How this Sheffield father-of-four overcame his demons and trauma with a healing trip around Malaysia

At the age of eight, Ian Williams experienced a trauma which led him to run away from his own children more than 40 years later.

Saturday, 8th January 2022, 7:00 am

Sheffield-born Ian found his mum collapsed on the floor after an overdose which she never recovered from. But he is now tackling the demons that moment left him with and has written a travel book which is part of his healing process.

This is Ian’s journey. Born in Chapeltown, Ian is a father-of-four and is aged 56. He went to school at Burncross infants, Windmill Hill infant and juniors and Ecclesfield Comprehensive.

He’ll never forget finding his mum June collapsed at home, her ginger hair strewn across the hallway.

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Author Ian Williams loved the Perhentian Islands in the Besut District, Terengganu, Malaysia.

“I had walked home from school on my own and when I got there, something seemed strange,” says Ian. “The house was quiet. I’d had inclinations from my mum about her mental health when she had gone missing and we found her in the loft hiding.

“I was always on my guard for this to happen and when it was quiet I thought there was a problem.

“I walked through the kitchen into the hallway and could see my mum’s hair strewn into the hallway. She had long ginger hair and I just turned round and ran because I knew.”

His 30-year-old mum had taken an overdose in the bathroom and collapsed. Ian needed help.

Author Ian Williams on his travels

“I banged on a neighbour’s door but no-one was in. I ran in the middle of the road to a friend’s house and they kept me there. The next thing I knew, an ambulance had come to the house and I saw it disappearing.

“I didn’t know how much this had affected me until I got older but when I look back now I realise it had a massive affect on my life.

“I didn’t cry for 25 years after that. My emotions had gone. I just sort of hid away.”

He left school at 16 to work in the maintenance department of an engineering firm, but Ian wanted to set up on his own. “I soon started working for myself doing gardening and decorating,” he said.

Ian Williams with Cubana's Adrian Bagnoli at the book launch in Sheffield

He got married aged 21 to Lesley and the couple had two girls, Leanne, now 35, and Jodie, 30.

The marriage lasted eight years. “I was completely unfaithful,” says Ian. “I was too young, I don’t think I was capable of living with someone or well enough to sustain a family because of my experience.”

So when he started a meaningful relationship 13 years later, Ian was determined to make it work. At the time, his partner was the love of his life. “I loved her to pieces,” he says.

They had two children, a son now 13, and daughter, 10. Due to their ages, they will remain anonymous. They made Ian feel amazing. “I felt great. I had a second chance and felt I was capable of sustaining a relationship, being a good father and husband.”

Surrounded by family and friends, Ian Williams launches his new book at Cubana in Sheffield

Then Ian made a choice which eventually caused him to short circuit again. “We had just finished extending our house at Halfway when I saw this church in Middle Handley, near Eckington.

“I wanted to convert it but the work put a lot of pressure on our relationship. I probably shouldn’t have done it but it had immense potential and I pushed my partner into doing this and she never forgave me.

“We put too much pressure on each other and split up. It was the worst time in my life with respect to mental health.

“I felt like I was losing my family for a second time, losing the woman I loved, my dream home. It was a triple whammy and I fought so hard to keep things together but the more I tried, the less it worked. I still had to try and it made things worse.

“I sent myself daft. I lost control of my mental health to the point where I allowed myself to break away from the things I didn’t want to leave.

“When you get to the point where you find yourself wandering around the garden naked, imagining yourself hanging from a noose, you realise you are no good to anyone.

Ian Williams launches his new book at Cubana in Sheffield

“It gave me the license to go away and fulfil a bucket list wish of writing a book in a far flung place.”

His taste for travel developed after charity cycle trips in India, Brazil and Malawi. Ian raised money for the Lepra charity which aims to beat leprosy in Bangladesh, India and Zimbabwe. His experiences left him wanting more.

“I chose Kuala Lumpur because the price was right. I just turned up and started looking for islands. There were lots of comments on TripAdvisor saying go to the Perhentian Islands so I did.”

The islands are in the Besut District, Terengganu, Malaysia, and are stunning. “Unbelievably gorgeous. I was dropped off on a jetty and because it was out of season there was nobody there.

“That gave me plenty of content for the book because I had to concentrate on something to take away the pain of being away from my family.”

On My Way starts with Ian in his flat in Littledale, Sheffield, and follows his one-month trek to Kuala Lumpur, the Perhentian Islands and Singapore.

“There are confrontations with snakes, swimming with sharks, the crazy food. It’s a chronicle of my experience with down to earth observations, touching on architecture and at the end I have to go back to reality.

“Since I’ve looked back, I realised I was using the experience to hide away from reality.”

He followed it up with a three month trip to the Philippines where he stayed in a yoga retreat and met Erica, who is now his partner. “I purposely immersed myself in well-being. I’ve started writing a second book based on that which will be called Epoch.”

Due to lockdown, he hasn’t seen Erica for 22 months. He misses her but is hopeful they can get back together soon.

Ian is currently living in a caravan in Bradway, waiting to buy a house to renovate before going off on his travels again.

Now a grandfather of three, he’s in touch with all his four children and things are looking up. His family gathered for the book launch at the Cubana venue in Sheffield city centre and the feedback was positive.

It is helping him. Ian says: “I’m now in charge of my mental health, I can remember being happy and I want to get to that level again.”

Brutally honest, Ian sounds like a new man. He freely admits his trip to Kuala Lumpur served as the unorthodox therapy that saved his life and, eventually, helped him start to come to terms with the collapse of his second marriage.

That collapsing family life in Sheffield was swapped for a solitary, often hand-to-mouth existence where he spent weeks exploring with – at times - only killer snakes, lizards and his camera for company.

Regularly completely cut off from life at home – the trip ended up being the start of his recovery that continues to this day. He’s given himself a chance and he’s on his way again.

The book is published by TryOwtOnce publishing: it’s available from Ian’s website for £12.95.

Author Ian Williams standing on a glass floor in a tower in Kuala Lumpur