The effects on my mental health caused by relentless money worries.
BEFORE THE BANKING CRISIS
In 2007 I ran a successful recruitment business. I was living in a house I loved and had an active and varied social life. I was happy. Married, and with two teenage children that made me proud, life seemed complete.
I had a buy to let cottage in Wales, a small freehold shop and my own home. I was neither a property tycoon nor complacent. I felt I could manage if anything went wrong in my business life.
We were also rebuilding a complex website, a job board actually. The site was making money, but we needed to invest around 100k to upgrade. Both the national and international traffic was building exponentially. The site had to cope, and so did we.
My bank was reluctant to lend this money, which was a huge disappointment. Despite considerable equity and the website’s increasing profits, the answer was no. I even offered my property as security.
If I were going to get the liquid funds to expand the website, I would have to remortgage. Isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing. This decision proved to be the biggest mistake of my life.
It was 2007. Northern Rock was more than happy to remortgage my home. At the time, their rates were very competitive. They offered a fast track mortgage, which meant it took up very little time to arrange. This appealed to me as I was so busy with my business.
I made my choice and signed the paperwork.
THE BANKING CRISIS
In 2008, the Banking crisis hit. Now I have been in business since I was 19 years old and had experienced a couple of downturns. This was very different. Financial markets, along with trade, fell off a cliff. It was terrifying.
I had a large office in Brentwood High Street that accommodated 10 members of my staff 12 if you count my wife and I. Within a few months due to the severe downturn in income I was forced to make nine people redundant- I had no choice, nobody was recruiting, but it was heartbreaking saying farewell to loyal employees that were also friends.
Of course, during all this time the Banking Crisis was in full swing, my mortgage was now with a nationalised lender (which at the time I thought would protect mortgage holders mainly as they were saying nothing will change with your mortgage. I did not see any apparent reasons to worry at that time)
Over the next 18 months, I managed to untangle myself from an expensive high street lease and downsized the business to the vacant first floor above my freehold shop that I rented out to a fashion company on the ground floor.
The business was slightly improving by 2010, and I was focussing on my recruitment business with just one employee. It was tough. My income had dropped by about 70%, and every month became a nightmare, paying one full-time wage and the mortgage.
I held on. Base rates had fallen to historic lows, and my fixed-rate mortgage was soon to end, so I expected my mortgage payments to plummet after that. Of course, they didn’t. As we now know, clandestine forces were at work. People in power were putting personal gain and profit over human life.
I even sold the only piece of art that I had ever owned. A Picasso plate enabled me to pay the wages and the mortgage. This was a short term fix, however, and the mortgage payments became an ongoing problem.
On the basis that Northern Rock had been sold to a Zombie bank, with no warning or a clear explanation of the consequences, I lodged a complaint. That’s in addition to the SVR being ridiculously high against a base rate of 0.5%
MY MENTAL HEALTH ABANDONED ME 2011
I cannot remember the date, but I remember the morning. It was sunny and bright. I just could not bring myself to get out of bed and face going to the office. I told my wife something was wrong. I felt awful. I later found out that I was experiencing my first panic attack. I simply could not face going to work. This is exceptionally uncharacteristic. I have a strong work ethic, never believing in taking time off for feeling under the weather.
My wife phoned the office and told my one remaining employee I wouldn’t be in for a few days.
A few days of just sitting on a seat in our lounge turned into weeks. I was managing to phone my confused member of staff every day, but I was gripped in inertia and fear. I stopped eating for an extended period and was sweating and cold all at the same time. I wondered where that person I knew had gone. The truth is, I hated myself intensely.
The symptoms worsened. My panic attacks became more frequent and prolonged. It got to the point where I would continuously fidget and could no longer be still, whether I was sitting or standing.
Strangely, I kept making cups of tea? Nobody drank them. I made cups of tea, let them go cold and then I would wash the cups up before making more tea. I was fully aware this wasn’t normal, By this point, I had lost an unhealthy amount of weight.
My wife insisted I went to see my Doctor (who was also a friend ) and I reluctantly agreed. This was mainly because of the confused and frightened look on my wife’s face. I was not the man she married, and both of us knowing this really hurt me.
Visiting the Doctor.
I sat in the GPs waiting room sweating and shivering with an ever-present cold feeling.
It was horrible sitting in that waiting room. I was conscious of other patients around me and embarrassed by what they might be thinking as they watched this sweaty shivery man.
I went into my Doctors little consulting room, told him. I did not want my blood pressure taken and that I just needed some pills that would make this strange feeling of continuous panic go away.
My Doctor told me I was suffering from acute anxiety and depression. I rudely (and I ashamed of saying this now) told Tom (name changed) you didn’t have to be a f*$%ing Doctor to come to that conclusion.
I told him I just wanted Valium or something stronger to take this panic away. I asked him if he had anything he could lay his hands on there and then.
My Doctor, who is still my friend, prescribed antidepressants and other medications for anxiety (Lorazepam). He wrote out the prescription and suggested my wife go and get them as soon as possible.
He suggested drinking fresh orange juice to get some energy and to buy those milkshake things that you give to infirm people who are unable to eat. They are loaded with calories and are easy to consume.
Then he asked the awkward question:
“Are you having self-harming thoughts?”
I asked him if he meant was I thinking of topping myself? “Yes”. I answered. “All the time”. I asked him if he could prescribe barbiturates and he said NO rather sternly.
He asked me to try and sit down, and we went through some deep breathing routines. It helped a bit, not much though. He also told me he could arrange for me to say at the Basildon Mental Unit if I thought the suicidal voices were getting too loud. I instantly declined.
A week later I decided to go out for a drive, just to see if I could manage it. I could, and this became a daily routine. What also became a routine was looking at multi-storey buildings, in particular, the one high rise hotel in Brentwood. I was making mental notes as to where I could jump from without hurting anybody below.
On one occasion I parked up and went into the hotel. I even asked the receptionist if the windows open fully on the floors facing London. I told her I was a photographer and wanted to take distant views of London. She told me that they didn’t open entirely, but that I could get a camera shot. I could hardly ask her if they would open enough to jump through. I left in a haze. I was now frightened for my family that I would actually carry out this suicide.
I drove to Basildon Hospital and booked myself into their mental health unit.
I sat for six hours, waiting to be seen. I didn’t look at anyone, go to the bathroom or even go for a fag (I can’t remember ever not smoking for that long).
I was eventually seen. All manner of people took part in this slow assessment process. Finally, I ended up talking to one psychotherapist for a very long time. She held the opinion that my mind was overloaded and needed a rest. She suggested that a stay in their mental health unit would be the right thing to do. If I agreed, a few days under their supervision would get me on the road to recovery.
I did agree. It was to be the most intense experience I have ever had.
I won’t trouble you by going into too much detail, but I had a bizarre misconception this would be like a hotel or private hospital room where you could rest, perhaps watch TV.
Needless to say, the reality of a mental health unit bears no resemblance to a hotel. You basically spend your day in a common room with a lot of very ill people. I befriended a man who was a personal trainer who had slashed both his wrists. He told me that he had gone running after he made the cuts to make the blood flow out of him faster.
On one occasion in this vast common room, a teenage girl ran in screaming, her face and clothes covered in blood. She was trying to finish eating a glass tumbler. I managed to check out the next day (against professional advice). This was not the place for my own recovery.
When I came out of Basildon Mental health Unit, I reluctantly made a choice to make my last employee redundant. I had to move my now diminished business into the office at home. It was gut-wrenching, but there was just too little business to go round. It had become a choice of his monthly salary or paying the mortgage.
I finally sold my freehold shop when the downstairs tenants moved out because I needed to pay off arrears on the ex Northern Rock Mortgage. The irony is, had I chosen almost any other lender when I remortgaged in 2007, I would not have suffered the tortuous situation that caused my nervous breakdown. From a financial perspective, I would have paid at least £250,000 less in interest. I would not have had to sell my shop (which was supposed to be my pension), and I would not have had to make my last employee redundant.
• Am I aggrieved about the way the Govt. hiked rates in Northern Rock and turned it into a Zombie bank-?
YES I AM
• Do I think pensions and bonuses for directors of UKAR are theft-?
YES I DO
• Am I still on a lot of medication-?
• Would I ever trust the Govt. or Treasury again?
My positives are that I still have a marriage, and children that make me proud.