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Ángel Martín was one of the most popular television personalities as the presenter of programmes such as “I Know What You Did” and “Laika Orbit”. After suffering a psychotic episode in 2017, he rebuilt his life and now focuses on his off-the-wall morning current affairs report on social media, on various different shows and on promoting his book, in which he reaches out to people who suffer from some type of mental disorder.
"Recovering from mental illness is an exhausting process, but also a very rewarding one”
In 2017, your life changed overnight. That was when you suffered a psychotic episode. What do you remember about that time?
I remember emotions especially, which are like freeze-frames. I remember frozen moments in time, which do not start moving until I activate my mind. And as far as those days are concerned, the worst memory I have is of the day I left the hospital. Because, you go into hospital not knowing what’s going on, or even that you are being admitted, but you come out with a great feeling of emptiness.
I like to use clear illustrations to help [people] understand: imagine that you go to your newly-built house. It’s been burnt down and you don’t understand anything. You have to start from square one. So, you’re not apprehensive when you leave hospital, but rather, you have a desolate feeling of emptiness and of being disconnected.
“Madness has forced me to go through an entirely conscious process of rebuilding my life”
Now that you’re fully recovered, you tell the whole story in “In Case the Voices Return”, published by Planeta. How did you take the step of writing it all down in a book?
The publisher suggested I write a book, and I thought that the only thing I have to offer at the moment is to tell my story. In fact, I wrote the book that [I looked for] but couldn’t find when I left the hospital, and which could have helped me to get my life back together. At a time like that, what you need is someone who knows what it’s like to be in that situation. So, Ángel, the writer of that book, is the guy who I really needed to have been around in 2017. I want to help anyone who is going through a similar experience.
It’s a book in which, just like in your life, humour is the key element. Is it really so necessary?
Actually, it doesn’t matter whether you think it’s necessary or not. At first, [when you’re confronted with that situation], it’s not there. To get out of certain places and get through certain [difficult] times and experiences, what you need is determination. Humour is a wonderful tool for any situation, but when you don’t find it, you can’t force it. It’s either there or it’s not.
In the book, you also avoid playing the victim or appealing to one’s morbid fascination.
Absolutely! Because playing the victim doesn’t help at all. It won’t help you see things any clearer, so it’s not a useful tool. The thing is, it’s the easiest and quickest route to take when you’re in a bad way.
The problem with mental illnesses is that, what you have to do to get through them is to face up to all the negative emotions your brain transmits when you’re ill. It’s very difficult and you fall a thousand times and you want to give up a thousand times, but one day – thanks to your steadfastness – you’ll see you can overcome certain emotions. And that’s not all, it’s only you who can convince yourself of this.
Why is it so difficult to socially destigmatise madness and other mental illnesses?
If we think of somebody who suffers from such a disorder, it can be for several reasons. They probably don’t know whether the person they explain their problems to is going to really listen. It’s a big problem. They suffer the difficulty of seeing how those people can turn their back on them, or on the other hand, how they can play down the importance of the situation or give bad advice. All of that, I think, leads to a marked reluctance [on the part of the sufferer] of a mental illness to express what they’re going through. The key is to find a forum where you are not judged.
In your case, your partner and family were an important factor when it came to detecting the problem. What is their role at such times?
I’m going to put it bluntly, but it’s true: other people should not be the priority for a mentally ill patient. It obviously gets very complicated being around the sick person, but the latter is always having a worse time of it. At the end of the day, having a mental illness is like breaking your arm; help can be given, but for the one suffering, it is always worse off. Always. I have been extremely selfish in that regard. I know that my family and my partner have had a terrible time, and that they will have their crisis detectors constantly turned on. I try to minimise [the crises].
But when people are distant, everything’s much worse. The problem is that we often tend to think that nothing’s wrong until something particularly striking or dramatic happens. But the fact is, it all starts a lot sooner. What we can do, as people [in that situation], is to always listen to somebody we think might be suffering. Letting off steam and expressing oneself is a great help.
You say that madness is the best thing that has happened to you in life. Why?
Because it has forced me to go through an entirely conscious process of rebuilding my life. If I hadn’t gone through that extreme experience of the psychotic episode, I wouldn’t have done that. If somebody’s personality doesn’t get broken, they’re almost certainly not going stand in front of a mirror and ask themselves who they are, who they want to be or whether the life they’re building is really the one they dreamt of. We act through inertia and we don’t realise where we’re going. With the benefit of hindsight, [I can say that] I was lucky, and now I have built a new Ángel Martín in a very conscious way.
However, climbing out of the pit is a slow process. Is it easy to lose your way?
Of course. You get lost millions of times. It’s not just a question of deciding to climb out of the pit. You have to be steadfast and work very, very, very hard. You will fall down, you will give up and you will find doors that you would rather not have opened. It is the most exhausting process you will ever have to go through, but one day, you realise that it is also the most rewarding. In my case, it has taken years.
How do you look after your emotional well-being now?
I am at a point in my life where I know perfectly well what is healthy and what isn’t, and I apply that knowledge to every aspect of my life. I trust my instincts very much and I write as a kind of therapy. When I notice a strange sensation, I [describe it] in writing, and that way, I try and decipher it. But, all in all, it’s very simple: I only do things that make me feel good.
Do you also take care to eat well and get exercise?
I’m pretty consistent when it comes to meditation. I like to do it twice a day, morning and evening, and I try to exercise when I can. As regards exercise, the key is to find out what you like. Some prefer going for walks, some: martial arts, some: riding a bike and some: gym classes. At the end of the day, the thing is for everybody to discover what type of exercise makes them feel good. And another thing is, before I go to bed, I start switching off my brain: no screens or devices. [What I do is] read or write. I have some me time.
If you had to recommend a book that wasn’t yours, which would you choose?
There was a book that helped me a lot, and I remember a sentence that radically changed my way of listening. The sentence is: “nobody should know what they are going to say until they have finished listening”. It’s from the book “The Brain and Silence”.
What’s your ideal plan nowadays?
Well, now more than ever, I value calm. An ideal day would be to have peace and quiet, lying in the sun reading, with my dogs running around nearby. I also love acting and monologues very much. They’re good fun.