Written by Lucy Nichol


A tribute to the village genius

In a new series, Lucy Nichol proves you never know who mental ill health will come after next by celebrating the diverse qualities and eccentricities of her lovable friends and acquaintances. This week, she remembers Martin.

Illustration by Joanna Neary.

Illustration by Joanna Neary.

If you lived a quaint village life, you inevitably had to learn to drive. East Yorkshire villages didn’t have the same level of drama as Emmerdale. Well… unless you listened to the gossip from the Bay Horse pub.

But that was mainly limited to a bit of middle-class swinging as opposed to aeroplane crashes and lightning strikes.

So, seeking inner city excitement, most of us moved into various bedsits, flats and housing estates in Hull. Martin didn’t. He had the brains. While all we were aiming for, uni-wise was the ‘Eat Your Words’ club nights at Hull Students’ Union, Martin studied. He was the IT guru among us and, more often than not, the designated driver. He was dependable, loyal, quiet and studious.

Life then was all about going to the pub on a Sunday to watch the footie. I pretended I was bang into it. I wasn’t. I couldn’t explain the offside rule even if it was demonstrated endlessly using salt and pepper pots and a bottle of ketchup. My sister was just as bad, although she came *this close* to winning our fantasy football league by skilfully choosing footballers whose names were also places, coupled with the ones she thought had nice legs.

I was never sure how much Martin liked it either. But we were a tight knit group and despite all our different traits, interests and backgrounds, we stuck together through thick and thin. We watched Beckham make that fateful kick in the Argentina game in the World Cup and we felt we were in it together.

Martin was always with us. Often in the background in the earlier years. He could be a little shy, especially around the girls. But he scrubbed up well, had the most promising of career prospects and always got us to our camping trip destinations safely.

He started to come out of his shell after a while, which coincided with us having to make our own way to the pub more often. But he would join us in the Haworth Arms, becoming far more animated and lively. It was quite a personality shift, to be honest.

He was joining in more and more with the boozing, and would constantly amuse us with tales of him outwitting the club bouncers at closing time, playing hide and seek because he wasn’t ready to go home just yet.

Uni life became a reality for him. But sadly, it didn’t last for long. I think the turning point came when he called his dad in the middle of the night, who drove from Yorkshire to the Midlands to collect his terrified son in the early hours of the morning. Martin was convinced somebody was trying to break in and kill him.

“Sometimes there is no rhyme or reason. Sometimes people pull through debilitating episodes. Sometimes they don’t. Mental illness does not discriminate.”

More and more of these strange events started to happen. It was no longer a ‘bit of paranoia’ or ‘Martin being Martin’. It stopped being the personality that we knew. He landed a good IT job in town, working for a chemical company. He started to share many stories with us about the conspiracy to kill him using chemical weapons, and a gang of lads who were out for his blood.

We were in our early 20s. We had zero understanding of what was really happening.

Sometimes, it was irritating. We were a young, carefree group and Martin was getting into trouble with the bouncers – again – and his cousins were having to defuse fights in the pub when he said something a little bit odd to somebody’s girlfriend.

We thought this was who Martin had become. But we soon realised it wasn’t. With his confidence at an all-time low and his naturally bright mind being tainted by paranoid delusions, putting a dampener on his promising career, it was becoming obvious this was an illness, disguised by self-medication in the form of a bit too much booze.

The charity Mind talks about psychosis as a symptom of an illness, rather than an illness in its own right. There are many misunderstandings about what it means to experience psychosis, and lots of people wrongly think the word ‘psychotic’ means ‘dangerous’. It does not. Very few people who experience psychosis ever hurt anyone else, but this narrative is rarely illustrated in the media.

I still don’t understand what Martin’s illness actually was in terms of a name or diagnosis. It is difficult to understand even now, looking back. But the symptoms were certainly of a psychotic nature.

Be it depression, schizophrenia, bipolar – I have no idea. But illnesses that generate these kinds of terrifying symptoms sometimes get the better of people, no matter how many times a family member drives to the location of the crisis; no matter how often their friends and family take them to the GP; no matter how intelligent they are; and no matter how comfortable an upbringing they had.

Sometimes there is no rhyme or reason. Sometimes people pull through debilitating episodes. Sometimes they don’t. Mental illness does not discriminate.

I will always remember Martin as the brainy one, with the perfect ‘American’ smile and often highly annoying habit of raiding our fridge when he thought we weren’t looking. He was a diamond.

In memory of Martin Brice, 1976-2014.
Read Lucy’s previous affectionate portrait of her friend Paul here.
And check out her blog on all things mental health here.


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Written by Lucy Nichol

Neurotic hen-keeper, feline friend and mental health blogger. Prone to catastrophisation and over excitement at the garden centre. Caution: do not give Diet Coke after dark.