My father died when I was 11, and my relationship with my mother was strained. As I grew into adulthood, I worked successfully as a broadcaster, before moving into PR; Public Relations. As I moved up the corporate ladder each role brought more stress and pressure. My work ethos had always been to not only succeed in everything I did, but to do it perfectly. I would always beat myself up even if I succeeded with a project, even beyond everyone’s expectations, if just one aspect of it didn’t work out perfectly! I later realised I was a driven perfectionist, but to me, at that time, that was just normal.
In the run-up to my illness I had an extremely high-powered, high-pressured job with an unsympathetic boss. I was in a corporate culture that heaped a massive workload on everyone and expected long hours to achieve it.
I regarded my wife’s parents very much as my main family, especially her father. It was during this stressful time at work that my grandmother died, and my mother-in-law died after a long and unpleasant battle with cancer.
Within weeks my father-in-law was also diagnosed with cancer. Then, on Friday 13th June 1997, while I was away on a business trip, my mind reached overload point. Alone in my hotel room I was on the verge of suicide. I rang the Samaritans, and without being dramatic, I can safely say that phone call saved my life that night.
There followed the inevitable counselling, but nothing seemed to do the trick. If anything the depression deepened, as I couldn’t really believe the diagnosis. Even though nothing made sense, I suppose I fought against the diagnosis, feeling that I needed to be stronger, and that I should simply be able to 'snap out of it'.
My company decided that as I had a 'mental health issue' they were no longer prepared to employ me. At my next counselling session a few days later, Wednesday September 10th, the experts decided I needed to be admitted to hospital, and I became a voluntary patient at a private psychiatric clinic.
I settled into the routine of meals, medication, gentle activities, and consultation with psychiatrists, and I appeared to be progressing. I made new friends and we swapped stories of how we came to be there. I felt a great sense of camaraderie with my fellow patients.
We all thought I was progressing, but my time in hospital then took a very dark turn. By now my wife’s father was seriously ill. Having seen her mother suffer so much with cancer I was hoping he would not suffer the same way. He suddenly took a turn for the worse and died. This knocked my already broken mind further into the abyss and I blamed myself for his death.
I explained to my doctors that I thought that I'd killed him, as I had wished for him not to suffer. Voices were telling me that the only way to atone for my sin, were to cut my own throat and kill someone else, so their spirit could accompany me to hell. It was at this point that I was sectioned for 28 days.
My life was at rock bottom. I never thought I’d work again. In fact, at one point, I never thought I’d leave hospital. Being sectioned under the UK Mental Health Act meant I no longer had a choice about being in hospital. I was detained there, against my will.
I have no memory of the first two weeks of being sectioned, but I am told I managed to run away from the hospital twice. During the whole time I was sectioned, and for a couple of weeks afterwards, I was 'specialed', meaning a nurse was assigned to never be more than six feet away from me. I was heavily medicated all the time, one of the drugs being lithium.
While the treatment initially involved breaking down my conviction that I was responsible for my father-in-law’s death, and that I needed to kill myself to atone for it, the psychiatrists discovered I had suppressed memories from my childhood which became repressed (or was it the other way round…I can’t remember now?).
It had all begun when my dad died just days before we heard I had passed the 11+ examination to go to Grammar School. Also, it had been decided at that time that I was too young to go to his funeral, so I never had the chance to say goodbye to him.
With everything in the open, I was on my way to recovery. Once I was discharged, recovery became all about casting off the things I no longer needed in my life, including corporate success and the stress that comes with it. I returned to my first love of writing, and now work as a novelist and Public Relations writer, and have my own fortnightly magazine column.
Today, I am very much my own person. I go barefoot most of the time, which I find is a powerful influence on my mental wellbeing. The physical connection in this way with the planet that supports me gives me inner peace.
I hope my story will inspire and give confidence that there is hope. I’ve managed to build a successful new life from the ruins of my old one!
What an incredibly powerful story from Stewart and we thank him for his honesty and openness. Have you experienced the corporate lifestyle he describes and did it affect your own mental state? Do you have any experiences of being detained under the Mental Health Act? Let us know in the comments below.
You can keep up-to-date with Stewart via his own website where he also hosts his own blog. He's also on Facebook and Twitter, where's he's @AuthorSJB. You can order any of Stewart's own books via his Author page on Amazon.