Thirty years ago, fresh out of drama school, the Homeland star found himself in the midst of a breakdown, ending up in a locked hospital ward. He recalls the years of racial abuse that had pulled him apart
Waking up in a mental institution is a strange experience made slightly more bearable by the drugs administered the night before arrival. It’s an odd sensation to come round on a ward – in my case, one at the Hollymoor psychiatric hospital in Birmingham – and not recognise your own body. It took a while for my hands, feet and legs to understand that they were attached to my body. I just lay there for an hour trying to make sense of what was going on. I knew I was awake and alive, but that was as much as I could make out. I wriggled my fingers and toes repeatedly to be sure they hadn’t been removed. Once I was 100% certain that all of me seemed present and correct, I turned my attention to opening my eyes. My eyelids felt like 40lb kettle bells and refused to stay open. After a minute or two, they settled into a thousand-yard stare as my brain tried its best to focus and understand what all these people were doing in my fucking bedroom. Slowly it started to come together. I realised I was on the locked ward of a psychiatric hospital.
Thirty years ago, fresh out of drama school, I had what I now understand to be a psychotic breakdown. I had consumed a fair amount of marijuana and was under a lot of stress; over the course of two years, I’d slowly come undone. I had spent weeks walking all over London, sometimes throughout the night, talking to strangers and following them wherever they led me. I’d black out only to regain consciousness in a completely different part of town, hours later, afraid and with absolutely no idea what had happened in the interval. Had it not been for some extraordinary friends who decided that I needed to be hospitalised, I might have vanished into the night for good. Worse still, I could have taken heed of the incredibly real and convincing voices in my head and simply thrown myself off Westminster Bridge. Instead, I found myself sectioned under the Mental Health Act.