I Thought My Ex-Girlfriend Was a Terrorist

There are a number of factors I believe led to my psychotic episode in September 2022. My three-year relationship had ended after a difficult six-month period, and while it had been a gradual process, our split was tough.

During our first year together we got on like a house on fire; we laughed and joked like any other couple in love would. But things became more difficult after we had a baby boy.

I already had two girls who lived over an hour away from us and felt as though I was getting pulled from pillar to post trying to handle everything. We argued a lot and as our relationship broke down it became increasingly difficult to see my son, which took a huge toll on me emotionally.

Martin Waddilove
Martin Waddilove, 38, from Essex, England, features in The Hope Exhibition which was commissioned by mental health charity St Andrew’s Healthcare. He suffered a breakdown in September 2022 and was admitted to St Andrew’s Healthcare’s Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU). The Hope Exhibition/St Andrew’s Healthcare

At the time I was living in Ipswich, England, working in air conditioning, but six months was a long time to be under such stress. Eventually, I decided to move back to my hometown in another county and start a new job, but that's when things took a turn for the worse.

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2003 and, despite having it for 20 years, had never been hospitalized before. I've had ups and downs over the years and bipolar does affect me massively by causing episodes of both mania and depression.

On a down day, I wouldn't go to work or shower; it felt like I could do nothing for myself. Then, when I was on a high, I would be very erratic, going around talking to everyone, changing the subject constantly, and spending money I didn't have.

Both of these were very difficult, and you need to be on that middle ground, which is what medication does. I have only ever been on two medications over the years; olanzapine and aripiprazole, which I was taking at the time of my breakup.

On my 38th birthday last year, I realized that I had run out of my medication. I called 111, a free phone line in the United Kingdom to call when you have an urgent healthcare need, and told them I desperately needed my meds.

By chance, all the pharmacists near my home had run out of the medication I needed. I was worried because I knew that with my illness it's essential to take it every day.

Three days later I was able to access my medication, but by then I was already heading into a psychotic breakdown. It was like a flick of a switch. One day I was okay, and then bang, I was deep into an episode.

It started by not being able to sleep well, then suddenly I was convinced that someone was coming to kill me and my loved ones—I genuinely believed that my ex-girlfriend was going to murder my son.

I truly thought she was a terrorist who was going to take my son out of the country and kill him because she didn't want him anymore. It was all in my head, but it felt so real.

It's a bit of a blur, I don't remember everything, but I was very paranoid and confused. At one point I phoned the police, who visited my ex-partner's house and obviously found that both she and my son were fine.

Of course, everyone around me was telling me that it wasn't true, that my thoughts were mad. It was a horrible time and I would never wish for anyone else to go through something like that.

I think missing my medication for those few days played a part in my episode, but I also believe that for an extended period of time the type of medication I was on was not working as it should have been.

I also feel that with my illness, sometimes there doesn't have to be a reason. It can just happen to me. Obviously, I was under a lot of stress which built up gradually and in the end, it just got on top of me.

The episode lasted for around one week, during which I was going to work and trying my best to act normally, but on September 19 my family admitted me to St Andrew's Healthcare's Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) in Essex, England.

I was very disoriented at the time, and don't remember arriving at the hospital. Of course, being admitted to a hospital and stuck on a ward is not a nice situation, but I was incredibly well looked after by the staff. I couldn't fault them.

Martin Waddilove
Martin will soon be returning to St Andrew's to volunteer as a support worker. The Hope Exhibition/St Andrew’s Healthcare

To begin with, things were a bit rocky—I was misbehaving and setting off alarms. I was very angry, confused, and aggressive, but once I was settled and on the right medication I started calming down.

I became really close to some staff members there, some of them even called me their "golden boy" on the ward because I was recovering so quickly. I didn't have therapy while I was there, but did various activities like music sessions and had many heart-to-heart discussions with some staff members.

It was very emotional, after three months in hospital, to be told I could go home.

Every two weeks during my stay I had a meeting with my doctor and nurses called a ward round, and from a few weeks into my stay I had been asking when I would be able to leave.

I was desperate to get out before Christmas so I could spend it with my children.

When on December 21 I was told I was ready for discharge, it was the best news I'd had all year. Being back with my kids over the Christmas period was amazing. It felt like I was back to where I should be. Words can't describe how good that feeling was.

I'll soon be returning to St Andrew's to volunteer as a support worker for a month or two. The hospital staff gave me a lot of their time and effort, so I want to do the same thing. If I can help one person progress through their recovery, then it will all be worthwhile.

I don't think people speak enough about mental health, and I was one of those people. Before this all happened I would bottle up my feelings. But I have learned through this experience that it's okay not to be okay.

If you're suffering, talk to someone; talk to your family, talk to your friends, just get anything off your chest.

Whether you're a man or a woman, whether you're young or old, just speak to someone, because there's always light at the end of the tunnel and you'll always come out on the other side.

Martin Waddilove, 38, from Essex, England, features in The Hope Exhibition which was commissioned by mental health charity St Andrew's Healthcare to mark Mental Health Awareness Week.

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.

As told to Newsweek's My Turn associate editor, Monica Greep.

Do you have a unique experience or personal story to share? Email the My Turn team at myturn@newsweek.com.

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