Well you dont do you

Article by Steve Harvey, Associate Impromptu

In my life, I have had two mental health episodes. The first, was when I was 20, two days before I started university. Suddenly, very suddenly, I descended into a bottomless, ineluctable depression. It came from nowhere and hit me like a train. Literally, one minute I was my ‘normal’ self, and the next the entire fabric of my being exploded like a demolished building collapsing into a pile of rubble and dust.

I arrived at university mired in a dense, impenetrable fog. I was disconnected from everything, and everyone. There was no joy. There was no purpose. Every minute felt like a week. Every day felt like a lifetime. I dragged myself from moment to moment, hoping the next would be better. And it wasn’t. This lasted for nine interminable months. Gradually, imperceptibly, the fog began to lift. There was no light, not yet, but eventually that would come.

I told no-one. Not a soul. I locked my struggle deep inside.

The second, (I was now in my early thirties) was later diagnosed as hypomania. This incidence was almost the diametric opposite to the depression of over a decade before. I was euphoric. My mind raced. I saw connections in everything. I was loquacious. I was elated. I solved intractable political and societal problems. I was awake all night, talking, pacing, unravelling mysteries of the universe. I had boundless energy. I was omniscient. I was omnipotent. I was God.

On the inside, it was brilliant, exhilarating, ecstatic. From the outside, I am told, it was terrifying. For those close to me, my behaviour was frightening and distressing. I was confused, erratic, delusional, agitated, ranting. My (new) wife and my friends called an ambulance and had me admitted to a psychiatric unit, for my safety, and their sanity. I was there for two excruciating days. It was horrific. I was locked up, incarcerated. I was (force) fed drugs to calm me down and treated like an incapable child. My cell door had no inside handle. My dignity and my autonomy had been stripped away. I was surrounded by mad people. I was alone and afraid. I was caged. I was no longer a person.

By day three I had to escape. I could bear it no more. In my ‘room’ there was a small, barred window, high above the bed. I was physically strong in those days. I managed to bend the metal enough to get my head through, but try as I might – and, believe me, I strained every single sinew in my endeavour – I could expand the gap no further. I cried in desperation. I was trapped, there was no way out. Not this way.

I had another idea. I had watched people coming and going through the entrance beyond the security desk. I waited, patiently, like an ornithologist or an assassin, for an opportunity, a random instant when the doors would open simultaneous with the staff’s attention being averted. There it was. A golden moment. I seized the day and walked out. I just walked out that door, calm and casual, as if I had every right, as if I owned the place. I walked straight out into blissful, glorious sunshine. I squinted against the brightness. I was deliriously happy. I had no idea where I was, but I walked, and walked and walked until finally, I found my way home. It was then, only then, that I discovered I had been admitted as a voluntary patient. I had been technically free to discharge myself, any time I chose.

I never speak of these episodes. Ever. Well you don’t, do you. It’s funny, I wouldn’t hesitate to tell you about the time I broke my arm doing gymnastics. Or the occasion I broke my nose when I water-skied into a jetty. Or the debilitating prolapsed disc I suffered a few years ago, when I endured months of intense pain. I hold my hat off to those tough men (especially men) like Andrew Flintoff, or Stormzy, or Rio Ferdinand, or Michael Phelps, or Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, or Chris Evans aka Captain America, who have spoken publicly about their challenges. I am convinced that each of these courageous people, and many more, have made a significant contribution to making it easier for others to overcome the stigma and the shame.

Even though my own experiences were many years ago and, thankfully, were isolated and unrepeated, I still find it incredibly difficult to admit to myself, let alone anyone else, that this happened to me. Why would I make myself that vulnerable? It’s weak, isn’t it. It will damage your credibility, won’t it. People won’t trust, respect or like you, will they. It’s so much easier to pretend that everything is okay, has always been okay, will always be okay. And the cost of asking for help is so much greater than the reward of gaining comfort, surely.

I’m a man. I don’t open-up about these things.

Well you don’t, do you.


There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.
Leonard Cohen