This blog entry is a very personal experience into my mental health journey over the last twelve months. These are my own experiences and words; other people may have differing opinions and I certainly welcome all views. Sensitive readers may not wish to read any further.

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I had my first ‘nervous breakdown’ in 1994. The circumstances at the time seemed to be mostly circumstantial – an ill-conceived move to New Zealand, the birthplace of my wife. Though I am no stranger to psychotherapists’ chairs – my parents were Jewish Viennese, after all – my anxiety levels were unprecedented, and within 2 months of arrival I found myself in Ashburn Hall, the New Zealand equivalent of The Priory. My stay there, of almost 4 months, turned into an unmitigated disaster. Not only was Ashburn Hall located in the South Island, while we were living in the North, but also their no-drugs pre-disposition only drove me into a worse state. I returned to Auckland and with the help of a drug-issuing psychiatrist, and a rather ineffectual therapist, slowly began to right myself. Anti-depressants, at that time, were in their relative infancy and Prozac was the drug of choice. I did get better very slowly but what really tipped the balance was returning to the UK. It seemed to be ‘an instant fix’ and I, erroneously as it turned out, put my awful experience behind me in the belief that New Zealand had been a ‘perfect storm’ that would not re-occur in my lifetime.

This January, to coincide with my retirement, we headed off for ‘a trip of a lifetime’. The key features of the trip were a week with family in LA, 6 weeks with family in Tauranga, a 3-week campervan journey to the South Island and a month in South India. Circumstantial indirect reasons dictated that the first couple of months of the trip were more difficult than planned, but by end-February things got back on track and we headed off in the campervan on what should have been the self-indulgent leg of our travels. Just things didn’t turn out like that. For reasons that are still not totally clear to me, our return to the South Island triggered flash-backs to what had come before and I began to angst over the journey to come. Within a few days I was in complete meltdown, quite incapable of functioning at any meaningful level. Fright-and-flight went into overdrive, and all I could think of was returning to the UK as quickly as possible, as this had been the panacea of the last time. Within a week I returned, on my own to London. Unfortunately the fix didn’t work and within a few days I was a complete inmate of my own Room 101.

What was it like? Well, it certainly was a nightmare: an existential Hell of my own making. Sufferers – and I undertook a lot of reading and internet surfing at the time in a desperate attempt to understand what was happening to me – describe the experience as being ‘in the bubble’. It was as if all relationships, both personal and inanimate, had ceased to have any meaning. Seconds seemed like hours and conversation like dust. Nothing, absolutely nothing, seemed to have any relevance to or for me. And in this dark place I began to doubt the value or purpose of my next breath. I wasn’t sleeping, I wasn’t eating (I lost over 25 lbs. in 2 months), and my days consisting of incessant pacing interspersed with holding onto myself and rocking in an essential foetal position. It was indeed a dangerous place to be.

Why am I telling you about all this in the context of my blog? To some of you this isn’t ‘news’ but for most of you it is. The former, who are my family and closest friends, can contextualise these episodes in my life with the other Ericle that they have known for the rest of it. For the latter, I hope this blog-entry may be of consequence at some level. For both, it is to say that mental illness is exactly that – an illness; one that fortunately, for most of sufferers living in the 21st century, there is every hope not only for treatment but also for full recovery. Moreover it is an illness that needs to be normalised and de-stigmatised. If one breaks a leg, there would be no reason not to tell people about it and, once mended, one would not expect for the event to be anything else but a footnote in a personal history. So if you have read any of my blog, pre or post my illness, and now think any differently about me, I say, please don’t! And if you can’t do this, then please review and possibly reconsider.

There is also a very practical aspect to this posting that is especially pertinent to those of us living in the UK, but also I would believe living elsewhere on The Pebble. That is the difficulty of gaining appropriate and effective help. Energy levels are at a very low ebb and one is also perilously incapable of determining of what is in one’s best interests and where to go to find it. After one week of a deteriorating scenario, I did what most people would do; I went to see my doctor. These days most NHS surgeries are run as group practices, so I found myself trying to explain my situation to a doctor whom I had never met before. Despite what I have got to believe was a patient presenting himself in some extreme distress, I was sent away with a prescription for beta-blockers. When 2 days later I returned to the surgery and met with another doctor, also a stranger to me, this was upped to 2mg Valium tablets and a referral to the group psychologist for some unclear time in the future. Fortunately for me, after another two days of spiralling yet further downwards, my son took control of the situation when, in the early hours of the morning, he phoned the local emergency mental health number. He was advised to immediately take me to the Emergency Room of our local hospital, where I was seen immediately. 7 hours, and several consultations, later I was put in the care of the Islington Crisis Centre and was meeting one of their psychiatrists. I was immediately put on a very heavy drug regime (anti-depressants – 2 sorts, 30 mgs/day of Valium and sleeping tablets), set up with a daily appointment schedule and given a 24-hour helpline number to call if needed. I was also massively reassured that the drugs had come on a long way since the Prozac of the 20 years earlier and that I would get better and in reasonably short order. Naturally I doubted this but I am happy to report that the drugs did work. After about a week I was noticing that later in the afternoon/evening of every day that things were getting better for me. There followed a cycle of going to bed in hope but waking up in despair. However slowly that time of the day came earlier and earlier and, around 4 weeks later, I woke up and declared to my wife that I was feeling a bit like ‘my normal self’. During this month I attended The Crisis Centre on virtually a daily basis. They monitored my drugs, after 2 weeks beginning the titration process of getting me off the tranquilisers and sleeping medication and, as importantly, to give me a place once a day to which to go. I also called their Helpline on many occasions. After 4 weeks I was referred back to my GP for drug monitoring purposes and who, this time attached the necessary gravitas to my situation, provided me with regular personal appointments.

I feel that I can draw the following reasonable inferences from my subjective experiences:

  • local NHS GPs are very poor at evaluating the needs of patients with mental health problems: potentially, dangerously so.
  • the services are there but are not effectively integrated into day-to-day health services

Government statistics for 2013, the latest reporting year, show that there were 6233 suicides in the UK. That same year there were 1713 deaths in road traffic accidents. This bland statistic does not, of course, tell how many persons suffer from mental illness or how many people are injured in road accidents. But it does suggest strongly that the level of consciousness and resource allocated to mental illness is out of kilter. And there are huge public consequences to this deficiency, such that our government would do well to follow Jeremy Corbyn’s suggestion that a Mental Health minister be appointed.

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It is great that we live in times when, as in my case, cortisol imbalance syndrome is better understood and drugs are available. However, we do need to understand the danger and wastefulness of such capabilities if those in need cannot readily find the resources. But it is not just about drugs. There is a huge role to be played by talking therapies and I can tell you quite objectively that if you are not an extreme case, you will not be offered these on the NHS in any form. And even if you are financially resourced, which fortunately I am, finding an appropriate therapist is not easy matter. Given the numbers involved, the whole issue of public mental health resources needs to become a matter of huge public debate. Last, but not least, my recovery was immeasurably aided by my family and friends to whom I am eternally thankful. Fostering the right public attitudes towards mental illness is as important as any of the above, as sufferers from mental illness are very dependent on personal relationships to help them through.

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I am very pleased to be able to report that I am feeling fine now; indeed possibly better than ever. I still visit a very capable therapist 3 times a week, and will continue to do so for the immediate future. I certainly wouldn’t prescribe what I went through to anybody, but life is a learning experience and being able to take some time out to re-assess and re-order matters is proving to be a great opportunity. 2015 has indeed been a journey for me; one that has taken me into some very dark places but as this year ends I do truly feel life to be more illuminating than ever.

If you have read all this, thank you very much! The Ericle wishes you A Very Happy & Healthy 2016.

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13 Responses to 2015: My journey from Darkness into The Light.

  1. Lee ,Manning says:

    Your words come from the heart and, having seen you earlier this year at such a low point, your recovery left a positive mark on me about what the human spirit can achieve when assisted by loving support from family and friends but at the same time recognising the value that medical science brought to your healing process. It’s great to have you back !

  2. Ericle says:

    Thanks, Lee.

  3. Tony says:

    Well done Eric and well written. How do you feel about it being shared more widely for educational purposes?

  4. Robin says:

    In admiration, Eric, wishing you a very happy new year, Robin

  5. Ericle says:

    Thanks Robin. HNY too to Mrs Bins & Your Good Self!

  6. joelkauf says:

    Eric thanks for sharing this. I have in turn asked Rob to read – and she in turn has shared with a close friend who we feel will benefit from your own illuminating candour. It seems trite to do anything, other than acknowledge with thanks what you have written. Peace for ‘016. Kauf

  7. Anna Spencer says:

    Well done, well written and much love to you xx

  8. Clare says:

    Well done Eric for sharing your experiences of the last year. It’s so important that people have better understanding of mental health issues. Thank you.
    Clare

  9. Tony says:

    Eric, I have shared your account with a number of people who have in terms related how moving they have found your story. Some have indicated that they or their relatives have suffered similar experiences but never committed their thoughts to paper. They said they thought you were brave and that the paucity of support and resources are ones they have also known.

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