Mental illness isn’t taken seriously enough and it still makes enrages me that it’s still shrugged off so casually today.
We all have a story about having or knowing somebody with a mental illness, so here’s mine.
I wasn’t exposed to anybody with mental illness until I was 7 years old.
My grandfather passed away from a heart attack and my father sunk in to a deep and dark depression; he became snappy, irritable, he cried all the time and he didn’t want to get out of bed.
I was sad for him but I was even more sad that he wasn’t really my dad anymore. I was a “Daddy’s Girl” but that all seemed to change when he got ill.
My mum looked after him; she was such a strong person. No job was too big, nor small. She was fierce and she was so stunningly beautiful. She always had her hair and make up done immaculately and she did anything and everything she could for us.
She was Superwoman.
Until two years later, our lives were turned upside down.
We came downstairs one morning to find that my mum was laying on the sofa with tears streaming down her face; she couldn’t talk, move or even communicate. She was somewhat paralysed.
The rest of that day remains a blur, but I just remember wondering where my mum had gone. She had no sparkle in her eyes or a smile anymore.
Was it something we’d done? Had we been naughty?
That evening, an out-of-hours psychiatrist came to visit at our home; his name was Dr. Champensly. He was going to make my mummy better.
I’ll never forget being sat at the dinner table with my brother and sister, eating fish fingers and trying to figure out what the hell was going on. He had a clipboard and he was writing things down and asking my mum to raise her hand to say yes, etc.
My dad was asking him questions and I didn’t understand. Everything was fuzzy and they were using big words. I knew something wasn’t right.
My mum’s going somewhere, I just knew it.
I was right. My mum was sectioned under The Mental Health Act and admitted to a place called Melbury Lodge in Winchester; she’d had a nervous breakdown.
She’d had enough. She couldn’t be strong anymore.
Weeks passed and we hadn’t seen her. My dad would visit her and we had to go somewhere else whilst he was out.
Where’s my mum gone? Is she coming back?
People would take turns in looking after us after school, whilst my dad worked late and gambled at casinos.
My sister ultimately took over the mother role as my dad was too busy working – she made sure we’d eat and were bathed and clean, ready for school etc.
She was only 13.
After what felt like years, we received the news one morning that we were finally allowed to see mum and that we’d go straight after school and visit.
I was so excited, I couldn’t concentrate.
I couldn’t wait to wrap my arms around her and tell her how school had been, what I’d been up to and how I couldn’t wait for her to come home and be my mummy again.
We arrived at Melbury Lodge that evening and I remember thinking how pretty the reception area was – it was brightly lit, in a large circular room, with colourful drawings and paintings on the wall and it didn’t smell like a normal hospital. It was homely.
Mum must love it here.
We went upstairs and sat in a waiting room whilst my dad went to collect my mum from her room.
But nothing could prepare us for what happened next.
About 10 minutes passed and I could see my dad at the end of the hallway with another woman.
Who is she? That’s not my mum. She’s so big. What is she wearing? Why doesn’t she have shoes on?
As she got closer, I could barely make out her face; it was covered in dried blood, deep cuts, claw and scratch marks.
Had someone attacked her? My poor mum. What are they doing to her? Who did this?!
She’d attempted suicide; she’d thrown herself down a set of stairs in a bid to take her own life. She couldn’t cope. She needed a way out.
But why the claw marks on her face?
Dr. Champensly came and sat with us. He explained to my dad that my mum had a severe mental illness and she would need a lot of care.
She was a “Psychotic Schizophrenic.”
He went on to tell us that she wouldn’t be home until she was better and that it could take “some time.”
I didn’t understand. I thought she was coming home. Today. Now.
My mum began to get upset, so we were advised to leave. She was escorted back to her room and I had to watch her disappear off in to the distance. I was kicking and screaming for her to come back.
“Please mum, please. I promise I’ll be good! Pleeeeease!”
My whole world was in pieces. I wanted to be with her, I didn’t want to leave her on her own.
What if she’s lonely? What if she kills herself next time? What happens if I never get to see her again?
So many questions went unanswered and every day felt like a week. This isn’t supposed to happen; we were supposed to be a family.
It was maybe weeks before my mum was allowed a home visit and that was maybe only once a week. She was finally on the mend, but she wasn’t who she used to be.
Eventually she came home for good, but it wasn’t easy. Not for her, for the children, for my dad or anybody else who knew her.
She looked different, she sounded different and she acted differently. We had to get to know her again and accept her for new mum that she was.
We were warned she would have hallucinations and to stay calm and talk through it with her; this was all part of the schizophrenia.
She would often claw her face and arms, thinking she had insects crawling beneath her skin, she would hear voices and she would talk to herself.
Sometimes we were scared and sometimes we were scared for her.
We looked after her; we were on our best behaviour at all times, for fear we would trigger a psychotic episode or her schizophrenia. Neither were pleasant nor avoidable.
We had ups and downs, but it brought us siblings closer together; we were a team, a unit and we had more love for eachother now than we ever did before.
We had a new home now, too. Sadly, my dad had sold the family home because he had money troubles but it was okay, because my mum was with us and that’s all that mattered.
I wish I could say that we all lived happily ever after, but it didn’t end up that way. My dad left and he took every last penny with him – to Thailand.
We’d lost him. He’d had enough and he left us. He didn’t want us and he couldn’t take it anymore.
To be continued…
Please, if you or anybody you know suffers with a mental illness or if you feel like you can’t cope, please see a doctor. They can help and it can help to prevent such long lasting damage to you or your loved ones. Please don’t be afraid to ask for help; that’s what it’s there for.