How I Overcame My Mental Health Issues
Up until 2012; I was a happy-go-lucky member of society. I lived the dream, I had a nice house, in the suburbs of San Diego (Oceanside) by the beach (less than 10 minutes away), nice wife, two great kids and a few nice cars. Nothing spectacular, but all great.
I worked for myself; loving life. Spending ½ the day at the beach and ½ at the house, I could work, while taking care of my children. It was amazing. I'm not lying and I'm not exaggerating, it was the ultimate life for me. I might not have been rich, but didn’t always worry about bills – yes the usual credit card debit for American middle class.
Come April of 2012, my door knocks early in the morning. I open it. It is the San Diego Police, and Immigration Customs Enforcement. I was arrested, taken “downtown” and detained. It was the start of a long, long process that saw me lose my children, my wife, my home, my cars, and my bank balance. It also saw me ultimately get re-married, and divorced in a short space of time amid fighting with the United States Justice System.
In the interest of background, this all resulted in the fact that I had a client. I did lots of work for her, most of which has been left unpaid. She was arrested and charged, and in all that, I was implicated in helping her.
Trust me, there isn’t a lot worse than being indicted on charges that stem from someone else. I was and am innocent.
That didn’t seem to matter to them. They rescinded my residency and deported me, because they could. Well not instantly at least, they kept me under arrest from April through June in the San Diego County facilities and then sent me to Immigration once they established that I was not going to help or hinder my ex-client in State Court.
In total, I did over 130 days in jail. I was obviously in there with criminals. Some who deserved it, some not. Most not. They were there for violations, parole, probation, often silly things like missing a payment, that sort of thing – but we were all in the system now.
How My Mental Health Deteriorated
Arrested, detained, jailed, all in one day is tough. They asked me “how do you feel?”. They check your blood pressure (mine was elevated … no kidding); they ask if you are planning on escaping? Seriously?? Only after 18 hours of pre-booking did I get to the really abhorrent part. The restroom.
You need to go to the restroom in front of people – sometimes these people were eating, or drinking or you were sharing cubicles with others, you were begging the guards for toilet paper. Disgusting.
Then you are escorted from the holding cell to a “pod” – where you will spend the night and perhaps some foreseeable future time. You have no idea what you are doing and where you are going or whom you will end up with. You could be killed, raped or worse! This is when it starts.
The doors. The banging of the doors. It hurts. It really really hurts.
Each cell is opened and closed with a bang a loud noise. Even today 6 years on, I hate banging doors. On the outside I was tough, dealing with the situation, a completely alien situation, one that, unless you’ve been there and done it before, you only have what you’ve seen on TV to help you. On the inside I was a mess, a total and utter mess; my body shook, my brain hurt, my ears hurt, everything else was failing.
I didn’t sleep at all.
The next day you are in a pod, surrounded by glass and people peering in. The guards looking at your every move, the other inmates trying to steal from you or worse, hurt you. Your mental ability is frail.
I barely made it. I did this for in excess of 130 days. Day in and day out. Never knowing whether I’d get killed in a brawl, a riot or by a guard.
The system is designed to crucify you, wake at 5am for breakfast, lunch at midday and dinner at 5pm, there is nothing, literally nothing. left to do with your time; read, play cards, try to work (for the prison), but worse days were to come.
Court days; what a nightmare. You are bussed to/from court, as you see on TV, but first you are shackled to another person, sometimes you are then all chained together.
The guards are rude, they don’t see 'people', they see wastes of time, pathetic excuses of humans, that they have to babysit. The bus came at 5am, but you were woken at 2 sometimes 3am to go to the next building. You wouldn't get back at 9pm.
All day; literally all day going from holding cell to holding cell, to the court, to a holding cell, to another holding cell, to the chain-gang, to the bus, to the holding cell, and back to your cell finally. Yes you are fed, not unedible food, but do you want to eat?
People survive jail every day, right? And yes, I survived. Barely
I wanted to commit suicide, and it was in my grasp, both in jail and out. I knew that I could step off the pavement (sidewalk) and into the path of a truck, a bus or a speeding car and believe me, I have considered it. I still do.
A banging door, or a loud noise, the screech of a police car, or an errant thought and my mind kicks in and plays the tricks that we all have – except that I really have to fight that urge.
Ultimately, I was deported and sent to London. A City that I had not seen in 20+ years. I have family here, so that was fortunate, but my heart is with my children. They're the reason I am alive.
I simply can’t kill myself, as the thought of them knowing that I did that is too much; but man oh man, my daily life is hurtful and horrid. I hate myself. I hate my surroundings. I can’t move forward, as I don’t have the children.
I spent 4 years getting to be able to talk to them, and another 18 months before I finally got to see them and hold them in person. They travel regularly now between the USA and the UK, as I can’t go back, until at least 2020, maybe forever.
Since 2012, I have spent a total of 14 weeks with my children. Sounds a lot, but 14 out of 312 weeks is not a lot. It is miserable. It is debilitating and it is sad. I lived for my children and still do, I was the primary care giver, I was their life, and they were mine.
Why did I tell you all this? Well it gives you the reason for my mental states. The reason I feel like I need to give up and kill myself, and the reason I don’t.
I know that there are days that I will have that are tremendously hard (going through a very tough week as I write this - August 2018) and I know that when the children visit at Christmas, it is easier for me and them.
In between those times, I work. I explore the country and at night when I am home alone, laying awake in bed, scared of slamming doors. I shed a tear for my once great life and I muster the energy to fight my depression and anxiety (and in some cases PTSD) another day.
But, you bet your ass that there isn’t a second that I am not fighting myself; the hatred I have of myself and the loathing therein, but I need to remain alive for the children. If they were taken from me again, I can guarantee that would be the end.
Take away from my experience, live for today and enjoy what you have. There is no tomorrow, it is not promised to us, and we can’t presume it will be here. So be alive today, show yourself you are better than your anxiety your depression and self-hatred. Do it for you, do it for your children; but do it.
I am Max Gascoine. I have been arrested, deported, exiled, and close to suicide. I have been on a suicide watch (first three nights of jail) and I have survived every day so far, I am not about to go down, not yet, but it is always there in the back of my mind what can happen and how to end my life.
It’s hard to imagine having to go through the same horrendous experience that Max has without it impacting on your mental health. It’s all credit to Max for getting through it with his sanity just about intact.
Does any of Max’s story resonate with you? Has a dalliance with the criminal justice system affected your mental health? Maybe you’re own circumstances mean you’re disconnected with your own kids. How do you cope? Let us know in the comments below.
You can keep up-to-date with ‘Barefoot’ Max on Twitter, where he's @MaxMgbrv
If you’re interesting in sharing your own mental health story with us, please just drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.