You often hear of people falling from great heights; having everything and losing it all. But you really don’t think it will ever happen to you. It sounds like a cliché, but there you go!
My fall from grace started back in 2012. Like I said, I had everything I wanted, fantastic house, beautiful wife, a job I was truly proud of and a great social life. Everything was peachy. I even had a little holiday retreat in Bulgaria- what more could I ask for?
How little did I know that over the course of a few years, I would lose everything. I would be left feeling alone, isolated, depressed and ultimately attempting to take my own life – several times.
If it were not for the kindness of others and the support from the wonderful team at Doorway, I truly do not think I would be here to take you on my journey.
My marriage started to fall apart. I guess we were just not as compatible as we both thought. We tried many times to work through the bad times, but in the end we separated.
And with divorce came the inevitability of losing the house I loved and had worked so hard to achieve.
I was just about able to afford a small bungalow, but at a cost! The mortgage payments were crippling and I just couldn’t cope with it. I had no money to socialise and very quickly I became secluded and insular. Depression was knocking on my door. All the good friends I thought I had
fell away too! Apparently they were more my wife’s friends than mine. The phone stopped ringing; the social scene almost vanished overnight.
But I still had my job to keep me motivated of course! Something I was very proud of! Although I was not particularly academic, I worked my way into a position of some importance in the science world! My job involved DNA sequencing, testing for extremely infectious diseases in animals. I worked in very strict and controlled laboratory environments and like I said, something I was extremely proud of. 20 years of hard graft in the Civil Service had finally paid off!
Then the cuts began. People left and were not replaced. My unit was badly affected by flood damage and a decision was made high up to relocate and merge with another site. My job disappeared and I was allocated a menial role– effectively a teaboy with less money and no future.
For me, the final kick in the teeth and the cracks started to deepen. My self-esteem took a nosedive. The social scene at work stopped. Linked in with the fact I had already lost all my other friends, the sense of loneliness became overbearing. I started to notice things that I just didn’t understand and couldn’t comprehend. Small tasks became monumental problems. Basic household chores became impossible. Something as simple as cooking a microwave meal suddenly became a challenge for me.
I would stare at the television, but not actually watch it. I would count the corners over and over again. What was happening to me? My only comfort left was my dog Russell. However, even he was not enough!
My first suicide attempt shortly followed. The depression hit me hard and I just couldn’t manage. Suffice to say it was an attempt and I lived to see another day. However the consequences were far reaching. My mental state left it impossible for me to continue working in what was left of the Labs. Apart from anything else, I was wracked with guilt and embarrassment. I couldn’t face the questions from colleagues and the sideward glances. I needed a total change and that is what I decided to do.
I sold up and brought a small flat in Chippenham. I had just enough money to be mortgage free. My master plan was to rent out the flat and go live in my holiday apartment in Bulgaria. What could go wrong? An ideal solution – or so it seemed at the time.
It didn’t work out well for sure! In hindsight it was a rash decision, but when you are in the depths of despair, your judgement and decision making are flawed. I became even more secluded. The language barrier was a massive problem for me, and one I would never overcome. There was a small ex-pat community there, but a general lack of funds meant once again I could not socialise.
All I now had to keep me sane was Russell. My best mate and constant companion. But even there I ran into difficulties. The winters can be harsh, especially in the mountains where I was holed up. It just didn’t occur to me that he needed better protection from the snow and ice on the ground. Frostbite in the feet was inevitable! I had even managed to hurt the dearest thing to me!
I stuck it out for 4 months. 4 months of almost total isolation apart from an occasional phone call back to my brother in the UK. This just wasn’t working out!
So I upped sticks and drove back to the UK and back to Chippenham. After a couple of weeks I brought myself a small caravan and found a field to pitch it in. I thought I could start to build my life again. The rental from the flat gave me just enough to live on, although I had no access to electricity or running water. It kept me dry, but certainly not warm or clean!
I thought I was on the mend! I even got a call from an old work colleague with a possible lead back into Laboratory work. I followed it up and after a herculean effort to find the confidence to attend interviews, I was offered the job; my experience surely playing to my benefit.
But all was not well. I was just blocking out my true condition. The drive to work had me shaking in fear and being physically sick. I was not well, I just didn’t realise how ill I was. Being able to accept and acknowledge that you have a problem is the first step to recovery. Unfortunately I was nowhere near this yet and totally out of my depth still.
The job didn’t last! I could not perform the tasks or concentrate. After 2 weeks of struggling every day, I had to admit defeat. And it hit me hard. Another failure, just when I thought I could turn things around. I had to get some help and I knew this now.
I made the difficult decision to speak to my GP and finally tell someone about my problems. I let it all out – suicide attempt, depression, loneliness, my inability to perform tasks – the whole thing. In turn, my GP put me in touch with the Crisis team and from that moment, things started to happen.
Next thing I knew, a psychiatrist came out to see me at the caravan. I was assessed in terms of my medication and they also put me in touch with the Doorway team in Chippenham. I have to say that was probably the best thing to have happened to me in a long long time!
At first I could not face it! The idea of seeing people, having to talk about my personal problems and potentially being judged by strangers was too much to bear! But again, I plucked up the courage and decided to give it a go. My first visit was not easy. I was feeling seriously low and I could not even walk inside the building. It was only through the kindness and gentle persuasion given by Lisa that I eventually managed to step inside. I knew this would take a time to get used to. I couldn’t eat or drink in front of people and my first visits were hard to face.
After a few weeks of attending I started to feel more confident. I actually started to enjoy speaking to other people who attended, understanding I was not alone and others were suffering the same as me.
Some of the basic issues I had were addressed. Simple things you take for granted, but had become massive obstacles for me. Things like taking a shower, getting the laundry done, being given deodorant, clean socks and pants. They even provided me with some new clothing and bedding and sorted out a pill dispenser. Even down to the point of providing me with food takeouts, because of my anxiety of not being able to eat in front of people. They helped with all these things and more. They helped me feel human again. I got so much help and support. Lisa again coaxed me, showing me that I just needed to deal with small tasks at first. Small steps – one at a time!
You could think that I had now finally turned the corner and life would start to blossom again for me. But depression doesn’t let you off that easily. I started to drink again and the loneliness was never far away. A cold, wet miserable winter only added to my mental state. The caravan developed leaks in the roof. A lack of heating and constant dampness only added to my misery. The field I was in became waterlogged and I even managed to pick myself up a case of trench foot!
Another suicide attempt followed. Luckily once again, it was just an attempt. I continued to visit the Doorway team who put me in contact with Turning Point, who I am now currently working with. Let’s see where that takes me!
But for now, I continue to regularly visit the Doorway team and for me they are a lifeline! They make me feel safe and perhaps more importantly equal. They don’t judge, they just help. There is genuine care and they look out for you. If I miss a session, they give me a call and check I’m ok.
It’s a reason to get out of the caravan and I now look forward to my visits. They never fail to put a smile on my face and always manage to make me laugh. I particularly love the cries of ‘Got clean socks? Got clean pants?’ when I take a shower. Makes me feel cared for! You have no idea how much that can mean.
They know me there now. They can tell if I’m taking a turn for the worse! They remind me to take the meds if I forget. They keep an eye on my dog for me. Even he has issues! Food allergies bless him. They helped me once again with new bedding after the last suicide attempt and taped up my hand so I could take a shower. I even got a hamper (kindly donated from Honda) which I ate alone on Christmas day – tearful from the kindness shown to me. Just recently, I got a hug from one of them – my first one for over a year.
Maybe the best advice they could have given me was not to hide things from family. They told me to talk and explain my issues and weaknesses. That has helped hugely and I am even now managing a day out now and again with ‘lost’ family!
My time with the Doorway team has taught me just how easy it is to fall into a desperate state. I meet all sorts of characters there and I now enjoy their company. Many are broken from life, just the same as me. They’re not drunks and junkies as you might think. They are all beautiful people with a story to tell. They could be the fireman who saves your kids or the guy that fixes your car.
Places like Doorway are important. They play a vital role in finding accommodation, food, clothes or sleeping bags for rough sleepers. They put you in contact with other support teams and are there when you need them. For me, they saved my life. It’s that simple. There is not much out there that offers help. This I have come to realise. Without their support I would not be here today.
So that’s me. I’m on the mend and feeling optimistic. I don’t feel like ending it all right now, mainly down to the friends I have made. I have a long way to go, but I know I can rely on the Doorway team. Hopefully one day I can pay back some of the kindness they have shown me – maybe be able to help others myself. After all, a problem shared is a problem halved.
But to finish on another cliché, and I may as well considering I started on one, as least I know with Doorway around I may just get by with a little help from my friends!
Richard May 2016
Update March 2017
Richard has moved to a different to a county. He has a new home and is now volunteering at a similar daycentre.