‘You can’t stop the wind from blowing but you can adjust your sails’ anon.
Before I was first diagnosed as mentally ill, I led what many might describe as a normal life. I was married, working hard, my wife and I had purchased a house (they were affordable back then) we paid our mortgage, our bills, I had a social life, I enjoyed cycling etc.
To simplify what happened to me I’ve listed the events below in chronological order detailing the run up to the catastrophic onslaught of continued mental breakdown that was to change my life for ever. It all started in 1995….
- My brother died suddenly from a rare heart condition that neither he nor anyone else had knowledge of. Soon after my mother descended in to a crushing depression as she couldn’t cope with the loss of her son. He was 31 when he died.
- My wife and I had our first child. Later on in that year I was made redundant. I found another job and carried on. My mother was so unwell mentally she’d been hospitalized to a mental health unit. Part of her treatment included electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). She wasn’t always in hospital and there were fleeting moments when she seemed to be getting better, but they were short lived. We were all desperate and didn’t know what to do for her. My father was suffering badly at the loss of his son, his heart broken as he watched his wife deteriorate in severe depression.
- My wife and I had our second child. Later that same year my mother went missing one evening. My sister and I searched for her for all of that night. The next day we were informed by the Police that she had been found dead in the river Thames. The emotional impact was catastrophic for all of us and was to be the catalyst that started my own journey into a shear hell of mental illness. There followed a coroner’s Inquest into her death. The coroner concluded with an open verdict as there was no evidence to suggest suicide or otherwise, we simply didn’t know.
- I’d taken 2 weeks off work after my mother’s death in 1998 to help my family with the funeral etc. Given that our children were still very young I had to keep working no matter what. My wife worked part time and cared for the children and I worked full time. I was working as a team leader for a global company. Later in 1999 they centralized the team activity to Amsterdam and I was made redundant. I found another job and carried on.
2000 – 2003. I was broken inside and couldn’t deal with all that had happened but I knew I had to somehow hold it together to provide for my family. My coping strategy became work during the day and on many evenings I’d sit on the floor in the corner of our kitchen, drink strong lager and cry my heart out. Sometimes I’d go out for the evening, or should I say all night, and drink huge amounts of alcohol and use cocaine whenever it was available socially. Thankfully I couldn’t afford to buy the drug myself so it wasn’t a regular event; never the less on those nights I’d always look to drown myself into a toxic haze so that I could numb my troubled mind.
- I’d become apt at acting is if everything was fine during the day and to the outside world that was the case. Then early into 2003 my mind gave up on me and I went into a full blown psychotic episode, I was hearing voices, seeing things, I suffered smell hallucination and taste hallucination. It was a complete assault on my senses and the most frightening experience of my life. This resulted in an admission onto a mental health unit where I was later restrained, tranquilized and placed in seclusion. There were three casualties on that day. 1. I was so heavily medicated that I couldn’t think or feel anything, 2. Self-esteem, somehow I thought this was my own fault and that I was a weirdo, a nut case, and with that the last and most devastating casualty was hope. When I was discharged just a week or so later a doctor told me that my awful hospital dose of medication would become my maintenance dose, they gave me my label of Bipolar Affective Disorder Type 1 and told me that there was no cure and little chance of recovery. Medication was the only treatment that would help. I knew I had to get back to work as soon as possible and I did so one month later. Three or four months after that I was again made redundant. I got another job and carried on. My breakdown had been like an emotional bomb going off in my family. My dad had been through so much already and now his remaining son was mentally ill but I had to get back to a place where I pretended I was fine, and I did just that. I stopped taking the medication because of its numbing effects and continued to self-medicate with alcohol.
- My father was living alone and was suffering some physical health issues. My sister and I kept in regular contact with him. He was always generally at home in the evenings. On one such evening we called him on the telephone but we couldn’t get an answer. I went to his house and found him on the floor unable to get up. He was taken by ambulance to hospital and diagnosed with septicemia. Whilst in hospital he contracted MRSA and my sister and I watched him die within a week. Again, I took time off to work through the funeral arrangements and his affairs, after that I carried on working.
- My mind broke again and I went into another severe psychotic episode. I was emergency sectioned, restrained, tranquilized placed in seclusion and eventually discharged with the usual treatment plan of medication. I carried on; still holding on to the motive of providing for my family, though by now I was even more devastated inside. I felt completely isolated without any hope of returning to a normal life, my diagnosis became my identity, I was bipolar and Kevin the person was a mere shell that went through the daily motions in an effort to at least appear normal (whatever that is).
- The meds still had a negative effective on my ability to operate and again I became non-compliant, my treatment planning throughout had become medication with occasional follow up appointments that focused on tick box mental health assessments, so much so, that I knew the questions and had my answers prepared each time. I’d learnt what to say to keep things straight forward because I knew that if I’d declared the contents of my traumatized mind the answer would always be ‘increase the meds’. Later that year I went into another full blown psychotic episode. Luckily my sister stepped in and looked after me at her house. When I came home I was given home treatment. It was nice not to be hospitalized and the treatment team paid short visits that generally centred on checking that I was taking my medication. At the time my employer allowed me paid sick leave for around 4 months. Finally I could take some time to recover. I later returned to work and carried on.
- I suffered yet another severe psychotic episode. I was hospitalized but thankfully I wasn’t restrained. I was sectioned under the mental health act. This time I met a very good doctor in the hospital who took the time to talk to me about my relapses and medication. He changed my medication based on what I’d told him and appointed an excellent Community Psychiatric Nurse (CPN) who was to support me in the community for as long as I needed.
Finally the medication worked and I found I could sleep well and function during the day. It was somewhat of a revelation. I engaged with the CPN and worked on taking steps toward recovery, though I still couldn’t disclose the deeper dark experiences of my psychosis and those thoughts continued to haunt and disturb me badly. In that same year I found a local bipolar group and joined. On my first attendance I summoned the courage to speak graphically about my first psychotic experience, not knowing what to expect. Some people in the room started to laugh and I felt ashamed and embarrassed, I wanted to get up and leave. That was until I’d realised that they weren’t laughing at me, instead they were laughing as they’d experienced almost identical symptoms and found it funny that I’d experienced the same. That single moment defined the start of my real recovery. My shame and fear of my psychotic breakdowns started to give way to a new hope and new self-esteem, I could say anything to my fellow sufferers knowing that someone would empathise with me and use their story to help me. It was better than any doctor’s appointment or medication that I’d ever had.
In the following years I continued to work on my recovery. My appointed CPN was great at getting me involved in recovery focused training, I learnt more about my diagnosis and used the bipolar group to really express the darkness that had held me prisoner for years. In 2012 she referred me to be considered for training as a Peer Support Worker. I completed the training and qualified, and then in 2014, when there was a position available, I was employed as a Peer Support Worker in London. I now support others on their own chosen recovery journey and it is the best and most rewarding work I have ever had. I have complete empathy with the wonderful people I serve and always consider them as valued human beings before whatever their diagnosis might be.
When I reflect on my own experiences I have realised that the journey into the torment of mental illness had no destination, it just became progressively worse. Likewise the journey to recovery has no destination and gets progressively better. Neither journey are linear and I never thought I’d have the inner strength to recover, but finding the tiniest spark of new hope through like-minded support was enough to start building a new life where I could find new opportunity and regain control.
I still use medication and I still have good days and bad days but now I have accepted the fact that it was never my fault that I became ill. The label bipolar has been well and truly confined to the dusty old medical records. I am Kevin and yes I am mentally different, I have much to offer others and much to learn from them and I am valued.
‘Stigma lies in the mind of the beholder, when faced with it, quietly forgive their ignorance and move on’.