Blooming marvellous: how one man found peace in plants
“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 McGuinness was 29 when he experienced his first symptoms of schizophrenia. At the time, he was married with a young son, owned his own business and was a keen marathon runner.
I meet Martin, now 62, at his Richmond Fellowship residence in Rutherglen a town in South Lanarkshire, Scotland.
As I head towards the doorway, I pass through a magnificent, leafy garden. It is enviable; the love that has gone into taking care of the place is something you not only see, but feel.
Martin chats away, telling me the extraordinary story of his life.
Living with schizophrenia
“I’d detached myself from reality, I had diminished responsibilities too. I couldn’t concentrate and I couldn’t look after myself,” he says. “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.”
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.
There is more misinformation about schizophrenia than any other type of mental health problem. A common misconception is that people living with the condition are violent or dangerous. In fact, those with schizophrenia are more at risk of harming themselves – one in 10 people with the diagnosis take their own life.
“You think 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 says.
Road to recovery
It has been a long road to recovery for him, but for many people 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.
He lives a peaceful life in supported accommodation thanks to National Lottery players and a partnership between the Central Scotland Green Network Trust and the Richmond Fellowship.
The two charities received £111,545 of National Lottery Funding to deliver the three-year therapeutic project, Gardening for Better Mental Health. The project helps 175 people who have mental health issues, like Martin, in supported accommodation across Scotland.
Martin attends the project on a Tuesday and it has proven to be beneficial for him and all the other residents, helping them socialise, learn new skills and improve their mental well-being.
Light and peace
“Gardening’s been something I haven’t done in about 20 years or so, but I get a lot of satisfaction out of doing it,” he says. “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,” he says.
Martin’s story is one that inspires hope. As he lovingly shows me the plants that are flowering, the link between them and his story is clear: mental ill health can be painful and challenging, but we all, given a little care, have the potential to flourish.
“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.
“Now, I feel at peace. I’m looking forward to the future. It’s a whole new way of life and I take it a day at a time.”
Living with a mental illness can make you feel isolated and lonely. Our paper Bringing people together: how community action can tackle loneliness and social isolation offers insights and learning from the community and voluntary sector about how you can tackle social isolation or support someone who is feeling lonely.