John tells his story of peer volunteering .. Big changes


It was quite some time before I became aware that I was having mental health issues. Depression, alcohol abuse, thoughts about ways to end my life were the norm for me and I thought that that all came about because of one major trauma in my life.

My wife and I had been married for nearly 37 years, until she died in 2012 after a short series of illnesses. That is what I thought had started or triggered my issues.

I’ve come to learn differently by now, that there were a large number of factors involved in sending me down such a destructive path. I won’t list them, the chances are that others who read this have can say pretty much the same thing.

However, the alcohol abuse I think had perhaps the worst effect on me. I was drinking so much that I was losing days, my memory was and still is affected, but most of all, as I found out later, it was blocking my ability to grieve.

This all changed one morning as I got out of bed, heading for the living room with my usual bursting headache, blurry vision and all that. I happened to look up at one of the last pictures of my wife taken just before she died, and a thought flashed into my mind.

It was “What if my memory gets so bad that I can’t remember her?”

I have to say that I have had some scary things occur in my life, but that thought was probably the most frightening thing that ever happened to me. I sat down, lit a cigarette, and then reached for the bottle beside my chair. Just before I picked it up I realised what I was doing, looked up at the photo, left the bottle on the floor, went to the phone and made an appointment with my doc.

He referred me to a local counselling service, and got me an appointment for the next day, and from that point on I started on the road to putting my life back together, with regular visits to my councilor, who took me a long way back to reality.

It was she who taught me that I was using the alcohol as a kind of crutch, my time spent living in a permanent haze was blocking my grief out, and made simple suggestions about how to deal with the cravings for booze.

Then at the end of October 2013, I had come to where I could say, “I’m not having another drink in my life”. It wasn’t as easy as that of course, but my innate stubbornness and the fear of falling back down into that dark place I had just climbed out of kept me going, and quite happily I can say that I have stuck to the promise I made myself.

I still didn’t have any real direction to follow in life, I had been used to sharing everything with my wife for nearly 40 years. But then a very good friend introduced me to RAMH, and from there I started picking up some pieces again. It took a while, because after the effects of the alcohol had lessened a bit, my grief hit me full force, sending me into a spiral of depression again. But everyone at RAMH was amazing in how they helped me to deal with what I was going through.

Bit by bit, they showed me that I could rejoin the world, relearning how to live again, and having what appeared to me to be infinite patience in dealing with my moods.

I joined a couple of groups, but for a while I didn’t really take part in what the groups were doing, until I began to realise that the everyone in those groups were there for the same reason I was. They were not judgmental as I feared might happen, but supportive and helpful, often telling me what they had tried and found to work in helping them to cope.

I became a lot more involved with the groups, taking part in activities, and even learning some new ones that I had never tried before. I found that my decision making was becoming clearer, I wasn’t falling flat on my face by doing the wrong thing (well not all the time), and it began to get easier to face my mental health problems. I learned what can trigger my depression, but instead of hiding from those triggers, I learned to face them, and not let them take over as they once had. I still get bouts, but not quite so often, and not quite as destructive as they were, and I have become aware that although I have come a long way in the last four years, the journey has not ended, but there are not so many rocks to trip over now.

Part of this journey for me has taken the shape of becoming a volunteer and Peer volunteer in RAMH, and I work a lot with the Singing for Wellbeing group, going to different venues and events to let others see how things can be when you have help.

My life has been reshaped, totally different to what it had been with my wife, and while I still wish that I had that life, I’ve finally accepted that it cannot be, and I have moved on, slowly persuading myself to try not to think about what I am missing, but to remember the good memories that I am lucky enough to have.

There is so much more I would like to say, so many things I have missed out in telling this story, perhaps one day I might write it all down, and if only I ever read it, that’s fine, it would remind me that I learned how to live again because of one thought early in the morning, making me realise I needed help.