Bipolar and Me
"For me, mania meant that I could have spurts of great energy, often worrying those around me. In moments of depression, however, it was like being in a black, velvet clad, and lead-lined box."
Warning: this story contains potentially triggering content for trauma survivors.
Gavin Patience, LawCare volunteer and former solicitor
I am a retired solicitor of 35 years experience in general/commercial practice, latterly as a consultant in a national real estate practice, specialising in agricultural property, Landed Estates and farm finance. Before that, I worked in general, regional firms, at one point being Managing Partner, then Senior Partner of a County Town practice.
Throughout my career I suffered from bipolar episodes - sometimes called manic depression. I have been sectioned and admitted to hospital four times in my life, twice whilst I was working and twice after redundancies. We moved house at least 9 times in 30 years. My family has endured very difficult times including serious illness and miscarriage.
"For me, mania meant that I could have spurts of great energy, often worrying those around me. In moments of depression, however, it was like being in a black, velvet clad, and lead-lined box. Totally disorienting, without any understanding of time for months on end. Either way (until my medication kicked in) it was disruptive and worrying for my friends, colleagues and family. Bipolar, or any mental health issues, robs you of years of your life, with blood tests, therapy, and frequent meetings with Doctors and Consultants . Throughout this, there is no doubt that for me the NHS has been brilliant."
My depression started at school
Looking back at it, I was probably depressed in the 6th Form. My girlfriend was already at university, and I felt lonely - although I sailed a lot with the Boys' Brigade.
I had a good offer for a place at Cambridge to read Religious Studies, but hit a manic phase as I took my A Levels and wrote so fast on my exam papers that I doubted the markers couldn't read them. I needed a B in RE - but got a C instead. Instead, I had to fall back on a Law Degree at a perfectly respectable Red Brick University, which was oversubscribed.
That sent me into a downward spin and I became very depressed. The family didn't know what was happening. They felt sorry for me and left me to it. There was no thought of seeing a doctor.
I spent the rest of the summer sailing, and the open air and exercise revived me. However, I still arrived at University with a bubbling undercurrent of depression - ‘the Black Dog’ around my shoulders.
I was not ready to read law and disliked it- except for a paper on legal history, where I got a distinction. I spent the rest of my time in the library, away from the keen lawyers. On reflection, I should have taken a gap year, but that was unheard of in the 1970s. I visited the Doctor, received some encouraging words, but no medication.
In 1977, I graduated one week, married the next, and started Articles the week after. I went to the College of Law for the LS Finals and got distinctions in Conveyancing and Accounts. My mood lifted and I threw myself into my new job - perhaps too energetically.
A difficult work environment triggered my first breakdown
Things went fairly well for the next few years until I was approached by a new commercial practice to head up their conveyancing work - I hated it from day one. I had made the wrong choice. I lost sleep and hated going into the office. I asked my old firm if I could return and they agreed that I should join them as a Junior Partner .Despite this I became deeply depressed and suicidal. I crashed my car with my wife and 2 year old son in it and was arrested by the police, who, with the intervention of my Doctor, had me sectioned under the Mental Health Act and admitted to the local psychiatric hospital.
I was admitted to a mixed- sex secure ward, where, because I was so weak, I was sexually assaulted by a female patient and at one stage was put in a padded cell. It was sheer hell - and my spirits went down. I was given Largachtyl syrup (known as the "liquid cosh”) and 4 rounds of ECT - which seemed to erase my memory. At this, the spiral set in, and I became even more depressed.
Months later, when I said to the Consultant shrink that I was worried what my colleagues would think, he replied, rather bluntly: "Quite frankly, Mr Patient, they won't give a damn."
That was a shock- but after 3 months in hospital and 4 months at home I was welcomed back by my old firm, part time.
However, I went back too soon, had a relapse and had to be readmitted to hospital for a further month. I was prescribed medication, which I took for years and kept the bipolar at bay by stabilising my moods and helping me sleep.
Depression rears its head again
My next severe episode happened in 2001, when I joined a busy commercial practice and immediately went into a serious decline; I was readmitted to hospital, within a few months of joining them. The senior partner came to our house and said to my wife that the person who came to the office was not the same person they had interviewed. Ah, the alternative persona presented by a bipolar. Two people in one, but the same person, nevertheless.
After this hospital admission, I had 6 months at home with no income except Independent Living Allowance - and a large mortgage on the family home. I was continually worried about the finances and couldn't sleep. But the SBA stepped in and provided a secured, interest free loan which allowed me to recover - again.
I joined a local, general practice and without the stress of having to commute to the City, I enjoyed the commute in my own car and listened to relaxation tapes, before I hit the office.
I stayed with that firm for 3 or 4 years before I was headhunted. A regional commercial practice wanted someone to carry out work for a cross departmental role, which was essentially an agricultural property task. This job was super, as I had to see the clients on the farm and it meant that I was away from the stress of office politics. As I recovered from the second hospital admission, I felt that I wanted to give something back and went on the committee of the local Mind group and then on the regional forum.
I was sectioned again after redundancy
In 2008, as with many legal practices, the firm went through a series of redundancies. I was placed at risk 4 times and eventually made redundant when the firm was merged with a large commercial player.
At age 59, I was not needed. It affected me badly and I was sectioned for a third time - this time with mania, and admitted to a private clinic because there were no beds in the local hospital. On discharge, I developed a form of claustrophobia and couldn’t leave the house. I watched lots of daytime TV and cooked. My wife, a retired teacher, had to find work, first as a cleaner and then as a carer in a local nursing home. We claimed benefits and my wife received Carers allowance.
Throughout this, my key worker was brilliant - he got me out of the house, we walked and talked, on a weekly basis. He was able to help me access Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Carers Allowance for my wife which, with my wife's wages, meant we were able to pay the bills. By this time my 22 year old son had graduated as a landscape architect and found that the office environment was not for him. He became depressed, gave in his job and moved back in with us. These were worrying times for my wife, with a poorly son and a recovering husband.
Recovery and finding balance
After a year out of work I started part time work with a local charity, then as a part time gardener, for which I took an NHC in 2007, graduating with a distinction in professional horticulture. This meant I was outside, my own boss, and away from the stressful legal environment. Three years ago a firm asked if I could do part time consultancy for them and I was well enough to decline! I am still on medication (Depakote ) but it is reducing, and now I am drawing down some of my pension - the pressure is off.
I have been involved with LawCare since it began and I now act as a peer supporter, using my own experience to support others going through a difficult time. Much has changed over the last few decades, but there is still a stigma surrounding mental health, particularly around conditions like bipolar. My hope is that this continues to change.
Real stories of people in the legal community who have experienced stress, depression, anxiety and more.