As I walked away from my doctor’s surgery with his words ringing in my ears I thought: “It’s a life sentence, there is no cure.” There began my journey through mental illness and all the ramifications that would shatter my life and my family’s for more than 20 years. My husband, who had come to the doctor’s with me, told me we would get through it together but I wasn’t convinced.
Mental illness is difficult for the patient and difficult for those around them. To begin with he tried to be supportive but things changed when he left his good job as a shipping manager and became a house painter. I had to get two lodgers so we could pay the mortgage. My mother also tried to support me but she was of the generation that thought of mental illness as a stigma.
Initially, she was great but 20 years later, when she was in her eighties, she found it impossible. Soon after my diagnosis I met an old friend who had separated from his wife and we got on well. He was comfortably well off and agreed to look after me so we moved in together. To my surprise, I soon became pregnant but at three months I miscarried. Four months later I was pregnant again so could not take my lithium. After my daughter was born I suffered mild depression but didn’t go back on lithium for about nine months, by which time my moods were out of control and I took lots of time off work before leaving my job. After two years I moved back home to my mother. Always a woman of strong opinions, she thought she knew best and completely took over with my daughter.
When I was 43 I met a new partner and unexpectedly became pregnant. This was one baby too much for my mother. She suggested I had a termination but I didn’t believe in them – I’d waited a long time to have my children. The baby’s father and I lived in a rented room. A month before the baby was due he said he wasn’t the father and left. I never heard from him again. I was distraught and didn’t think I could manage on my own so went into a mother and baby unit for four months until a flat was allocated to me.
I suffered post-natal depression again, this time for about three years, so the children went to live with my younger sister. As life went on I improved and took part-time cleaning jobs. My children visited me at weekends and, even though I wanted them to live with me, they seemed settled with my sister.
I met someone else in 1993 and we lived together for seven years until I became psychotic because I had to come off lithium. I spent three weeks in hospital and decided to change my life. My partner had run up debts for which I’d had to pay so I asked him to leave. I started to do volunteer work in Chelmsford and it has changed my life; things have gone from strength to strength. This story is dedicated to my mum, two sisters and my loving, supportive children.
Sue Murphy is a volunteer and uses mental health services