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Blooming marvellous: Martin’s schizophrenia story

May 17, 2019
Martin McGuinness in the garden at his residence

In honour of #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek, our Digital Communications Officer, Aymie Black, headed out to Rutherglen to meet Martin McGuinness, 62, a man with schizophrenia who was helped on his journey to wellness by National Lottery funded Central Scotland Green Network Trust.

I met Martin at his Richmond Fellowship residence in Rutherglen. As I headed towards the doorway, I passed through their magnificent, leafy garden. The garden was enviable; the love that had went into taking care of the place was something you could not only see – but feel.

Martin warmly greeted me and started chatting away, telling me the extraordinary stories of his life. Martin was 29 when he experienced his first symptoms of schizophrenia. At the time he was married with a young son, he owned his own business and was a keen marathon runner.

He told me:

“It felt like a light had went out in my head; one day I was alright and the next morning I woke up very ill.”

Martin in the greenhouse

Schizophrenia is a diagnosis given to some people who have severely disrupted beliefs and experiences. The causes are unknown, but episodes of schizophrenia can be triggered by a variety of causes including stress and recreational drug use. Martin couldn’t believe the sudden change in his life, and he told me about the frightening symptoms.

“I’d detached myself from reality, I had diminished responsibilities too. I couldn’t concentrate and I couldn’t look after myself.

“I was talking to myself and thinking that the TV was talking to me.

“The paranoia is like thinking everyone is against you and everyone knows what you’re doing, that you’ve got a mental illness and you’re no use to anyone.”

There is more misinformation about schizophrenia than any other type of mental health problem. A common misconception about schizophrenia is that those with the condition are violent or dangerous. In fact, those with schizophrenia are more at risk of harming themselves – with one in ten with the diagnosis taking their own life.

Martin explained:

“You find sometimes, with the stigma, that people think I’m crazy and won’t want to know me. People won’t understand me because of it.

“I had the fear of dying, but at the same time it made it feel like death might be better than living.”

Martin tending to seedlings in the greenhouse

It has been a long road to recovery for Martin; but for many with mental ill health – recovery is a journey not a destination. After three decades worth of hospital stays and trying a variety of treatments, Martin feels he now has the right medication and care, and is living a peaceful life in supported accommodation. The Therapeutic Gardening Project that Martin attends on a Tuesday has proven a beneficial activity for the residents – helping them socialise, learn new skills and better their mental wellbeing.

Central Scotland Green Network Trust, in partnership with the Richmond Fellowship, received £111,545 of National Lottery Funding to deliver a three year Therapeutic Gardening Project – Gardening for Better Mental Health. The project supports 175 people who have mental health issues, like Martin, in their supported accommodations across Scotland.

Martin showing off the newly blossomed flowers

Martin told me how wonderful the project is and that the project has helped him achieve wellness:

“It’s been something I haven’t done in about 20 years or so; I get a lot of satisfaction out of doing it. It’s quite rewarding when you see the plants flowering and coming to life. It’s nice to get out, it’s a wee change.”

“I never thought I’d get as well today as I was back then, I’m a lucky man – very lucky. You think you’re never going to get out of it, and there’s no real light at the end of the tunnel – and yet there is.”

“I feel at peace. I’m looking forward to the future. It’s a whole new way of life. I take it a day at a time.”

Martin’s story is one that inspires hope. As he lovingly showed me the plants that were flowering – the link between that and his story was clear: mental ill health can be painful and challenging – but everyone has the potential to flourish.

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