B E F O R E
I went missing twice.
The first being on Christmas Eve and the second being on Boxing Day. There was difference during these two incidents. The first being well documented, the PSNI were informed and there was a local search conducted by members of the public across the Causeway Coast and Glens, this was my first cry for help. I was sent home that night from hospital with my wife Louise.
Christmas Day came and went, I never left my bed – for the first time since my daughter was born, I failed to see her on this day.
I woke up on Boxing Day at 8.30am, got out of bed, got dressed, had a cup of coffee and a flap jack, played ball with my dog outside, then, for some unknown reason, I set down the ball and the stick and simply walked away from my house, my family, my life.
Not thinking of where I was going, what I was doing, who I was hurting, I just kept walking. If I had begun to think of the impact this action would have had on my family, I would not have done what I did, but the reality of mental illness is, that this thought does not cross your mind, you are incapable of thinking of anything else.
The only thing in that moment of time and for the hours that followed that I could think about was putting one foot in front of the other and walking. I had been walking all day, stuck in a limbo of not thinking, I was walking away, getting away, but what I was walking away from, was nothing. My aim was not to be found that day, I was hiding away from reality unable to focus on the realness of life, the anger that engulfed me throughout the past week leading up to this moment had consumed me and my being. I just wanted to be left alone, I needed space, clarity and answers but for what…I still do not know.
I walked from Coleraine to Garvagh, I didn’t look at any road signs or directions, I just kept walking. I found a £5 note in my pocket and went to the nearest shop, called my daughter, told her I was ok, bought two beer – even though I have not touched alcohol for 7 years, in hope it would help me sleep. I fell asleep in a hedge, when I fell asleep it was daylight and when I awoke, I was in darkness. My thoughts on this was, I would climb into this bush on the side of the road and die of hypothermia in my sleep – this idea did not bother me, what was to be, would be.
Family and friends began to worry and started looking for me. Hours later that day my daughter and best friend located me – I had walked from Coleraine to Garvagh. My friend put me in the car and brought me home.
In my head I didn’t know what was going on. Family and friends recommended I needed to be seen by a doctor or go to the hospital. Friends brought me to hospital and I promised my wife I would stay there until I was seen.
As I sat in A & E I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to be sitting hours to be seen, I was in crisis and no one was wanting to help me urgently enough. I asked my wife then came to the hospital and my friends left. We waited for over 4 hours and the medical staff knew my circumstances, they knew this was the second time in three days that I had went missing. My wife called out to the doctors to please come and access me, as she saw me lace my boots up. She knew I was going to run from the hospital.
She was right I ran out of the hospital. My initial intention was to do something to myself. I just felt so fed up, lost and misunderstood I was hurting so much I just wanted a way out of this pain. I could see the police on the New Bridge and other police cars out looking for me – so I avoided both bridges. As I said, I intended to do something to myself but then suddenly I remembered a promise I made to my daughter before I had left for the hospital, I promised that I wouldn’t run and I would get help so just ran to my daughter’s house and told her I was ok and to phone the police.
The police arrived and handcuffed me in my daughter’s hallway and took me back to the hospital where my wife was waiting.
I can remember the police officer asked me “Can you not see what you are doing to your wife and daughter”? I turned to her and said I wasn’t thinking about anyone, my head is so fucked and if my son had been thinking about us I know he would still be here today.
When I was taken back to the hospital by the police, the doctors finally took my condition seriously and I met with the Crisis Team who I had previously been with from September to November 2018. Both thought I was intoxicated and therefore I couldn’t be admitted that night. But I had nothing in my system I was mumbling and my words where not coming out right because I could not comprehend what was going on with my head.
They asked for my wife to come in. She asked them if they could not see what she could see – a man having a mental breakdown and that I must be admitted to the Ross Thompson Unit for immediate care and treatment. She refused to take me home, she knew I was mentally unstable.
I honestly do think that if they did not admit me to the Ross Thompson that night I would not be here today. I didn’t want to go but I just gave in, I knew I had to. My wife and daughter walked with me to the Ross Thompson Unit at 2am, kissed me goodbye and left me knowing it was the right thing to do.
D U R I N G
I woke up on day one in the Ross Thompson Unit and honestly thought I would only be there for a maximum of 2 days. I felt I was in an alien environment, like I did not belong. As the day wore on I saw other patients on the ward gradually appearing. I still felt very confused and alone and didn’t know what to expect as I had never experienced something like this before. As it was during the Christmas period I noticed there was very few staff on duty and the only thing I seemed to do within the next few days was eat, sleep and wonder around the ward in a daze. After 3-4 days, I began to talk to other patients and got to know them, I sat with the patients who were usually alone, I wanted to talk to them. I then realised we were being monitored every 30 minutes even during the night.
After 3 days, it was arranged that I was to be seen by Dr Leeman (consultant physiatrist) – I thought he would be telling me I could go home, I was not more wrong. We talked and he adjusted my medication and told me that I would be here for another 2 weeks, minimum. I remember thinking to myself that I didn’t need to be there as there are sicker people that me. I felt sick and it really upset me for the next 24 hours.
Prior to admission to the Ross Thompson I had been attending the Mental Health Unit seeing Dr Leeman so he knew my history. But it was only now that I realised that something was wrong and I was genuinely sick. As time went on I began to think about my time with the Crisis Unit not realising that I was only one step away from being admitted to Ross Thompson on several occasions before.
I felt so guilty about being away from my home and leaving my wife alone in a big empty house. My wife would visit twice a day and each time she left I went straight to my room overcome with sadness and guilt. I wasn’t there for my daughter, I’m supposed to be her protector, I could see the pain in her eyes. But I also knew I was no good to them outside of the hospital, I needed to stay and get myself better.
One of the best things Ross Thompson gave me was time to think. My wife and daughter did not give me access to a phone or the internet. Ross Thompson gave me a feeling of safety, protection and routine. It also allowed my wife and daughter to access the situation and it gave them some sort of relief that I was getting the help I needed and that I was safe.
Looking at all the nurses and doctors after Christmas a lot more staff came back from holidays at one point I thought there was too many staff. I made a deliberate attempt to get to know all patients sitting at dinner with them. Some wouldn’t talk about their situation but some would. As a type of person I am I analyse people and quickly realised who was the good nurses and doctors and also realised there was some very poor nursing staff. Some nurses where ok as long as you didn’t speak out of turn and listened to what they said. If you did speak out of turn and they were very quick to belittle you and made you feel stupid that your opinion didn’t matter. A lot of the time nurses would walk past and wouldn’t even acknowledge you I noticed they did this with all patients. Where on the other hand there were nurses that did care and genuinely wanted you to do well who couldn’t walk past you without asking how you were and talked with you.
In my mind, I thought there would be a lot of counselling and therapy and self-help groups, these where non-existent, I often wondered why? Surely every single person who was admitted was there for a reason, we got no mental support and that was a shock to me. However, there was mindful classes, art and pottery and the had a gym open at certain times, I attended the gym everyday and got one of the other patients to come with me. But that was the only people who used this facility, it was not very well attended and, in my opinion it is not what mentally ill people need.
What I got from my time in Ross Thompson was time to reflect and assess my situation and try to get structure back into my life again. My Key nurse was very good and the fact I didn’t have access to the outside work also help. But the days where long and boring. The only structure was meal times, breakfast, lunch and dinner.
For the first week I was not permitted outside the front door then I was allowed into the garden. My wife brought my dog up to visit every afternoon which was great. My wife noticed that bags or drinks container where not checked and therefore people visiting could have brought anything in. Internet/facebook access was permitted also. I really needed to turn this experience into a positive for me and learn from it.
I was discharged from Ross Thompson after 21 days.
A F T E R
On being discharged I was at the clinic collecting my prescription and a man approached me and asked if I was the man that went missing over Christmas! He told me his wife tried to take her own life the night before and I advised him to get her admitted to the Ross Thompson as quick as possible. I was proud to tell him my story and I could give the correct advice to him, which gave me a sense of meaning. The Ross Thompson will put her in a secure place and will also help him. So he can have breathing space, evaluate life and assess the situation as she would be safe.
Only realising after a month of being out of Ross Thompson an old friend was in contact with me telling me to stay strong and praying and thinking of me only realising that he was texting me when he was terminally ill and sadly past away late February.
I realised very quickly that there is people that genuinely care about you. Therefore, I am telling my story, being mentality ill is not what people think there are all types of people with all different problems young, old with and without money. I am just hoping that people look and learn and take something away from me speaking openly about my experience.
There are times now that I still think I may need to go back again as I am still struggling and I still battle every day, I can never say never. I continue to take it minute by minute and no day is ever the same. Do believe Men’s mental health should be talked about more and don’t be ashamed of your story.
Go and seek help – it was a fight and struggle for me don’t let it get as bad as what I did. I still attend the Mental Health Unit and I keep negative people away – no one has a big group of friends that really care.
I felt I should be the strong one in my family but I was the weak one and still feel weak at times. Simply asking someone how they are a simile text it could break someone’s mindset. Ross Thompson Unit can take you away from the madness of the world. You do not have to have a dramatic event happen in your life to have a mental illness please remember this. I didn’t think my situation was any worse than anyone else within the unit and we all have individual needs .
You are not a weak person to ask for help – this is the first step to recovery you will get stronger and hopefully you will get strength from this. Along with my wife and daughter we continue to hold our heads up high we have no shame in talking about the situation.
I am respected within the community and I want to Break the Silence on Mental Health. My wife and daughter couldn’t lean on me but I hope through time this will change and they will be able to lean on me for support again.
Thank you for reading my story.