It was just like any other dreary freezing Friday morning in our house at the end of January 2008, alarm went off at 6.30am, showered, woke children for school, had breakfast, called my husband to get up, (and I was thinking about the weekend ahead) until he said that he wasn’t getting up and was going to stay in bed all day, could I phone his work and tell them he would not be in.  I asked him what was the matter, he mumbled “not feeling good” “do you need a doctor” no answer…

I had only arrived into work when I had noticed 5 missed calls on my mobile from my husband, something must be wrong!!!  Panic had set it!! I phoned him back but he was very distressed, emotional, and agitated and not making much sense he was saying he loved me and that he was going to kill himself  - what was he talking about…

…We phoned our GP who arrived shortly and assessed him prescribed a sedative to calm him down and arranged for an assessment to be carried out at Lagan Valley Hospital Psychiatric Unit the following week.

The illness

My husband had a psychotic / mental breakdown and was admitted to LVH Psychiatric Unit.  I remember looking at the fear in his face, intense sadness, the withdrawn look, and no interest in anything.  We were all emotionally and physically drained having meetings with nursing, medical professionals and social workers, trying to support him in any way possible.  It all seemed unreal how could this have happened to him to us.  We spent all of our days in Lagan Valley Hospital and that is where I met Brenda.  I remember vividly at visiting time the lady going round and speaking with patients and relatives and then she came to us.  She introduced herself as Brenda McFall “Carers Advocate” from CAUSE a Support Group for people caring for someone with a serious mental illness. She chatted to us for awhile and told me a little about the Group and left her card with us, surely I would not need this Group, and my husband would only be here for a few days, get medication, and would be on his feet in no time, be back at work, how wrong could I have been!!  That’s what I thought 14 weeks later and still an inpatient.  This was the start of a long battle with mental illness, our nightmare had begun and our worlds had fallen apart - mine 5 children, 2 grandchildren and the family circle.

As my husband could no longer work all of this had a dramatic impact on our finances and I needed to get back to work for my own sanity as well as financially but was worried about going back, questions that I kept asking myself - will I be able to work now, what was going to happen to him and who would be there to look after him while I was at work.

The strain and worry of this was impacting on my own mental health, I was at my wits end didn’t know what to do, who to talk to and saw Brenda’s card from CAUSE (what a God send).  I rang her office, and fifteen minutes later there I was sitting in her office with a cup of tea and a box of hankies pouring my heart out to her.  What a relief, someone who listened to me, understood me, supported me and knew what I was going through.

Supporting someone with mental health illness can be a challenging experience that pushes you along unexpected avenues.  I never expected to feel grief and loss and yet I did. 

Throughout the past years, several things come to mind that have given me the strength to carry on caring for my husband through his journey:-

  1. the love I have for him
  2. the strength, love, and support of our 5 children and the impact their father’s illness has had on them
  3. CAUSE, its support group and respite events which has given me the chance to meet other carers / and friends in similar positions as my own and to feel we are not alone

One in four people are expected to experience a mental health problem in their lives and yet stigma and discrimination are still very common.  If I could change anything on mental health it would be people’s perceptions on mental health.  We have lost friends (good ones at that) due to the lack of understanding people have on the taboo subject.

February 2014 can’t believe this is happening again a psychotic relapse admitted to hospital and detained for his own safety and that of others, this was a very frightening episode and we didn’t know what his plan was and he didn’t know either. 

Even though we have been through this before and living with his mental illness for the past 7 years it was just like starting a new journey again hospitals, day hospitals, social workers, psychiatrists, CPN’s, medication.  You don’t ever get used to this even though I felt that I should, nothing prepares you for this but I know with the support of our children, family and friends and CAUSE we would get through this again!!!

Now for the past 7 years I have been involved with CAUSE in many different ways such as the Carers Support Group and more recently enjoyed the fun of fundraising.  The support within this group has helped me recognise and value myself as a carer.  I have gained confidence and support which is needed in a carer’s role and also a knowledge and understanding of mental health.

Thank you for listening to my story and thank you CAUSE.

Nora – a Lisburn carer