Belfast Telegraph

Home Life Features

'Life went into freefall after my boyfriend died in crash'

On World Mental Health Day the 68-year-old retired nursing assistant from Londonderry tells of her battle against mental illness from her teens. She is a mother-of-five and has nine grandchildren

I was born in Drumahoe, Co Derry, in 1945, one of a family of 12. There were six boys and six girls.

We grew up in a small house in the country and had to move several times. I remember there were six of us in one bed with three at the bottom and three at the top. I quite often woke up with a toe in my face.

I didn't have a very happy childhood.

My father worked hard as an inspector in the Admiralty but life was still tough. I did well at school but we didn't have the money for me to go college or university.

My mental illness began when I started to work in a local shirt factory when I was 16. I found the conditions very cramped and the noise of the machinery gave me a pounding headache.

I couldn't sleep at night because all I could hear was the noise of the machines. I had a nervous breakdown and was referred to a doctor in Belfast and received treatment.

I changed jobs when I was 18 and started to work in a cafe in Altnagelvin Hospital. That was nice and quiet and I enjoyed the company of the other girls but I continued to be ill and had to have my medication reviewed.

I was in a relationship for about a year-and-a-half and it was serious. We saw each other every day.

Because he lived in the Waterside and I lived in the country he bought a scooter so that he could pick me up from work and bring me home.

The second time I was on it with him, we were going to get fish and chips for my father and we crashed and he was killed.

I still don't know how it happened. It was devastating, just an awful, awful experience. My life just turned upside down.

But it was around this time that I met my future husband.

We went out with each other and I got pregnant. I did not want to be with him and, in fact, went away to England but I was persuaded by my family to come home and eventually marry him.

It was a very unhappy marriage. I had to go to the women's refuge to escape it and my mental health suffered throughout. Eventually I could take no more of the marriage and walked out of the family home and set myself up in a flat on my own. That marriage was a nightmare but from it I have five fantastic children and nine grandchildren.

When I left my husband I started to rebuild my life and got a job as a care worker. I then was proud to work as a nursing assistant in Altnagelvin, specialising in the care of patients with mental health problems, where I worked for 17 years.

My mental health has continued to suffer over the years but I have learnt to cope better and have the support of my children and Praxis Care. Unfortunately I had to leave my job when I was 65 because I took lung cancer. I had three-quarters of my lung removed but I didn't have to have chemotherapy.

I'm doing well now. I still live on my own and see my children and grandchildren every week and I am involved in the local choir.

Praxis Care has been a great help by providing regular contact through their floating support service. They came to my rescue. Some things get me down from time to time but I haven't been on medication now for years.

I think you teach yourself how to cope. There is light at the end of the tunnel and I think people need to believe that and not turn to drink or drugs. I always know that Praxis is there and they have really helped me.

Just this week they took me and three other people in our estate for a meal.

It was out of the blue and I just loved it. It just lifted me. They take us on days out, wee things like that really help.

Giving a helping hand

Praxis Care is a major service provider for adults and children with a learning disability, mental ill health, acquired brain injury and for older people, including those with dementia.

It provides a range of supported living services to people experiencing mental ill health.

These include home response domiciliary care, and a day activity/drop-in and out-of-hours service that offers individuals help in planning and management of their social routines.

A volunteer befriending scheme helps reduce isolation and boosts wellbeing of people with mental health difficulties.

The charity is based in Belfast and can be contacted on 90234555.

Belfast Telegraph

Daily News Headlines Newsletter

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox.


From Belfast Telegraph