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Help from SLaM finally broke the vicious circle of my life on the streets

22.02.12 Categories:

Paul’s story of a depression-filled life and how SLaM helped him out of it

Putting down my brush I turned to the art teacher. “You told me to paint how I was feeling,” I said, explaining why the figure I’d drawn was cutting his hands to pieces. My life had been one disaster after another and I’d finally had enough of it.

I’d always had emotional problems. My mum left when I was four and my father died when I was 18. I’d ended up in a B&B and within four years was living on the street, starting a vicious circle of drinking, petty crime, prison and back again. In my late thirties, desperate to break the cycle, I left my hometown of Manchester for London. But my problems followed me and soon I was back on the ‘misery-go-round’; street-living, alcohol, shoplifting, prison…

Which was why I was in a prison art class on the Isle of Sheppey, contemplating ending things. I’d planned to kill myself that night, knowing I was due to be released back on to the streets soon. I couldn’t face it anymore. But fortunately painting that picture proved a cathartic experience, just enough to keep me going.

It was around this time I had unexpected visitors, from the newly opened Tony Hillis Unit in Lambeth. It’s for people with personality disorders. I hadn’t even realised I was suffering from a mental illness. Apparently I had borderline personality disorder, meaning I had difficulty regulating my emotions. I’d always thought it was the drink, or I just wasn’t a very nice person. But now I was being offered hope - treatment and a hostel at the end of it. I was like a drowning man grabbing a life raft.

I was sectioned and spent the next two years at the Tony Hillis, turning my life around. They did me proud, supporting me through thick and thin as I completed a series of intensive programmes. When I was finally discharged the hospital struggled to find me a hostel due to the discrimination against people with my condition. But they persevered and eventually found me a place in Streatham, a place I could make a fresh start from.

I’m sober and have finally a place to call home, a wonderful ground floor flat with a garden in Brixton. I’ve trained as an advisor and now work with staff in hospitals and prisons, raising awareness of personality disorder. I’ve even delivered training to some of the people who once supported me as a patient. I’ve achieved a lot. My art has been exhibited – and that life-saving self-portrait even earned me an award!

Paul is not alone in experiencing the hopelessness and frustration experienced by people with undiagnosed mental health disorders. SLAM relies on voluntary donations to ensure that some of its service to the most vulnerable continue to be available. Please consider supporting us now.

together we can… save lives