James' Story: Living with Manic Depression

"One of the strangest aspects of a manic depressive illness is that when you're feeling at your best, most productive, most generous, most alive and most active is exactly the same time as your GP and consultant say that you need extra medication and a stay in hospital until you feel better!"

"I once read that 'inspired' is when you think you can do anything - 'manic' is when you know you can.

There is, of course, the flip-side of the coin - times when depression takes hold and these are times you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy.

I guess I've been fortunate. The times of mania and depression have been far outweighed by long periods of 'normality' and with the help of many friends, family and health professionals, I've managed to stay in gainful employment and led a fulfilling life, so far.

It all started when I was an Officer cadet at Sandhurst and as a fairly insecure eighteen year old, I guess the psychological strain of the intensive training was going to affect me more than most.

Needless to say, my bizarre behaviour led to a rather unceremonious discharge and within 36 hours I was being chased around the wards of North Devon District Hospital before finally succumbing to an intravenous sedative, the beginning of a living nightmare of panic, fear and frustration, whilst my mind's reasoning capacity was stretched to its limits.

The mental gymnastics involved me trying to find out who I was, why I was here - all the 'deep' questions usually discussed late at night by students after several pints of lager and a pack or two of Malboro' Lights.

Nothing in my previous nineteen years had prepared me for this and I struggled both physically and mentally to make sense of what was a crazy situation.

A massive war between good and evil was being fought between my ears and having been taught that 'The Good Book' was a source of inspiration for many, I turned to it often, sometimes pounding my head with my copy whilst praying fervently as if my very life depended on it.

My collection of music was also a great source of comfort in my distressed state and though I never heard 'voices', I often felt a song or a passage on the radio was chosen for me to listen to and everything took on a special relevance.

Prior to my admission to hospital I was a struggling Christian and at many times I felt my situation was a test of faith. There were times when I could have given up and if it meant the crisis in my mind would stop, I'd have gladly done so.

However, giving up was anything but an easy option and anyway, amongst the times of desperation there were also glimpses of a world that was so beautiful and full of love that I often broke down and cried with joy.

Eventually I was well enough to try a spell at university although I soon realised I had seriously overestimated my ability to return to full-time education and within a term I returned home - I now had two failed careers behind me and I was only twenty.

For the next two summers I worked as a hotel day porter - glad of the money and relieved to be off the living room sofa that had been 'home' for what seemed like an eternity.

A year later I was working for Mole Valley Farmers where I was to stay for eleven years meeting Lesley, my wife, in the process.

Lesley has been a very important factor in my keeping well and as many carers will appreciate, sometimes what she goes through is a great deal worse than that which I am suffering.  

During my time at Mole Valley I joined the Fire & Rescue Service as a retained fireman and spent eight wonderful years on call being fortunate enough to have been in situations where, as a team, our actions have genuinely saved lives. Indeed, I did face obstacles in becoming a fireman with my medical history and diagnosis but persistence paid off and they turned out to be very understanding employers.

I firmly believe that anybody, be they schizophrenic, manic depressive or whatever, can offer a huge amount to an employer. After all, we've come face to face with ourselves, overcome adversity through sheer strength of character and very often have great insight, especially with regards to art and music.

I currently work as an insurance consultant and joined WAND as a trustee early last year. It has always been a wish of mine to be able to give something back to the system that has helped regain my life.

I'll finish by saying that I believe those who are affected in one way or another by mental illness issues are very valuable members of society because of their ability to see beyond the materialistic values of the majority. Some of the warmest and kindest people I've ever met were those who lent a sympathetic and understanding ear when my personal world was turned upside down."

Find out more about:

Bipolar disorder


Fear and anxiety 

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