarah saw a psychiatrist and received medication that alleviated some of the worst delusions.

  1. Sleep - Are you sleeping as well as you usually do?

  2. Diet - Are you eating too little, or bingeing? Diet can be one of the first things you try to control when you are losing control of other aspects of life.

  3. Shutting out the good - Have you stopped doing the things you love doing? Or are you shutting out the people you would normally talk to? These are huge signs that something is not right and that you are trying to bury feelings.

  4. Obsessing over things that stress you out - What are the things you think about before you go to sleep and when you wake up? Are those thoughts healthy? Do you check your emails or social media the minute you open your eyes?Are you staying active?

  5. Moving throughout the day can really clear your head and bring perspective.

  6. What is your work life balance like? Are you doing things for yourself away from work?

Diagnosed with having had a psychotic episode, it still took months of talking therapy and medication before she recovered including six months off work.

Inspired by her own experience to help others, in 2021 Sarah began training as a neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) coach – a type of coaching that focuses on how our behavioural traits affect our mental health.

And she began to understand the little things that tipped her over the edge.

Sarah telling her story (PA Real Life)
Sarah telling her story (PA Real Life)

“I now realise I was really struggling with anxiety and stress and low self-esteem and I didn’t know how to articulate it,” she said.

Sarah, who says Lenny, the toy poodle who came into her life after her breakdown has also helped her to heal, along with her hugely supportive husband and mum, still works at the bank, but in a more senior role.

And she now gives talks and seminars helping colleagues to take preventative measures to safeguard their mental health.

Sarah leaving hospital (PA Real Life)
Sarah leaving hospital (PA Real Life)

She tells them the small things to look out for, which should ring alarm bells and stop them from letting life get on top of them.

She said: “There are a number of different things that can cause psychosis, like having a baby or drug use, but for me it was just stress and lack of sleep.

“My message is that it can happen to anybody, but also that it can be prevented by just checking in on yourself and having a good routine,

“But I also believe, no matter what you go through you can grow through it.”

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