Behind Closed Doors: Mental Illness

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To say that summer 2008 hit my family like a ton of bricks would probably be a bit of an understatement. My wonderful, hilarious and all round brilliant Dad had a nervous breakdown and spent six weeks in the local psychiatric hospital. Crazy, right?

I wanted to write this as when it happened to us, it was the worst thing EVER. We all felt like we had lost him forever. Mental illness was something we had never experienced and I suppose I just want to pass onto anyone who’s going through something similar that it does get better.

Unfortunately I think my Dad was a victim of a mid-life crisis. He started to show signs of stress around his 50th birthday, this coincided with things going quite spectacularly tits up at work and then everything came crashing down. To the extent that he came home one afternoon distraught and confessing to having spent the afternoon sat by the side of a railway track. There were several incidents that were equally as horrific and, looking back, very weird. One time we were having a barbeque and a baby bird had managed to hop its way into the utility room, Mum asked Dad to put it back into the hedge but he couldn’t do it. He held onto this baby bird for ages and kept saying that if he put it back someone would ‘get it.’ Another time, trying to keep him busy, I asked him to re-apply the seal around our bath. Having left him to it I checked on him a little later on to find him sat on the bathroom floor in a distressed state saying that he couldn’t do it. It was at this point that I put my head on his lap and broke my heart.

The final straw came when Mum arrived home from work one afternoon to find him in the exact same position that she had left him in that morning. I stopped in on my way home from work and found him staring into space, talking about being castigated over and over again. I am ashamed to say, and I will regret this for the rest of my life, that I slapped him straight around the face. He was making such little sense and I was just so terrified. He doesn’t remember it now, but I will always feel terrible about it. We rushed Dad down to the local surgery that did a questionnaire with him and diagnosed him with depression. He was prescribed a strong dose of anti-depressants and told to come back in two weeks when they had started to take effect.

The next two weeks were probably the worst. My mum took time off work as she didn’t dare leave him alone and he began to refuse the tablets prescribed to him. My poor Mother was reduced to tears trying to force the tablets into his mouth. Something had to give and the local Mental Health Crisis team was drafted in and we cannot thank them enough. On their second visit they tried to speak to my Dad about suicide and self-harm, was he having thoughts about these things? Because he couldn’t answer them (he was more or less mute by this point) they took the decision to get him a bed at the local mental health unit. So, on my Mum and Dad’s 26th Wedding Anniversary Dad was taken to hospital and that was where he stayed for six weeks.

We were all a mess. I took a week off work as the only place I wanted to be was with my Mum. When, one afternoon, I jumped out of my skin when my phone vibrated Mum decided that enough was enough and took me to the Doctors and I was prescribed some tablets to calm me down. It was here that our family doctor said to me the one thing that really struck me, he said that whenever he is dealing with patients with terrible illnesses or terminal prognosis’ he thinks to himself; ‘there but for the grace of God go I.’

And, so the treatment period commenced. We visited Dad every day and it felt like we had won the Lottery on the days we would go and visit him and he would engage with us and smile, but then sometimes this would be followed by a visit where he couldn’t speak at all. His Doctor asked my twin and I so many questions about our lives as it turned out that when we were mentioned in his therapy sessions he would really engage and talk about us to the staff. This was both heart breaking and amazing to hear.

Gradually he started to come back. His wicked sense of humour was still there and it was obvious he was trying really hard to be himself. My sister was absolutely amazing and would sit with him and talk rubbish for hours, I found that bit really hard at first and didn’t know what on earth to say to him but she never failed to ramble on. And then there was my Mum. My lovely, stoic Mother who the phrase ‘stiff upper lip’ was coined for, she was amazing and didn’t cry at all until Max got killed in Holllyoaks and my word, did the floodgates open! This was obviously her tipping point and I remember the three of us screaming with laughter afterwards as it seemed so silly, but it was obviously the release that she needed.

Dad came home the week after Mum’s birthday, two stone lighter and with a strange, renewed enthusiasm for cleaning the kitchen (this was a part of the illness Mum said she could cope with!) My sister who was still living at home took on the role of dragging him back into the real world. She was, quite simply, amazing as was my Mum. And that’s the thing, something good came out of that horrible mess – we know that we can hit rock-bottom and, together, come back up fighting. I also love my Dad even more and I never thought that was possible. So, to anyone who is experiencing something similar I would say; keep loving, keep the faith and stick together.

Categories: Behind Closed Doors, Health
6 interesting thoughts on this


  1. Alex D
    Posted March 27, 2012 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    What a heartfelt post. Your family sounds amazing – staying so strong throughout such a difficult time. I think we need more stories like this, as mental illness is still often a subject people are afraid to discuss. Thank you so much for sharing your story. x

  2. Sandra C
    Posted March 27, 2012 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    Thank you for sharing your story, it must have been difficult to write. Mental illness can happen to any of us at any time and your poor dear father will be eternally grateful to have had the support of his family. You were and continue to be so brave. You should be proud. X

  3. Posted March 27, 2012 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    I think this is an incredible post. I can’t imagine what you went through that summer, or all that came after. You, your family (oh your mother!) and your dad are so very strong. Mental illness is terrifying because so little is known about it, or how to treat it. Your story of how you worked through it as a family is an absolute inspiration. This could happen to any one of us.

    Thank you.

  4. Cathy
    Posted March 27, 2012 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    None of us really know what life has in store for us, but I think your wise words, ‘keep loving, keep the faith and stick together’ should be held dear for all of us, no matter what the situation.

    I’m so sorry your family had to go through this. Mental illness is still such a taboo subject and it really deserves to have a light shone on it, as you’ve done so here. My mum has battled depression for decades and mental illness in the family can feel so isolating. Many thanks for sharing your story and I wish you, your dad and your family all the very best.


  5. Posted March 27, 2012 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    I need to stop reading these BCD posts over breakfast because they make my Alpen teary.

    This is inspirational. I’m not sure I have words to say what I want to say but thank you so much for writing this, because it is something we all need to read. Mental illness is so difficult to understand, so random when it strikes and so devastating. This story is exactly why we need our families around us, we need their help and support, so we can be strong when one of us falls.

    K x

  6. Posted March 27, 2012 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    Thank you for sharing your story and I’m glad your lovely dad is on the mend.

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