From riches to rags - dad’s battle with drink and mental illness

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Ten years ago, Matt Webb was the man who had everything.

He commanded a six-figure salary from a series of global marketing jobs for major brands such as the Jim Henson Company and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group. In his spare time he bred Shetland ponies on a smallholding in Rock Lane in Ore, where he lived with his loving wife Sally and beautiful daughters, Darcey and Ava.

10/2/15- Matt Webb from St Leonards. SUS-151002-124227001

10/2/15- Matt Webb from St Leonards. SUS-151002-124227001

So it was impossible for Matt to envisage back then how his life would take such a dramatic turn and that the following decade would see his body pushed to the limit by alcoholism and depression, leading to two suicide attempts and a lengthy stay at a mental health unit.

The downward spiral began in 2009 when the recession hit and Matt was made redundant from his marketing role at iconic toy store Hamleys.

He began to work for himself, developing new children’s television programmes, pitching to big names such as Nickelodeon and Disney.

But behind the scenes, Matt’s drinking had been escalating, pushing his family to breaking point.

While he was away in India pitching an idea for a new children’s programme, his wife, fed-up with Matt’s drinking, walked out on him.

He moved from the family home in Peasmarsh to a flat in Marina, St Leonards, where he became a permanent fixture in the local pubs.

Matt, 48, said: “I was drinking pretty much 24 hours a day. Everything merged into one. It was a case of drinking to be sober, in the sense I was that person who was never ‘really’ drunk.”

By 2011, Matt was downing two bottles of vodka a day, followed by 10 pints and more spirits after that.

He had previously endured five bouts of acute pancreatitis and became a familiar face at the Conquest Hospital, where doctors would regularly have to pump litres of liquid from his swollen stomach.

In December 2012 his consultant presented Matt with a stark choice - quit drinking or be dead within 18 months.

Witnessing her husband’s downward spiral, Sally stepped in and offered for Matt to move back in with the family in Pebsham.

Matt said: “Everything was starting to get better.

“I was still having to go to have a lot of fluid taken off me.

“But the doctors were relatively happy things were progressing quite well.”

But Matt’s progress stuttered and his consultant called him in.

Matt recalled: “He said ‘it’s not getting any better now. We cannot keep taking this fluid off you as the risk of infection is too high’.

“He said it was time to consider having a liver transplant.”

The weeks rolled into months as Matt waited for a donor liver.

But a horrific incident at the Bexhill family home saw Matt rocket up the waiting list.

He said: “In February 2013, whilst at home, I suffered a massive internal bleed, which made me vomit violently, coating the bathroom walls with around four litres of blood.

“Mass panic broke out in me, gasping for breath and desperately trying to stop the projectile vomiting, but it just kept coming.”

He was rushed to hospital in an ambulance and taken into resus.

Matt almost passed away three times in the night.

He said: “It was so painful and endless. It was every reason you wouldn’t want to ever touch alcohol again.

“I was laying there thinking that was the end of me and how ironic it would be as I had stopped drinking at that point.”

It was discovered that a large number of polyps had burst in Matt’s stomach, triggering the vomiting, and surgery followed.

In May that year, the long-awaited liver transplant finally happened - but that was not without its complications.

Matt said: “The enormity of the operation is really quite something.

“I was only in there for nine days during which my kidneys failed twice.”

After yet another brush with death, the new liver meant a new start for the now teetotal Matt.

But one boozy slip-up during a day at the races with an old friend triggered a chain of events which would eventually take its toll on Matt’s mental well-being.

He said: “I was away from home for a couple of days, so I thought I would have a couple and no one would know.

“But with me, it’s all or nothing. There is no middle ground.”

Following his drinking binge, Matt was kicked out the family home for a second time, spending the night in a motel on the A21 before being placed in emergency accommodation in Warrior Square St Leonards.

After two months he was offered a flat in Kingscott Close in Sidley, where Matt struggled to adjust to life on his own.

He said: “I have never lived on my own before.

“I was starting to get incredibly anxious and felt very mixed up with what I was going to do next, whether to return to work or not.”

Matt was referred to The Sanctuary in Ore, a low-level specialist mental health facility, where patients can come and go as they please.

But on his release, Matt’s condition worsened further.

He said: “I had gotten to a stage that I did not want to stay in my flat so I used to go and stay with my wife as much as possible to see my kids.

“It was like I was not in control of what I did.

“I was feeling useless. I felt like I did not know how to look after the kids.”

Concerned about his increasing mental fragility, Matt went to the Conquest, pleading to see a psychiatrist.

He was admitted to Woodlands Centre for Acute Care, a psychiatric unit, the following day.

He started having day treatment, but was admitted as a full-time patient in September 2013.

Matt said: “To start off with, the first couple of months I was very social. I spent a lot of time with other patients, playing pool, and my diabetes was under control so it was not as bad as it may seem.

“However I had never been in one of these institutions before so I had no idea how long I would be in there.

“I think not seeing what brings this to an end added to the panic that I had.”

And one night, that panic reached a critical level.

Matt said: “One night I just flipped. I just ran into my bedroom, smashed an aftershave bottle and severed my wrists.”

He sustained 70 percent severance to his tendons and serious blood loss.

Matt was transferred to the Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead for surgery and skin grafts.

Following the incident, a member of Woodlands staff followed Matt around, at arm’s length, constantly monitoring his every move.

He was eventually taken off suicide watch and even given leave to return to his Sidley flat. But unbeknownst to Woodlands, Matt was still harbouring suicidal intentions.

He said: “I took glass from a bureau and stabbed myself repeatedly in the stomach, citing my liver, which had recently be transplanted, as the reason for my depression.

“I also pierced my bowel leaving it exposed.”

Following treatment, a disillusioned Matt was returned to Woodlands and was again placed under close scrutiny as his depression deepened.

He said: “I used to wake up in the morning, stand by my door all day long, not eat and drink from the tap. I did not do anything else.

“They let me do that because it’s your choice.

“They did try and lure me out to go to clubs, but I was not interested.”

After the second suicide attempt, Matt says he also developed a phobia of turning left.

Matt’s fortunes began to turn in March 2014, when he was admitted to Bramble Lodge, a small rehabilitation unit next door to Woodlands.

He said: “I started to become more active, more interactive with the other patients, looking after my diabetes and I had no other occurrences of suicidal thoughts.”

And following his good progress, in September Matt was finally allowed out on his own, for the first time since his second failed suicide bid.

Following that special half an hour outing with his two daughters, Matt vowed to do all he could to be reunited with his family for Christmas.

Bit by bit, Matt was allowed more time outside the unit, until he was finally released in January.

Now, following a special Christmas with Sally, Darcey and Ava, Matt is determined to turn his life around in 2015.

He recently applied for a marketing job in Hastings and is writing a book about his experiences in the hope he can help others.

Matt, who now lives in St Leonards, said: “I would plead with people not to go down the path that I did.”

He added: “I do not want my £100,000 salary back and I don’t want to commute to London every day.

“I just want a little bit of my world back.”