Ruth Durkin: Gerry's Story

Gerry is a member of Sheffield Flourish and attends the Art Group. He lives with a diagnosis of schizophrenia and wanted to share his story. (Artwork by Gerry)

Gerry's artwork entitled Avalon

I took early retirement on the grounds of ill health when I was 42 and did some campaigning for mental health. I’ve lived in my current home for 26 years. My mother lived down the road in Millhouses and passed away in 2015. She had a stroke a year or two beforehand and she couldn’t look after herself anymore. We had to sell the family house and my brother was looking after her at the time.

I worked at Lodge Moor Hospital on the Spinal Unit on and off for nineteen years as an auxiliary nurse. Before that I used to work at Midland Bank which became HSBC. While I was at the bank in 1970 I was in a road accident on a zebra crossing and broke my leg and went to hospital with that. I had mental health problems at the time.

My father died when I was ten years old and I was the eldest of seven children. I had Irish parents. When my father died I had to give lead to my brothers and sisters. My little sister died at the age of two and a half. My mother was 96 when she passed away, my father was 51. He died of a sudden heart attack. They both worked at Lodge Moor before me and met there, both Irish doctors. I came along in 1961 – I’m 69 years old.

I joined a group of disabled people called PHAB: physically handicapped and able-bodied. It’s a group that was started by Cliff Richard. I was recovering from a broken leg then and was on crutches. I used to assist the PHAB group using the pool at the spinal unit and was recommended to work as a nurse.

I was married at one time but I’m divorced now, some years ago. The marriage didn’t work out and it was never going to work out really. Looking back, I think it was doomed from the start. She married me for the wrong reasons I think. I don’t think she loved me. That contributed to my mental illness as well. We separated for two years and then we got divorced. I think looking back at it she married me to get a British passport. I don’t know whether she’s alive or dead or if she married again or what happened to her or anything. We’ve no children, she didn’t want children. She didn’t let me know that until our wedding night when she told me she wanted to use contraception. When you get married you normally want children, or that’s part of it. It’s just as well really because of my mental health – I’ve been diagnosed with schizophrenia and there is evidence that schizophrenia and other mental illnesses can be passed down through a gene.

A new psychiatrist I met misdiagnosed me with manic depression and put me on lithium tablets and I ended up in and out of hospital. I take amisulpride now and it’s suiting me better. I’m no longer on injections – I was on them for about forty years. I take tablets now which is much easier for me. They’re easily accessible at the chemists. I was put on olanzapine at one time but I was on restricted to start with because it was a new drug at the time. It was expensive and difficult to get hold of but it didn’t work for me anyway.

I was sectioned about five times during one year in 1992 and I thought “this isn’t fair on people” so I took early retirement. I’ve been retired since 1993 when I moved into a council flat. I’m still at the flat and I like it. It’s in a house that’s been made into flats.

I was brought up a catholic and a lot of my illness stems from religion. It also stems from losing my dad at a young age when I was ten. When I got to the age of eighteen, I had my first nervous breakdown and that’s when I first started hearing voices and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. I was getting peculiar images in my head and thinking that the television could see me and was talking to me directly. I had paranoid thoughts about people wanting to harm me in some way or out to get me. I don’t usually get depressed as a rule. There’s a shortage of bees and butterflies at the moment which could lead to widespread famine and starvation, so I rang the breakfast show on Radio Sheffield to let them know. It’s important to tell people about that.

I have ideas in my head which are very hard to get rid of. Meditation helps, I meditate every day. Look after your mental health – sometimes your mental health is more important than your physical health. Physical health is important too, so look after your body and soul. Don’t be selfish, be charitable with other people, ask if they need a bit of help. Sometimes they do.

I have my hobbies of art and model building. When I was in hospital when I’d broken my leg, my mother was visiting me and she encouraged me to do painting and drawing. She brought me a paint by numbers set and I started from there. I was nineteen years old so I’ve been doing it for fifty years, painting mostly. My mental state affects my art as well; you can usually tell from my art what my state of mind is.

I joined a campaign group that campaigns for a better deal for people with schizophrenia who are wrongly portrayed as violent and aggressive in the media. There are a lot of ‘sane’ people who can be violent and aggressive too. A lot of schizophrenic people are quite shy and withdrawn.

I get ideas in my head. I ruminate and dwell on things a little bit too much. It can vary but I cope, I have a routine now. It’s important to have a routine. I get up early in the morning at 5 or 6 o’clock. I like to catch up and see what’s going on in the world. I do a lot of my shopping online, I don’t think I could cope with going into a supermarket.

I’ve been a member of Sheffield Flourish for a while. I take part in the art group and creative writing group and the games and quiz group.

Nothing has changed really for me in lockdown because I do all of my shopping online anyway. I’ve adapted well. A lot of people who don’t have mental health problems have been affected by all this.

I’m very overweight, I need to lose some weight. I smoke cigarettes – I find smoking calms me down a lot. A lot of mentally ill people smoke. I gave up for six years and then my mum had a stroke and it set me off again.

Artwork by Gerry

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