As I pounded hard on his chest yesterday morning, head filled with utter terror, it felt as if our 16 years acquaintanceship flashed through my head in seconds.
We first met one cold winter’s morning. I was emptying the bin, wearing only pyjamas, when suddenly the wind slams my front door shut, leaving me shivering on the doorstep.
In my experience, the vast majority of London people are amongst some of the unfriendliness creatures I have ever come across. One neighbour allowed me to call a locksmith from the warmth of their house, before ushering me back out into the cold, still in pyjamas, to wait my fate.
Joseph was the neighbour who invited me indoors to wait for a locksmith. There was something about him that seemed odd from the start, experience with PTSD put me on high alert. As we awkwardly chatted, he openly told me about living with schizophrenia.
I wasn’t familiar with mental health at that time, only the bad press about “murdering schizophrenics”. But, despite initial concerns, there appeared to be a genuine kind heart shinning from joseph, reaching out, seeking understanding.
Joseph was always a loner. No one came to visit. He always claimed not to have any family. “They’re frightened of my craziness” he used to say, “Besides, Dad lives back in Barbados. We’re not in touch”.
Throughout the course of 16 years, I’ve had to seek help for Joseph on at least four occasions. It can feel frightening when someone completely loses their mind to a point of not recognising familiar faces. While other neighbours moaned and berated, I could only feel compassion. In those sixteen years since we first met, not one person reached out. That’s disturbing.
The last time I had to seek help for Joseph was 2-3 years ago. At last, the Mental Health Team found medication that worked. The change in his behaviour was unrecognisable. For the first time, he looked happy and content.
When I found him collapsed yesterday morning, he had only just returned from the shop, his bread and milk lay at his feet. I only had to carry out CPR for less than two minutes. Thankfully, rapid response was nearby.
Paramedics worked on Joseph for almost an hour. At only 58 years old, they eventually pronounced him dead on scene. What a way to go!
This sudden tragedy highlights how we never know the minute when death comes knocking. In all our lives, there is so much time wasted, fretting over a troubled past or worrying about our uncertain future. We seldom live and fully absorb the moment
I couldn’t help feel sad about Joseph’s family not being able to deal with his “strange behaviour”, because it wasn’t all bad. Some people simply cannot grasp the reality of mental illness.
The other day, I heard about a well-known TV personality, Trisha Goddard, who has suffered both cancer and depression. During her battle with cancer, she was inundated with cards and had more support than she could ever have expected.
When Tricia was suffering depression, not one person sent a card and fewer were so readily available to support her through the darkness. In Tricia Goddard’s opinion, depression was much more difficult to live with than having cancer.
In my opinion, many people hide behind their clichéd fear of mental illness. Yes, of course, it is very difficult to understand and even terrifying to witness. However, there are those who don’t want to understand or to see ‘it’ as an illness, somehow it’s easier for them to hide behind their stereotyped fears and stigmatisation.