After years of being let down by the system, Luke turned to the only outlet that would help him—but at a cost.
TW// sexual abuse, suicide and violence
It’s safe to say that most people wouldn’t be glad to have ended up behind bars at the age of just 15, but Luke is. It was at HMP Brinsford Prison, a young offenders institution in Wolverhampton, where he first received a diagnosis of ASD (autism spectrum disorder).
"I took a charge for someone for drink-driving, leaving the scene of an accident and car theft,” he explains. “We were taking charges for each other depending on what it was.”
“The only reason I got a diagnosis for the autism was because there was a prison doctor there and I was able to receive one-to-one focus,” he adds. “On the outside, you didn't get anything like that."
Luke had begun getting into trouble with the police from the age of 12 after what can only be described as a turbulent childhood. Growing up in Birmingham in a household of eight brothers and four sisters, he had never felt close to any of his family members.
His alcoholic father, who was physically aggressive towards his mother, died when Luke was only seven years old due to an alcohol-related accident at home. A year later, one of Luke’s older brothers would tragically pass away from cancer.
Prior to his father’s death, social services had been involved in response to allegations that his father was sexually abusing one of Luke’s sisters; Luke himself would also be subjected to sexual abuse between the ages of 10 and 13 at the hands of his uncle. Social services were again involved, however the police decided not to proceed with the case-- fuelling an anger and mistrust in Luke towards the authorities that were supposed to protect him.
His school life wasn’t much better; unable to concentrate in class, his disruptive behaviour, which included throwing things at other people and hacking into computers, would end up in Luke getting expelled from school. Subsequently, he turned to a life of crime where he was charged with numerous offences such as: affray, theft, burglary, and use of an offensive weapon.
"I struggled to know what was right and wrong because I had no guidance as a child,” he explains.
It would also be around this time that Luke began to use drugs and alcohol, primarily ecstasy and cocaine as a way of “calming himself down”. At the height of his substance abuse, he was spending £2000 a week on cocaine and drinking up to 18 pints of Stella Artois or a whole bottle of vodka per day.
“Too many years I’ve kept quiet,” he says. “In the end, it was just easier to mask my troubles with alcohol and cocaine.”
Luke would eventually move from Birmingham to rural Shropshire in an effort to start anew, but he could not escape the inner turmoil going on within him. His mood would often change abruptly when triggered by petty things, and he would react by lashing out, throwing things, and at times, being physically aggressive towards others.
“If I was to turn the kettle on, and I went back in to make a tea and realised it hadn’t switched on, I would throw the kettle out of the window, along with the cup,” he says. “Thinking about that now, that’s not normal.”
Luke struggled for years to get any kind of support through the NHS. “I tried to get help through different channels, but they would always send me back to the GP,” he says. “The NHS are pretty much useless when it comes to mental health. You need to be in a crisis to get help, but at what point becomes a crisis?”
This debacle has been perfectly demonstrated in the times when Luke has been suicidal and at his most vulnerable.
“I've been taken into A&E waiting rooms, spent ten hours in there with a guard following me around because they think I’m going to be a risk to myself, for them to say only two hours later, you can go home now.”
On one occasion, in a desperate attempt to get some help, Luke poured petrol over himself and threatened to set himself alight.
“That’s how bad it was,” he explains. “But that’s the kind of thing you have to do to get noticed.”
It was only after coming across an article about women struggling to get an ADHD diagnosis from their doctors and instead turning to private clinics, that Luke began to research alternative means of getting help.
He came across the website Psychiatry UK which allowed him to book a consultation with a psychiatrist of his choosing and to receive a formal diagnosis within fifty minutes, which could then be sent to his GP. The only drawback? The extortionate price that comes with getting instant feedback as opposed to years of being on long NHS waiting lists.
“I paid £474 and got a diagnosis of Emotionally Unstable Borderline Personality Disorder in an hour,” says Luke. “The assessment went over by nineteen minutes and cost an extra £160."
Fortunately for Luke, he was able to scrape together the money to go private from working long hours as a delivery driver, but he acknowledges that many others would struggle to find that kind of money.
“You lose faith in the system when you've been denied so many times. That's why I did the private thing," he says. “If there’s no formal diagnosis, there’s no access to help or meds or therapy.”
Despite only being formally diagnosed with BPD at the age of 33, traces of the condition have always been present. There has been a persistent theme of emptiness and lack of identity throughout Luke’s life, and he began self-harming from a young age as a way of coping with his feelings.
"I honestly think its always been there,” he says. “I didn't have a childhood. That's probably why I got into so much crime."
BPD is a mental disorder that affects an individual’s mood as well as how they interact with others and is usually defined by emotional instability, impulsive behaviour, intense interpersonal relationships, and self-harm. For Luke, this is particularly reflected in his relationships with other people. He admits that he struggles to be around other people and avoids going to crowded places such as pubs or shopping centres due to his anxiety.
Although he’s been in a relationship with his partner for six years, it hasn’t always been healthy between them. While they were both still heavily using drugs and alcohol, arguments would trigger his episodes and he would often go to extreme means to avoid being abandoned, such as self-harming. Fortunately, things have improved between them over the years.
“The relationship has gotten a lot better because there's more understanding there,” says Luke. “Before then, she just thought I was a prick."
During his assessment with the psychiatrist, it was also noted that Luke may have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), reflected in his longstanding difficulties with impulsivity and being unable to focus, but he would be required to take an additional test to confirm this. For a diagnosis and treatment plan, he will have to pay a further £3000.
For Luke, the heavy price tag that comes with knowing what he is dealing with is worth it.
“It’s the only way you can move forward,” he says. “People are booking ADHD tests through this website, and there are no available appointments now until next November. That's how desperate people are to get diagnosed."
If you or someone you know has been affected by suicide or drugs/alcohol, the following organisations may be able to help:
Samaritans is an immediate free helpline that provides support for anyone dealing with suicidal thoughts and needs someone to talk to. Call 116 123 to get in touch with a volunteer available 24/7 for all 365 days of the year.
Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) provides a free and confidential helpline and web chat service to support anyone bereaved with suicide. Call 0800 58 58 58 or message a volunteer on the web chat service (7 days a week from 5pm-midnight)
Support After Suicide Partnership bring together people that have been affected by suicide and helps them find local groups that they can reach out to for dealing with the aftermath. Find bevearment support here: https://www.ataloss.org/Pages/FAQs/Category/organisations-that-can-help?Take=24.
FRANK is a support service that provides information about drugs, plus advice for people who use drugs, and their parents or carers. It offers a live chat facility on their website, email support, an SMS number (82111) and a 24 hour telephone helpline (0300 123 6600).
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a free self-help group. Its "12 step" programme involves getting sober with the help of regular support groups.