Wednesday 31 October 2018

The Importance of Family

By Peter McDonnell

This weekend my brother Will is home from Bristol, a rare things these days unfortunately. I live with my mum in my childhood home and my dad lives close by. At the moment we have just finished dinner and now we are sharing things on our electronic devices and relaxing. Will doesn’t share my opinion that my new Samsung Galaxy Smartwatch is worth every penny; unnecessary is the essence of his words. I agreed in part, but I have been looking for a nice watch recently and it makes so much sense to have a smartwatch instead of a normal one that could only tell time and date, even if it was emblazoned discretely with a mid-range maker labelling like ‘Citizen’ or ‘Seiko’. My new watch is like having James Bond’s watch. There are vast options for different designs for the watch face which on its own would be a clincher for the fashion conscious.

Will told us about his recent shenanigans over dinner and desert. He is learning to drive and we talked about that too, and we began telling old stories of driving experiences we had had pre-qualification. I was stopped by the police when I was a teenager after taking my mum’s car out for a quick night time joyride as I was just learning. She didn’t let me drive her car again until I was thirty. Kudos to her for sticking to her word.

Before long we were sharing stories about underage alcohol consumption. When I was thirteen I got a bit too drunk after boldly swigging four big gulps from a whisky bottle while on holiday with my dad and brothers. While naughtily drunk / hung over I spent twenty-four hours hiding from my dad and hoping that lots of coffee would cure me but all it did was turn my vomit black. I’m not sure if my mum had heard that one before.

Will has recently visited a Whisky distillery on the Isle of Skye where they sell their whisky in their small shop at higher prices than the local supermarket. And also, get this: the local pub is 200 metres from the distillery and they buy whisky from that distillery online because it’s cheaper that way. So their bottles travel from the distillery many miles to the online distributors, then back to the pub. That’s just crazy. We agreed that it was downright unscrupulous and that some people are driven by profit a bit too much.

We revisited a bottle of walnut wine that hadn’t been touched since a French holiday in 2013. It went very well on my Belgian Chocolate ice cream. We spoke, as we often do, about whether microwaving ice cream ruins it. I have been microwaving ice cream for a quick softening for years and I have never ruined it. Lots of people seem to passionately disagree with me on this though.

We chatted about my two little princess nieces who now live in America, with my mum saying she is looking forward to them being teenagers and seeing how my older brother navigates the issue of having teenage daughters. I recalled about how my niece used to outsmart me at age two and a half. She’d take me away from her parents somehow who limit screen time and then ask if she could watch cartoons on my phone. I’d always say yes, without realising that she had a plan. She didn’t really want to pick out books and toys from her bedroom upstairs, she just wanted someone with a phone to watch cartoons on, but she couldn’t ask when her parents were in the room. I’ve always thought that was quite clever.

I do enjoy spending time with my nieces. It’s good for my mental health. The standalone best thing for my mental health is my family. When I first got ill in 2001 with grandiosely delusional psychosis it was my mum and dad who saw I was unwell and involved the local services. I was doing silly things such as planning to travel to France to meet an imaginary friend after she didn’t show up at The Ritz Hotel (I travelled to meet her at The Ritz the previous day). I needed sectioning on the local mental health ward. At this time, where I was following a delusional agenda of grandiosity, sectioning probably saved my life. My parents visited me every day during my incarceration which couldn’t have been easy, I was disrespectful and rude sometimes because nobody believed in my true identity as the modern day Jesus. I was frustrated and I accused my parents of lying to me whenever we discussed if they believed in me. Along the next few years of being in and out of mental hospitals they stuck by me closely as did my brothers and all family members who lived nearby. My grandparents were lovingly supportive; aunties, uncles and cousins too.

After three years I began to improve in my psychosis but contracted anxiety/panic. My mum, dad and brothers spent the next six years doing the balancing act of being sensitive to my anxiety while also trying to push me into doing more and more socialising. If they hadn’t started this process thirteen years ago I would be unable to socialise today. I also appreciated it when my brothers continued to laugh and joke with me. It showed that they still saw me as a person with a sense of humour even if I did have mental health problems.

I am over my anxieties now, and my psychosis is much, much, better. Both are barely even there and I owe it all to my family.

I became godfather to my second niece in 2016. Looking after them has made me a more confident person with adult responsibilities; someone who is in step with the world. I spent years trying to get back ‘in step with the world’ from about 2007 to 2013. By that I mean being normal: doing things that others do, like going to work, socialising and enjoying weekends. To have such a life, where once I was afraid of leaving the house, is just brilliant.

I have been lucky to have things fall back into place a bit for me. I hope it shows that a mental illness can sometimes pass. An important lesson I learned is to trust doctors and those that love you. I didn’t trust anybody involved in my care back in the day, but it has now become clear that of course they were not lying to me. Their advice and behaviour was a gift and I wish I had started trusting them earlier. My improvement gained good ground when I let my supportive team help me.

About the Author

You can find more of Peter’s writing on his mental health website He is also on Facebook (Peter Edward Mcdonnell) and on Twitter (@PeterMcDonnell_).



  1. Peter! This is a BEAUTIFUL post! Have you thought of writing a memoir? You really are a good writer. Julie Fast

    1. Thanks for your kind and very encouraging comment Julie! I am hard at work making my memoir the best it can be at the moment, I had two professional manuscript assessment services recently for my memoir and am putting the advice I received into practise. If you know of any websites I could write another article for I'd love to contribute! Thanks again - Pete