Why Ewen’s Room?
Ewen’s Room was set up following the untimely death of local lad Ewen Gillespie in January 2008. Ewen was finally diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia, and tragically took his own life at the age of 29, when the anguish caused by his illness became too much to bear. He is very fondly remembered by his family, friends and colleagues, and we hope that the services we offer will be a fitting tribute to his outgoing, friendly and caring nature.
Written by his mum Rosie in 2008.
It would have been so much better if Ewen could have told his own story. Sadly he couldn’t.
When he was taken into hospital in October 2007, Ewen was adamant that he didn’t want anyone to know. We live in a relatively small community, and he had already been referred to by someone he met in the local pub as ‘the guy from the loony farm’. When he told me this my heart bled for him. I wanted to find out who it was, and go and confront the person who had said this to my son! Perhaps he will be reading this.
Ewen died on 6th January 2008. He took his own life. He was 29 years old. It may sound strange, but we are glad that he was at home, the place he loved. It was only after he died that his psychiatrist confirmed what we’d suspected for months. This was that Ewen had been suffering from schizophrenia, which he had tried very hard to conceal from everyone.
We had to make a decision, but didn’t want to betray our beloved son. We thought long and hard about what to do. We talked it over with our minister friend who would be conducting the service of thanksgiving for Ewen’s life. We decided we had to let people know the truth. The realisation that Ewen had been trying to fight this disease on his own was terrible for us to bear. Also to know that we had been told it was psychogenic psychosis, which inferred that it was a self generated condition, was equally difficult. But when he had first been in hospital, in February 2007, he had chosen to convince the medical team that he was totally fine!
The stigma of mental illness and other people‘s perception of him was a big problem for Ewen. We think it also discouraged his friends from visiting him in hospital. But, if he didn’t tell them he’d been taken back in, how could they know? But he was upset that no one went to see him.
Schizophrenia took Ewen on a journey that he hadn’t planned to make. He made that journey on his own. It was his choice.
Here is his story.
We live on the shores of Loch Sunart on the west coast of Scotland. The night before he died, Ewen stood, looking out over the loch, and said to me, ‘You know, Mum, I love this place!’ I realise now that he was trying to tell me something.
Sunday 6th January 2008 had been a beautiful, sunny winter’s day. Our Christmas decorations were still up. Ewen was supposed to be going back to hospital, having been home for the festive season. We reckon now he had no intention of going back. He had been his old self over Christmas, in kilt and wildest shirt, making his own special microwave Christmas pudding, and taking over the carving of the turkey. We had a lovely family Christmas. I sat with a glass of wine that night, and rejoiced in the belief that our beloved son was going to be OK.
At that point we didn’t know that, not only was he battling schizophrenia, but that he had stopped taking his medication the day he had come home from hospital. We are not convinced that he was taking it when he was in hospital. But would you or I want to take medication that made us feel woozy or weird? Although he had talked about suicide when at a low ebb in the past, we never thought that day would end as it did.
Ewen was born on 28th May 1978. He was a happy and contented child, and his primary education was spent at our local village school.
He went on to spend one year at the local secondary school, but was desperate to go on to Rannoch School, along with his older sister. He did go there, and spent a very happy time while he completed his schooling. Ewen was popular with both staff and fellow pupils. He was described as ‘having an affable, caring disposition and ready wit!’
This popularity was enjoyed in spite of, or perhaps partly because of, his various illicit home brewing escapades, which went down in the unofficial annals of the school.
Ewen had a natural love of the outdoors, and was passionate about environmental issues. So, after he left school, he went on to study Environmental Science at Stirling University, where he was an active member of the mountaineering club, went white water kayaking, and, with a good friend, he co-hosted a joke-filled music show ‘Jock & Geordie’ on the university radio station .
He also joined the university dramatic society, auditioned for, and got a part as one of the angry men in a production of ‘Twelve Angry Men’. I was really excited for him as he had, at that point, told me that he wanted to be an actor. Being of that bent I told him to go for it! After weeks of rehearsals, he pulled out of the play saying that he didn’t think he was good enough. But this was not before posters had gone up with photographs of the twelve angry men, him being one! Fame did not elude him! Sadly we have no posters.
We reckon it was at university that he began to have problems. The disease was beginning to rear its ugly head.
Ewen graduated with an honours degree in 2000, and decided to see a bit of the world before settling into a career. He spent a year in Canada, working in Whistler ski resort as a catering cook, and then in Nova Scotia as a whale watching assistant. He kept in touch by email and telephone but often appeared to be worrying, or was unduly upset about something.
He returned home in Autumn 2001 and started a job with our local environmental group in Fort William. There he set up and ran one of the first can recycling schemes in the country. However, it was around that time that he began to suffer bouts of depression and self doubt.
Eighteen months later saw a move north to work as a Recycling Officer for Moray Council. Part of his job was to spread the word about recycling. One thing Ewen didn’t bargain on was being chased along the road by an irate local who was mad about the fact that the council was attempting to bring in fortnightly rather than weekly bin collections! His leisure interests centred round cycling, surfing, photography, and hill walking with his beloved Springer spaniel, Scotty. Scotty now lives with us and we treasure the link we still have with Ewen, through him.
Ewen was continually concerned about how other people perceived him. He also had problems sleeping, and was continuing to suffer from what was thought to be depression. He was seeing a counsellor regularly about these problems.
Late 2005 saw him move to Aberdeenshire in a new job as Area Waste Officer. Career wise this was a move upwards, but the bouts of depression lingered. He was very unhappy, and was also missing the west coast. In June 2006, he decided to quit his job and return home.
He enrolled on two dry stone walling courses which he completed. Long term he planned to go to New Zealand for a spell, and experience life and work ’down under’. Several school friends had already taken the plunge and he was keen to join them. He would give the dry stone walling a real go and spend some quality time at home. Then he would head off.
Life back home was busy for Ewen. He completed several walling contracts. As a friend said to me, ’Do you realise that Ewen is everywhere? Think of all these walls he has built! He’s left his mark!’ She was right.
He had various other part time jobs, including crewing on a community ferry, and stints on the nearby Harry Potter film sets, where his impromptu breaktime stand-up comedy provided welcome laughter.
His work experience in Canada and natural cooking ability stood him in good stead when he teamed up with two old school friends to provide top class catering for a variety of events including country house parties, island away-days and music gigs.
One of his skills was the ability to kill lobsters quickly and painlessly rather than let them die slowly in the pot – for this he earned the title ‘Lobster Killer’, a nickname that stuck.
But by February 2007, it was becoming increasingly obvious to us that he was far from well. He agreed to go into hospital for investigation. It may sound strange for me to say we were relieved, but we were. We couldn’t understand what was wrong with our son, but we were sure now that he would get help and surely would be back on track soon.
But it was typical of Ewen that he decided not to divulge what was going on. He managed to convince the staff that there was nothing wrong with him. After three weeks, he phoned to say they could find no evidence of psychiatric illness and he could come home. I was stunned!
So, in early March, he was back home, determined to get on with life. Within a very short time, days not weeks, we could see that he was definitely not all right. If anything, he appeared to be getting worse.
We realise, with hindsight, that this wretched illness had him in its grip. He was fighting to keep on top of it, but was finding day to day living more and more difficult. He began to withdraw into himself, and from many aspects of his life.
Some days were ok. Some were not. Some days he went to work at his dry stone walling. Some days he didn’t want to, or couldn’t get up and face the world. He quit his job on the ferry. Some days he was his old self, and in great form. Some days he wasn’t.
What was happening to our lovely son? We didn’t know what to do.
There were lots of good times, and then we would say, ‘Yes! It’s going to be ok!’ These included Ewen spending a weekend in early May helping an older friend sail his boat back to its summer mooring, and then hearing that they had had a fantastic time. Ewen had been in great form!
A special time was early June, when his natural grandmother came up to stay with us for the first time. We had a magic weekend. Ewen was very family orientated, and he was delighted that she had come to visit. They had met two months earlier and had immediately formed a strong bond. You will see a photo of them, along with me, in the photo album.
He joined the local photography club, and took a short course in photography run by a well known local photographer. It inspired him, and he got seriously back into his photography. We hope, eventually, that we will display some of his photos on this website.
He started a weekly French course at our local high school and spent much time going over his ’homework’.
The months went past.
- Ewen’s GP had suggested a course of anti depressants to fight his depression. He brought them home, put them in the drawer and didn’t take them.
- He saw a counsellor who discussed Cognitive Behaviour Therapy with him. My understanding is that Ewen was to meet up with him again but, although my son left messages on his phone, they were not returned. He gave Ewen booklets but, after Ewen died, we found them in his room more or less untouched.
- Ewen talked to me about the idea of him seeing a hypnotist. I offered to make him an appointment with a doctor who also was a trained hypnotist, and was based at the Nuffield Hospital in Glasgow. He decided that he didn’t want to go.
- He was on the waiting list to see a psychologist. He was keen to do so but was told that there was a long waiting list. We discussed the idea of making a private appointment but were advised against it. He never saw one.
It was in October 2007 that Ewen ended up back in hospital after a major psychotic incident. This time his psychiatrist decided that he should be put on to Risperidone which, for the uninitiated, is an atypical psychotic drug. Ewen, being Ewen, was very unhappy about this. He had always been resistant to taking medication of any sort. Risperidone has a long list of side effects, but he agreed to take it.
During the course of his treatment, it was possible for him to come home for two or three days at a time. Living where we do, means a long car journey to the hospital, even longer by public transport. But, with us going up regularly to the hospital, and Ewen coming home for breaks, we still managed to see a lot of him.
He made great efforts to join in the activities that were offered whilst in hospital.
- He started running again, and used the hospital gym regularly.
- He took on board the idea of helping other people, and spent time helping another patient complete a painting. He was pleased with himself when he told me, and I remember being surprised as I had never thought of Ewen having an artistic flair, unlike his sister! Was this a hidden talent?
- He went along to a series of drumming workshops that were taking place in the hospital, and phoned to say how fantastic they were.
- He went along to the local climbing wall, and spent a lot of time improving his climbing skills.
- He made time for his yoga.
But it wasn‘t enough. After Ewen died, his psychiatrist told us that he reckoned Ewen could not find it in himself to feel real hope of finding a way forward with his illness, in spite of receiving lots of help and encouragement.
It was apparently because of this lack of hope that he chose to take his own life on that dark Sunday evening of 6th January. We were, and still are, devastated.
His death brought a flood of tributes from friends, former colleagues, and even casual acquaintances.
- Someone who had sat next to him at a two day seminar in Glasgow in May 2007, wrote to us after seeing his death notice in The Herald. She told us how impressed she had been by him.
- Another older lady wrote to say how kind and encouraging he had been to her at the climbing wall. ‘I am 65 by the way‘, and requested a photo of him as a keepsake.
- Various friends of his told us stories of his kindnesses, of ways he had helped them, and also of how he lifted their spirits when they were down.
This is the end of EWEN’S STORY. We miss Ewen constantly – his wit and humour, and his stories. We miss him sitting playing his guitar, and making up songs. I miss exchanging cooking ideas with him, and him peering over my shoulder when I’m at the stove, and then telling me that it would be a good idea to add some more ingredients!….My husband Malcolm misses his companionship, and being able to share a beer or two ……My daughter Laura misses being able to chat to him…..Our two granddaughters miss the fun they had with the uncle who always had time for them……We all miss his love, him being about, and him being part of our family. We just miss…
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The Building Natural Capital Project
The Building Natural Capital Project is a collaboration between Ewen’s Room and the Buzz Project.
Six-sessions to empower individuals and our community to be there for each other through Covid-19 and beyond.