Twenty-five years ago almost to the day I met a beautiful woman at a day centre for those living with mental health problems. I had been referred their due to my diagnosis of schizophrenia and was surprised to meet someone else with the same diagnosis; especially someone who glowed with life and could envision a future outside of the boundaries of the mental health system.
Fast forward 10 years and we not only shared a diagnosis but also a home, a life, and a desire to be wed and have a child. Having been in the ‘established’ mental health system for a decade now, we were well versed in the belief that as schizophrenics we were incapable of having a long-lasting meaningful relationship; let alone be parents! We were also aware of the common misconception that schizophrenia was likely to be passed on to any offspring via some sort of genetic hocus pocus.
However, as realists, we did have concerns; concerns regarding the affects of the medications my wife was prescribed at that time could have on our child, concerns regarding our abilities to be good parents. We consulted with psychiatrists and a decision was agreed to change the medication to one proven not to have any detrimental effects; we wed later that year and the following year my wife gave birth our beautiful little girl. Life was good.
Every new parent faces challenges which they cannot be fully prepared for, sleep deprivation and the emotional stresses regarding the wellbeing of children being just two, however our biggest challenge by far was to be the fight to keep our daughter. We had devised a plan well in advance of our daughter’s birth, a plan to share the care. This we believed would enable us both to get enough rest and enable the bond we had as a family to continue to flourish, but in our one-bedroom flat this proved to be impossible at that time. We both became sleep deprived, stressed and after a few months this resulted in my wife needing hospital admission. Luckily, a bed was found in one of the very few Mother and Baby units within the Psychiatric care system. Care received and crisis averted, my girls returned home to me approximately six weeks later.
A decision was made at this time to refer us to Social Services whom we were told may have been able to offer some support. A meeting was held to establish our problems, our needs and a plan set in motion. We felt a sense of shame that this was necessary, but accepted the support with nervous gratitude.
Reports from various health professionals were collated, including one from our health visitor stating our daughter was meeting all of the physical, emotion, and developmental targets for her age. Reports from the childminder reiterated the fact that our little girl was healthy and happy. A detailed inspection was carried out on our home and highly critical evaluations of our relationship, our personalities, and our mental health came next. Interviews/interrogations followed, culminating in a decision made by the head of Social Services that they were going to apply to have our daughter removed from our care permanently.
I do not possess the words to explain our feelings at this point. The strain put on our relationship by the divisive tactics employed by the very people we approached for help and support had severed the long-cherished connection between me and my wife. Our relationship continued to decline over the following months at which point we separated. I did not have the strength to instigate this but my wife did. She and our daughter moved into a two bedroom house soon after and we shared custody equally and attempted to give our girl a stable home and the love needed.
The home we shared once so bright and warm turned cold and dark on the day my girls left. Over the following weeks we had a number of meetings with Social Services, all ending with us going our separate ways. The pressure continued from those supposed to support us, with another threat to remove our daughter from us, and a prospective family being sought who were willing to adopt her.
I desperately tried to justify my desire to end my life. I even researched effective methods and wrote letters to my loved ones. But I had a mental image that I could not erase, an image of our little girl sitting on the floor, her arms reaching up to me and saying “Day Cug”! This was her way of asking “Dad Cuddle”. I cannot recount the number of times those words and that image saved my life.
If it were not for family members both from my own and my wife’s side offering support in the shape of a care-plan in case we both became unwell at the same time, I am convinced we would have lost our daughter into the system forever. Others like us are not so fortunate; we won, but many do not and will not in the future. It is my opinion that the ignorance, discrimination and stigma we were victims of will continue to destroy families and individuals unless public attitudes change.
The dark shadow of Social Services left our lives 12 years ago now. And I am delighted to tell you that soon after, the cherished connection between me, my wife, and our daughter returned brighter than ever before. Our daughter is now 14 years old, in the top 10% academically in her school, emotionally secure, and socially responsible. My wife is a respected peer support worker and trainer, and I myself managed to gain a degree in Nutrition & Health last year.
The shame I once felt was misplaced and belongs firmly at the feet of society and the discriminating people within it.