I think it started with the nightmares, but I honestly don’t know. For me personally, the times it has happened, it has creeped up slowly and I don’t see it coming. Apart from the last time. The worst time, when I kind of knew it was happening but couldn’t sop it. Now…now I believe I would know when it was happening and would be able to do something about it.
When I am sick.
The most vivid memory for me is when I am 14. My mum is fast asleep on the sofa and I am standing in the livingroom. All the lights are off, it is like 4-5 in the morning. Just starting to get light. I have been just standing there for some time. I am fully dressed. Trainers, jeans, big jacket with the hood up. I am just standing there crying. To visualise it…to make it more understandable…imagine crying but you have no idea why…and because you have no idea why your angry. I had been crying for ages. Not bothering to wipe my eyes or nose. I have my hands in fists and my nails are squeezing the palms of my hands. “Mum” I say …it comes out harsh and dry. “Mum” I say again. Mum does not respond because she is medicated and will not be waking any time soon. And I know that. “MUM” I sort of scream…shout. The noise just smacks off the walls of the flat.
That moment is the loneliest I have felt in my entire life.
I walk over to her and bend down next to her. I shake her gently. She is so asleep its untrue. “Mum…I am going mad” I say in a whisper. Then a bit louder “Mum am I going mad?”. Like I say…she does not respond. I start to sob, and I guess I fall asleep at some point because a few hours later I wake up and I am curled up on the floor next to the sofa my mum is on. We had no carpet at this point, so I am stiff and cold. I get myself up, still fully clothed, and go and get something to eat from the kitchen and water from the tap. I eat…. then I get my bag and leave the house again. Don’t wash my face, don’t brush my hair, no change of clothes. I just go back out to wherever I had come from hours before and back into whatever was causing me trauma and my breakdown in the night is not spoken about.
That was a regular occurrence for me for a long time, I would wake up in what I can only describe as a panic attack…but much more powerful. I have slept out on my balcony in London more times than I can remember because I couldn’t breath and sweat would be rolling of my body.
I now understand that this was PTSD. But at the time I just thought I was going mad. If I am very honest, I thought I was “going mad” much of my life. I couldn’t understand a lot of the emotions that would rush through my body without any warning. And because of my lack of understanding around mental health, living with a parent with severe mental health and peers who clearly had mental health issues…. I didn’t know what was happening was not OK. All I knew was that if you went med you got taken away. Like my mum did sometimes.
So, I hid it.
When I was 22, I developed agoraphobia. Just writing that has made me feel vulnerable. This may be one of the few things my kids don’t know about me. They may know, it might have been discussed at some point. It scares me a bit to talk about it.
It just creeped up one day. I was going to pick up the kids from school and halfway there I felt strange. This developed day after day and then one day I just didn’t take the kids in for a day. Said we as having a day off. The kids loved that and of course didn’t question it. I felt relieved and happy that I didn’t have to leave the house for the day. It lasted about 6 months, but that is a story for another day.
I think my mental health was always going to be impacted due to my parents and family. Things were going on for me from a young age that were for sure going to have an impact. But once I was out roaming the streets I saw, heard, and did things that not only had an impact on my mental health as a child but also into my adult years.
I remember when my mum wanted to take me to the doctors once because of my mental health. She wanted to take me lots of times, but I would always find a way out of it, even if that meant running away or playing on her on mental health issues.
She wanted to take me to the doctors because she was convinced, I was taking drugs. She had good reason to think that. She had found a load of gear in my room. I had been “Acting strange” for a while. I remember I was laying on my bed once and started thinking about a robbery I had been involved with the night before. It had been quite traumatising, and I was laying on my bed thinking about it, filled with all sorts of emotions and I started crying. Like…full on wailing. Like a very small child. My mum cam running in and I think I was curled up; I am not sure. At some point my mum got my head on her lap and was asking what was wrong and rubbing my head. The fact I was letting her touch me would have been shocking for her (another aspect of my mental health) and she said, “Its OK, everything is going to be OK”. It struck my there and then how wrong she was, and I started laughing. I was laying in my mums’ arms and was both laughing and crying. I couldn’t breathe I was laughing so much. My mum kind of pushed my off her and jumped up. She started saying to stop. I could hear the anxiety or fear in her voice. She was shouting “stop…stop…what are you doing”. It went on for a bit and I went and locked myself in the bathroom and cried hugging my knees on the floor. My mum tried knocking on the door for ages and them went and got a screwdriver and took off the handle (The door stayed with no lock for a very long time, I think mum thought I would harm myself). She came in and sat on the freezing floor with me. I was just rocking and crying, and she was saying what ever it was I could tell her. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t tell anyone. Where would I even start. Some of the stuff I have still never told a living soul.
I said “Mum, I think I am going mad” and she said “you cant be, because if you were going mad you wouldn’t know about it” and that thought has stayed with me until this very day. I am not saying its true, but it brings me comfort. The one time I did go into psychosis I had no idea it was happening and thought I was fine…so…maybe Mumma does know best.
Like I said, I saw, felt, and did things as a child and young person that no one should have to go though and my time on the streets made my mental health so damaged that it was almost beyond repair.
I support young people daily who remind me of how I was. I see many young people, especially males, deny what is happening and feeling very alone.
Today I watched a film by my friend Paul McKenzie called SICK. Click HERE to watch it The first opening scenes cut a little too close to home for me and …well…brought some of this up. But its OK, because I have come to peace with many of my “Demons”.
I would ask every practitioner who works with young people, especially those in gangs or exposition, to watch SICK. It will give you a glimpse into what it’s like when you have to be on guard all day every day, when you have to live like your life depends on it and when you feel like you cant really trust anyone.
I would encourage you to show this to your young people. Let them know that they aint alone. Allow then to explore what being “Sick” looks like and get young people talking.
Mental health issues such as PTSD for ex-gang members needs more research and understanding because I know, for me personally, these events still hunt my dreams
Watch SICK here
If any of the above has effected you then please seek help and support for yourself or for those you are worried about. You can find some support from the links below: