The Trou­bled Artist Benga, 31

Men's Health (UK) - - Mend The Gap -

A sud­den psy­chotic episode took Lon­don-based MC, DJ and pro­ducer Benga to the edge of rea­son. To­day, mu­sic and the sup­port of oth­ers help him stay in tune with his men­tal well­be­ing

“My first break­down hap­pened in Septem­ber 2013. Look­ing back, I’d been suf­fer­ing from anx­i­ety for a while, but didn’t re­alise that was what it was. I was do­ing a lot of drugs at the time, tak­ing ec­stasy and ke­tamine ev­ery day. I was play­ing shows, do­ing ra­dio and I’d just en­tered a re­la­tion­ship – I was in love for the first time. I had a lot go­ing on.

“Once, I was ly­ing in bed with this girl. We’d done a lot of drugs and, all of a sud­den, I couldn’t move. I’ve al­ways been re­li­gious – I was brought up as a Je­ho­vah’s Wit­ness – and the thing that went through my mind was, ‘God is try­ing to con­nect with me.’ We went to hos­pi­tal, and the doc­tor told me I’d be OK. I chalked it up to a ran­dom event and left it at that.

“I had a few more sim­i­lar at­tacks, and slowly started to lose all sense of ra­tio­nal­ity. I be­gan to miss gigs. In my head, I was on a mis­sion from God. He told me I had to go and col­lect what was mine. I would walk up to peo­ple on the street and make a cer­tain sign with my arms. I’d ask them, ‘Do you know what you took from me?’ I thought peo­ple were fol­low­ing me. I thought the CIA was in­volved.

“This car­ried on for months. I also thought there was a hex on me and that I had to get rid of ev­ery­thing I owned by a cer­tain date, or I would die. I gave away my pos­ses­sions to ran­dom peo­ple on the street. I gave away three Rolexes and an Aude­mars. I gave away rings, chains, all kinds of stuff. At one point, I went into my bank, with­drew £30,000, spent it in Sel­fridges, then went home, poured bleach all over what I’d just bought and threw it in the bin. One night, I threw away my TV, my sofa and my bed.

“Af­ter a while, my girl­friend called the po­lice and I was sec­tioned. I was in hos­pi­tal for about seven weeks. Be­ing sec­tioned was a pretty hard­core ex­pe­ri­ence. I was around a lot of other peo­ple who were ill. I would see a psy­chi­a­trist ev­ery three to four days, but they are strug­gling to look af­ter ev­ery­one, as giv­ing ev­ery per­son the treat­ment they need would cost a lot.

“Grad­u­ally, I be­gan to re­alise what I had been do­ing. The peo­ple around me, in­clud­ing my girl­friend at the time, re­ally sup­ported me. When I got out of hos­pi­tal, I went to my mum’s house, set up a stu­dio and wrote a song called “Psy­chosis”. I was just writ­ing and re­flect­ing. This process helped me learn to deal with my men­tal health. I still got ill quite a few times af­ter­wards, but mu­sic keeps me go­ing, and it gives me some­thing to fo­cus on. It’s al­ways been my life­saver.”

A se­vere break­down in his early twen­ties led Ben­jamin to the edge of de­spair. He has since been awarded an MBE for his work help­ing to bring oth­ers back from the brink

“My first ma­jor break­down hap­pened when I was 20, in Novem­ber 2007. I was in my third year of univer­sity in Manch­ester. I’d been un­well for a few years but hadn’t ad­dressed it. I’d been hav­ing sui­ci­dal thoughts, hear­ing a voice in my head and see­ing things that weren’t there. I was also strug­gling with my sex­u­al­ity. One day, I ended up on the streets, scream­ing at peo­ple. I’d lost con­trol. It was hor­ri­ble, like be­ing in a trance. I re­mem­ber think­ing, ‘What the fuck am I do­ing?’

“I was taken to hos­pi­tal. The worst part was sit­ting in front of a psy­chi­a­trist with my fam­ily, be­cause it meant that I couldn’t hide it from them any more. The psy­chi­a­trist di­ag­nosed me with schizoaf­fec­tive dis­or­der. He said that I’d have to go to hos­pi­tal and be placed on sui­cide watch. It was hell. I had an over­whelm­ing sense of shame and con­fu­sion. There was no sense of re­lief. I didn’t want to live. It was un­bear­able.

“In the hos­pi­tal, I started hav­ing anx­i­ety at­tacks, get­ting tight knots in my stom­ach when­ever I left my room, or was around the other pa­tients. Af­ter a month, I ran away be­cause I couldn’t bear it. Sui­cide seemed like the only way out. I went to a bridge to jump off. In the end, I was stopped from do­ing it by a stranger. He was very calm and re­as­sur­ing. He said to me that I didn’t have to feel em­bar­rassed in front of him. It was amaz­ing to hear that be­cause I was ut­terly em­bar­rassed about my con­di­tion. The key thing was that he said he thought I’d be all right, and I’d get bet­ter. That changed ev­ery­thing for me, and I knew, some­how, that I would get through it.

“I was taken back to the hos­pi­tal and sec­tioned. I felt like a coward, that I’d let peo­ple down. But the dif­fer­ence was that now I had some hope that I would get bet­ter. I still strug­gled for the next few years, but I started to ad­dress my men­tal health and talk about it. I be­gan to feel more hu­man again. Sim­ply hav­ing that sense of hope made a mas­sive dif­fer­ence.”

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