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‘It was scary but we learned to live with mental illness together’

Hormoz Ahmadzadeh, 61, is a co-director of a community interest company working to support marginalized people. His husband Robert Martin is a 56-year-old marketing consultant and children’s book author. They have been together for 32 years and live in Salford with their dogs Dusty and Sidney. When Hormoz was diagnosed with bipolar over twenty years ago it brought them closer; only for Robert to discover he had autism, in January this year.

Rob

In the early days we took things very slowly. We were both from very different backgrounds. Hormoz was very exotic, he was from Iran, his parents established the Iranian National Ballet. There’s a photograph of his dad having drinks with Elizabeth Taylor. I’m from a council estate on The Wirral where my dad used to just fart in a vest. But opposites attract and we had common interests in music, film and the arts. We were respectful of each other’s freedoms and there was a solid foundation by the time we had unknowingly fallen in love.

There’s definitely a before Hormoz’s breakdown in 1999 and an after. That period lasted a couple of years. The initial phase was a total shutdown, a vegetative state in hospital with zero communication. Then he went through a really terrible period of mania. I didn’t recognize him anymore and he wasn’t particularly nice to be around. I had doctors saying “this is who he is now” and family telling me to move on. There was no real end in sight. But I stuck with it.

One of the things that caused his breakdown was his reluctance to be completely open. I have thought that being gay mattered much more than it did. The people he worked with had no idea he lived with a man. But post breakdown he stopped caring. In a strange way, the experience put a solid bolt through our relationship, a very positive feeling of us being inseparable and it improved out of family relationships.

We are very different people. With me everything is either hysterically funny, or it’s really sad. I really like something, or I really hate it. Hormoz is much more of a level person. I will cry at a TV ad and he doesn’t. But the depth of what he feels I’m aware of. If you asked him, he’s romantic. And if you ask me, I am romantic. His definition of romance is having a good memory. He could tell you what wine we had with a meal ten years ago. I’m more gestural. I will plan in advance to do something special. We compliment each other.

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In the same month in December 2019, we lost my mum and his dad. And we lost my best friend and Hormoz’s mum in December 2020. We hate Decembers now.
Sometimes we needed to cry, sometimes we needed to be on our own. I needed to be drunk with friends at one point. We allowed each other the space and security in the knowledge we were there for each other.

It feels like there’s a kind of circle that’s happened because of my autism diagnosis in January. That was quite a shock. I really wanted to write a children’s book about kindness and love. I had an older sister who was very badly disabled and she died when she was 16 and I was six. The little boy in my book is a bit like me. And afterwards, it turns out, I am autistic.

My diagnosis is much less dramatic and impactful than Hormoz, but at 56 it’s still a lot to take in and there are still quite a few dots to join up. What I love about Hormoz is his kindness, generosity and sense of fairness. And we both care about things that are bigger than us. And I think he’s very handsome. It doesn’t hurt.

But what I find most admirable is the work he’s doing to support marginalized people. To take something that was so destructive in his life from him and to turn it into something that is supporting others – for me that’s remarkable.

There’s been the class divide, the race divide, our mental health challenges. There’s all sorts of differences that could have been barriers but they weren’t. We value difference and we value each other and the external world. My biggest surprise is to find after 32 years there’s still more to find out about each other and there’s still that mutual curiosity.

Hormoz

About 22 years ago I had a major breakdown that changed everything. I was hospitalized three times and finally diagnosed as being bipolar. I had been immensely depressed for a period, then started going the other way. Rob was there by my side all the way through it.

With no experience of bipolar in our families it really was challenging for him and for everyone around us. It was really scary, but I sometimes think it must have been scarier for him and my family, because I became a very different person.
His support really solidified our relationship and was so vital to my recovery. He could have readily decided “this is too much” and he was getting some advice to leave me. The fact that we’ve come so far with this is just brilliant.

When Hormoz was diagnosed with bipolar over twenty years ago it brought them closer; only for Robert to discover he had autism, in January this year

I had major issues with being gay, within myself, and I think that must have been a contributing factor in my breakdown. I was hiding from myself for many years, in many different ways. But really Rob influenced me to be myself. He’d say: “Who cares about who you are, who’s worried about the fact you are gay?” It was a great revelation for me. I was terrified of how people would respond for years.

As painful as it was, so many good things came out of that breakdown. It really stripped away a lot of my inhibitions and led me towards building myself up and look closely at my values, my strengths, my mindset, rather than focusing on other people’s expectations. It’s strengthened our relationship for us and in the eyes of our families and friends.

I lost my mum, who was 90, in December 2020. She’d been in hospital for a while and I expected her to die. But the day before we also had the death of a friend, unexpectedly and we definitely had to support each other. Rob was very close to my mum as I was to his mum. Family has always been very important to us. Our Civil Partnership was on April 29, 2006 (and converted that to a marriage on August 4, 2015). The law had changed in December 2005, so we were early adopters. We thought, let’s do this and have a great party. So we did. It was the best day with all our family and friends.

We’re very different, but we complement each other. The differences don’t get in the way. Obviously, sometimes there can be tension. But we work through that with openness and honesty. Rob’s very good at making me laugh. I’m not a natural comedian. But the lightness we can access together is what you have kept us together for so long. There have been difficult challenging times. But there’s been a lot of happy light periods too. It’s knowing the hard times don’t last forever. That dark cloud will pass and the sun will come out again.

We’re both very into our work. It’s very lucky, especially since my breakdown, that I’m actually doing the work I always wanted to do. I’m an engineer by my degree and now I’m a personal development coach and training facilitator for marginalized people using my own lived experience to help people feel stronger empowered to the things they want to do in live.

Within my work, I have worked with autistic people a fair amount, and so when Rob asked his sister, and then me as to whether we thought he was autistic, we both said, yes. The diagnosis has made so much sense to him and his behaviors. Now that he’s able to explain those to me he has opened up certain conversations that have been extremely useful.

The more we share things the easier it becomes for others to respond. For us it’s being there for each other at all times and understanding. There’s empathy and kindness that is really important to us. That underpins everything – a kindness to each other as well as other people.

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