Francis Heran: Mental Health Unlocked Charitable Foundation

Growing up in an Indian family was for me, akin to living in a closed authoritarian society. Particular subjects and behaviours were out of bounds. Sexual subjects with parents a taboo, even as teenagers, and beyond, staying out until the early hours of the morning, a request my older siblings, two brothers, one sister, and I knew not to make. The oppressive vibe of living in that environment gave everyone a survival instinct and with that an evil presence manifested, leading to infighting. 

Cliques within the family emerged, poor you if you did not belong. My sister and I never belonged to the clique, though we formed no alliance of our own.

Verbal and physical abuse, commonplace. My father enjoyed his drink and showed its effect on him. In 1988, he hung himself. We all hated him.

Life continued for the family. I am the youngest child. The eldest took on the role of Dictator and my other brother relished becoming Judge and Executioner. My role, easy, the subjugated, deserving punishment.

Whilst growing up at home with my family, I had successfully hidden my sexuality. How I kept this a secret until my early 30s, I don’t know, there were, some almost “out” moments. But, one day, I had been writing letters to men. When I left my bedroom to take a break, the Dictator seized his opportunity to spy on my activities. He saw a letter revealing my secret and then planned his confrontation.

One night around 10ish, the Dictator asked his question, expecting a resolute denial from me. No, no denial. A meek “Yes I am, and I am always careful, I use protection.” The response, bizarre from him, a half-hearted punch to my face and “What should we do about you.”

Several years passed with the Dictator, ignoring my sexuality, at least that is what I thought. I made a few friends, one of whom stayed my saviour until his death a quarter of a century later. Dr. Michael Ford, a devout Roman Catholic, and I soon realised, I too wanted to become a Catholic.

Born into Sikhism, though my heart never took to it. On 23rd December 1994, Birmingham Oratory confirmed me as a Roman Catholic. I only kept my surname, Heran. Gloves off, the family were far from amused.

My personal pain came from the dis-belief that a man of Indian descent could be gay and not follow his own religion. My actions had caused cultural chaos and infiltrated an unspeakable taboo. Thereafter, the Dictator expressed his disgust of me, with carp comments when he was not giving me the cold shoulder. But, the Judge and Executioner took great delight proclaiming, “Here comes Jesus” and other denigrating phrases, to any visitors, whenever I walked in to the same room. Embarrassed, though too proud to let it show.

I always thought they had a free pass to mistreat me. After this, the boundaries, veiled, disappeared. Thereafter, to survive the misery, I did what was necessary. Much of my time was at my friend’s house. It was my sanctuary. The family hated it and may as well have created a door chime that upon pressing, chided me with a shrieking, “You treat this house like a hotel...” When I was at home, I became a recluse in my bedroom and furnished it with all I required. This contributed to my debt meltdown, hey ho, needs must.

Time passed and the Heran household became no more contented. The Dictator got married. His wife, a veterinary surgeon, usurped the mother-in-law and claimed matriarch of the household. She attempted to join her husband and her brother-in-law, the Judge and Executioner in subjugating me. But I would not allow this “false person” that honour and rebelled. She had only been in the house for a month and she succumbed to the evil vibe. For the next two years, she and I were enemies, and she accused me with several lies. She left home going back to her relatives. Heated family meetings arranged her reluctant return. Animosity grew, a while later she left again. They blamed me. Issued ultimatums, what bliss. The nature of the Heran household is poisonous. The contagion of evil that beleaguers them, smites all that join.

Two or three years later, I remember one Friday driving back home after work and witnessing my sister-in-law leaving with her three young children into a waiting vehicle. I asked her what was happening, and she stated she was leaving to live in a women’s refuge. Instinct kicked in and I jotted my mobile telephone number on a piece of paper and thrust it in her hand and said, “Telephone me otherwise throw it away.” I never expected to hear from her again.

My sister-in-law left her husband, beginning in June 2001. She did not return to the marital home until a decade later. When she returned, the tribulations had not ceased, they continued, and the infighting increased. The ill feeling had affected the children, now older and wrought.

Now you may wonder about my part in this maelstrom of destruction. Surely, she would once again find fault with my behaviour and lay blame upon me. In fact, she could not, nor would she. We had become friends.

Let me rewind, picture it, 14th June 2001. My friend helped me escape my home. Circumstances had taken a turn for the worse and it had become untenable for me to live there any longer. If I stayed, I would have died because I was on the verge of cracking. They issued ultimatums, conditions for living at home I knew were unreasonable and unacceptable. I would accept because I felt helpless. My dear friend said, “No, if you do, they will take your dignity. Don’t let them.” Our conversation was deep, troubled, and tiring.

The family knew I was leaving, though not the date. The final week was awkward, the night before, the Dictator mockingly stated to mother, “Let him go, when he realises he has to pay bills and pay for his own food he will be back within six months, unable to cope.”

That night sleep did not come. By dawn, my mind was racing, and I was deeply anxious. As the minutes ticked on, I heard the usual hustle and bustle of people getting ready for work. I eagerly awaited for the house to empty.

Ten o’clock arrived, as did my friend with the transit van. Nobody was home. It took an hour to get my belongings from my bedroom into the van. My friend and I were grateful and tired, everything happened with no hassle. I left my empty bedroom, door wide open.

Driving to my new abode took 45 minutes and over an hour to get my belongings to my second-floor studio apartment. I left everyone for the first time. From then, I had no family, and it scared me, not knowing how I would cope. There was no going back now.

That studio apartment was my home for seven years and I did not take to the change of living on my own easily. I had friends, but it was my life and I had to be in control.

I had been away from home for two weeks, when one afternoon at work, a call came through on my mobile telephone. It caught me off guard because it was my sister-in-law. It stunned me. We talked, she had heard about me leaving home and she provided a glimpse into her new life. We met at her rented home. 

I visited my sister-in-law and her three young children one early autumn Saturday morning. We could hardly ignore our hostile history and it felt strange. No matter, it was unsaid, we both knew that was the effects of living in a poisonous household. We had escaped, barely. Around lunchtime, the doorbell chimed, it was the children’s father, arriving to take them for his weekend contact visit back to his home. The children rushed to the door, frantically opened it and excitedly screamed that I was there, visiting. I stood immobile in the kitchen, like a rabbit staring at bright car headlights. Of all things, I did not want a confrontation with my older brother the Dictator. Fortunately, my sister-in-law stopped him from entering her home and told him I did not want to see him, regardless of whether he wanted to talk. He left with the children.

From that day, I trusted my sister-in-law and knew her heart was true. Thereafter, we kept in touch, meeting with the children in secrecy. She told none of the family or relatives that presumed to ask my whereabouts and contact details. On her mobile telephone, she stored my details in her address section under a woman’s name. Perfect.

Two months after moving in, the effects of the lead up leaving home and having to get used to living in the studio apartment caught up with me. I became ill and had to take time off work for six weeks with constant headaches which led on to migraines. The diagnosis finally came to stress. I was suffering from stress because the effects of everything I had to cope with before I left and then having to manage, my body and mind was trying to resolve and I was now stressed-out.

I returned to work with a very shaky start, where I was not myself but with the support of a good manager, I found my energy again. Over the years, I achieved various promotions at work and moved from social services to school admissions. Working in the Education Department was new, and it thrilled me to learn new things. I relished my roles and stayed for eight years.

Moving forward to 2016, I did not know I shall despise this year, for eternity. In March, my dear friend and saviour Dr. Michael Ford without warning overnight became ill. On Sunday night at 11:15, I bid him good night, gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek and departed to my next-door apartment to sleep. The next day, I woke and readied myself for work. Mid-morning I telephoned to speak to Michael and see how he was feeling. A mutual friend David answered the phone and stated Michael could not speak because he felt sick and unable to talk. I advised him to make an urgent doctor’s appointment.

The outcome of the tests and investigations was that Michael had dementia and lymphoma affecting both sides of his brain. They had diagnosed none of which. It was as if overnight, someone or something had flicked a switch. Seven weeks, from diagnosis to death. Four weeks at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, 12 days palliative care at home. I changed tablets to liquid because he couldn’t chew and I administered the medication. I spooned fed meals. I watched him take his last breath.

Michael’s night carer was there with us and she confirmed as best she could that he was dead. Without holding back my tears, I went over to Michael’s bed and tightly hugged his lifeless body. I kissed him on the lips, cheeks and on his forehead. Then, I kissed him again on the lips though this time, without releasing, I sucked in wanting to breathe what breath remained in his body. It was the opposite of mouth-to-mouth. I did not want to stop. I did not care about anything. I wanted as much of Michael within me as I could get. I wanted his essence. I wanted to die.

The next day, whilst everyone tried to take in that Michael was dead, I said whatever came into my head. Such as wanting to taxidermy Michael and putting him in a glass cabinet forever. I shall spare you my other inanities. In the afternoon, people from the funeral parlour arrived to take Michael’s body away. For the last time I hugged Michael again, kissed him on the lips, and sucked in any remaining breath from his body. The woman, from the funeral parlour just watched and waited.

They removed his body from the bed and placed it carefully in the body bag, then proceeded towards the front door through the hallway. I walked behind them, with trepidation and fright. I followed them outside to their vehicle and watched them put Michael in the back like a piece of cargo.

We planned Michael’s funeral to take place just after mid-May. Two days before the funeral, the undertakers took Michael’s body to the local funeral parlour. I had my first opportunity to see him lying there in the coffin, a surreal and chilling moment. I was not alone on that visit, so I decided the next day to visit again. As intended, I arrived at the funeral parlour on my own and visited for about an hour. This the day before the funeral, Michael lay in his coffin with a white linen sheet covering him halfway up to his chest. I could see the undertaker had folded his arms. I touched his face it was cold. I leaned inwards and kissed his forehead then his lips. The taste and the touch of the formaldehyde made my lips tingle.

Michael had a compact camera, and it was in my pocket. I took it out, and for 15 minutes, I took 25 photographs of Michael in his coffin. I took long angled shots and close-up shots. I stepped away as far as I could so I could take photographs of the entire coffin including its lid that stood by its side against the wall. Mostly though, the pictures were of Michael looking serene, sleeping and not ill. These are my pictures no one else’s and will replace my memories.

The next day at the Birmingham Oratory, Michael’s funeral took place. Afterwards, the Funeral Directors took his body, with us forming the funeral cortege to the crematorium near his home. As the guests following the ceremony gathered outside, I waited until it was time to go downstairs to the furnaces in which Michael would return to ash. I had asked for permission. I was there moments before the hydraulic pistons would jettison Michael’s coffin into the fiery furnace. The metal door to the furnace slid upwards, the heat was immense, and I had to take a step back and then whilst praying madly I touched Michael’s coffin and waited, I was frightened. After a moment the coffin shot passed me, the metal door slid downwards, and that was it. I took a deep intense breath and thanked the staff for the opportunity before going outside, re-joining the guests.

The rest of 2016 was tumultuous. I was off work on bereavement leave and received counselling. I admitted to feeling suicidal and received psychiatric care. My behaviour since Michael died was abysmal to those around me and myself. When people were trying to help, I rebelled and blocked everyone out. Paying lip service and telling people what I thought they wanted to hear steered me toward a downward spiral of uncontrollable destruction. Yes, I lied to my counsellor, doctor, work colleagues and managers. With the rage within me, I had been planning my suicide for months.

In October, I went back to work after six months. It was a difficult time because whilst I was off a few of my colleagues who had supported me had stopped. So, my former friendship with them was that. As the days continued, it felt as though I was not back at work, my body was, my mind elsewhere. I had a run in with managers and was dismissive in my response. One particular morning, senior managers arranged an intervention and called me. After being railroaded and whilst seething, I was dismissive and left as soon as practical, not caring because the next day would be my death day.

Telephoning into work the next day stating I had a migraine, I waited for David the house owner to leave. Then, with the stolen sleeping tablets, I asked God, Michael, the Saints and Souls in heaven, and Satan to give me a sign if I was doing the wrong thing. Nothing. When I felt the effects, I buttoned up my shirt, put on my tie. Placed eight elastic bands over my head and around my neck to keep the tie tight. I then took a leather belt, looped it around my neck and pulled it tight and wound that around my neck. To make sure the belt stayed, I placed another eight elastic bands over my head and around my neck.

I was struggling to breathe and very unsteady. Knowing and hoping I would pass out and then die, I staggered to my bed and hid beneath the duvet. I had reached rock bottom.

My death day was to be Tuesday 1st November 2016, All Saints’ Day. On Wednesday, 2nd November 2016, All Souls Day, I was still breathing. Death had rejected me and I had given up my place and rights in the universe. Wow, I was useless at suicide.

Following this event, more psychiatric treatment for me was inevitable. A phased return to work, more counselling, settling back to a work-life routine. That ticked the boxes for people whom they could state had provided me with treatment and support. What about me? How did I, do I feel?

I reconciled to an unwanted life. I called it my living hell, having given up my rights to this universe. Feeling there was nothing here for me. My needs, my desires, my personal ambitions, I gave them up on my death day.

In December 2016, I made an important decision. I contacted my sister-in-law and told her I had better reacquaint with the family now. Otherwise, I would lose courage forever. In January 2017, I met my mother, siblings, and two other relatives for the first time since I had left on 14th June 2001. Did I make the right decision? Maybe Karma will tell me.

For the first months of 2017, I heard about several suicides because of mental health issues. People were relatives, others friends of work colleagues. One relative, a man 49 years old, died of multiple organ failure. The outcome from years of alcohol abuse. I can only wonder if alcoholism became his crux of mental health.

A few days after he died, relatives gathered at his brother’s home. Here my cousin, whom I have been helping a pharmacist by profession, noticed his brothers’ 14-year-old daughter stayed upstairs in her bedroom. In addition, she noticed that the daughter left her bedroom for the bathroom and back to the bedroom. My cousin could hear the daughter being sick in the bathroom. When she asked the child’s mother and other relatives, they said she was shy and to ignore her. When pressed further for details, they said she is depressed and is on medication for it. It horrified my cousin, as a pharmacist of over 20 years she knew surely doctors should have tried alternative treatments before prescribing antidepressants. She suspected that this 14-year-old could have bulimia or anorexia.

My cousin realised, once again, that this was an example of an Asian family ignoring mental health when it was staring them in the face. She felt helpless.

Later, my cousin telephoned me and told me about the gathering and the plight of this 14-year-old girl and of the ignorance of her parents and relatives. I listened, and with each moment passing my emotion rising.

This conversation was the catalyst to start my heart weeping and bleeding for people whom I knew that had surrendered to mental health. I knew what to do. Eyes closed, was not to be me.

There are many mental health charities and organisations within the United Kingdom. Collectively, they do wonderful work, saving countless lives. One notion, struck a chord with me: Despite their good work, people are still completing suicide. Particularly people from the Asian, Afro-Caribbean and other minority ethnicities. Admitting that someone within their family even in their household has a mental health issue is tantamount to mutiny because it regiments them in their beliefs and ways.

I am compelled to help the silent voices that have no hope and the shroud of death is their only way. I am compelled to do something, to advocate for the people whom cannot share their feelings and their pain and inner turmoil even with their closest and loving family.

My cousin and I discussed our concerns about the people whom we knew that passed on through mental health issues. We wanted to do something about it. Whilst at work, I was talking to a colleague who is a mental health practitioner about our plans for a mental health initiative. My colleague then suggested I become a mental health champion for the West Midlands region and advised I would receive official support for this. I was excited, thought it was ideal, and would make the difference to have an official recognised body behind my mental health initiative.

A few weeks passed, and I had heard nothing from the coordinator. Undeterred because this initiative was too important for anything to stop its inception, I created my own National Mental Health Charity. By this time, my cousin’s interest had waned because of her personal commitments. It was only me pursuing this.

This was no easy task, though I knew my heart and soul would go into it. Staying idle was futile, not wanting anymore people to die through mental health. I lacked a method to fulfil my ideas, requiring guidance and support to achieve them. Help was coming. Remarkably, the way everything happened, was magical.

One evening in late May 2017, I was looking through my emails and opened one to enter competitions for service professionals. Thinking I win nothing, I entered. A week later, I received an email notifying me I had won two competitions. This surprised and elated me. The first invited me to send a motivational piece of writing to include in a book for publication. The second competition win was to change my life. Serendipity had placed in my path, the required people and opportunity. I won a place on a Social Media program for Speakers, Authors, Coaches, and Service-Based Professionals. Subsequently, by signing up to go beyond the prize and working with the creator of the program the catalyst to success was in gear.

First, I have become a Bestselling Author in the Field of Business and second, my Mental Health Unlocked Charitable Foundation, LinkedIn Profile has garnered several thousand good connections because the message resonates. I am humbled at the response and am determined to help people keep living. In December 2017, I was fortunate to forge links with the creator of a program that enables me to get my message to millions. The investments I made for both programs have been worthwhile. Whatever happens, I must know that I did everything I could to succeed. In my mind I had given up my place in the universe and my rights. It was time for me to serve. I needed to have tried everything to get my mental health charity started with integrity and the professionalism required to help curb mental health’s voracious appetite of taking people’s lives

In January 2017 I had reacquainted myself with my family. I soon realised it was a mistake because nobody understood why I had left. They still blamed me for everything and thought themselves innocent when I said they drove me to it. They could not accept that they did not accept me and I could not live under their rules. Despite this, my mother took it upon herself to proclaim my return to everybody as if I was a celebrity. She showed off to relatives, friends, neighbours, the community, to save face stating the wandering son had returned. A few days later she left for a pre-planned trip abroad for six months. During this time we had telephone conversations and when she returned in July, I visited a few times. She treated me well and kept saying how pleased she was that I had returned to the family fold once again and that I should come back to live with her and my brother. However, whenever I explained why I had left, she never accepted my explanation and turned it around to be my fault. From mid-August, I ignored further visiting requests because they tired me of the charade.

Beginning of September one early morning, my brother discovered her unconscious in the shower. The family visited daily in hospital, the entire month then she died. She never regained consciousness, nobody got to say goodbye. The circumstances of her illness are mysterious to this day, at the time we bandied wild accusations. The Consultant at the beginning, told the family my mother’s care would be palliative and that we should prepare ourselves. My older brother, insisted throughout to tell everybody she would be okay and pull through. I could be kind and say this was a natural reaction of shock, though I know him better. He was lying and kept up the pretence right up to the moment she died. I was the last to know on the night she died and visited on my own after midnight at the hospital. The family had known a few hours earlier. I saw my mother dead and prayed for her as she lay on the bed, peace at last. Though, to this day, I shed no tears. For me, she was never my mother.

Throughout my mother’s care, the hospital Consultant kept both my brothers informed as they were the official next of kin. They excluded my sister and me as if we did not exist. I had to speak with the Consultant and remind him of his ethical duties and to include me in decisions about my mother’s care. Though, I fear my brothers held too much sway for anything I said to matter.

Family relationships were very acrimonious during this time and both of my brothers revealed how they really felt about me. They told me I only came back to the family for money and property. My brothers did not believe, I came back to the family out of friendship and desire to make things right. They called me greedy and said I would never be welcome back and get nothing. My sister-in-law was on their side too.

My mother’s funeral was a sham. The family did not meet her religious wishes. My sister-in-law and my aunt, who hated my mother took charge of the entire funeral arrangements. Many people shed their crocodile tears during the funeral.

With the funeral over, it was obvious my role within the family was to be subservient or leave. So I left and am once more estranged. My dearest Michael, always said never go back and now I know why he used to say that. I realised and I think I knew from the first day I came back, the vitriol within the family is so deeply ingrained it can never go away. They barely look after their own and could not wait to sell off our mother’s estate and keep the money.

I help people now, as best I can. I am helping to set up a charity for dogs in Turkey and in the United Kingdom. I am helping a cousin with her mental health issues by listening, talking, and being there for her. If people need help to write documents and letters, I write them. I am there to offer advice and support.

April 2019 and I have just returned to work after a period of sickness. I’ve been off for two months with depression. There’s only me, I have no one. Mental Health Unlocked Charitable Foundation is my life. I devote myself to saving lives. My story continues, alas, for now it pauses. Soon we will know how the story ends. Can it ever be that serendipity pours oil of vitriol over hope?

Regardless, we can focus on the root cause of discontent that gives way to mental health, overpowering our sensibilities causing death. Our reasons are many and varied, though deadly. We lower our self-esteem and confidence because of pressures from work, family, and ourselves. Feelings of inadequacy and trauma from incidents we thought our minds had blocked resulted in depression and even psychosis. Physical and sexual abuse are significant culprits. How are we to get through this?

I welcome you. You humble me. I could not share my story without you; it hurts. I am not humble and hurting alone. You are too. I believe. Your story may be different; it may be similar.