James explains how a caring employer helped with his bipolar, which then led to a surprise TV appearance and an invite to the MMAs.
I never expected that being mentally ill could get me on television, and certainly not in a positive way. However, through the fantastic work of Mind and my employer Aviva, it’s happened.
I’ve suffered from mental health issues for as long as I could remember.
I’ve suffered from mental health issues for as long as I could remember. It cost me all sorts: unfulfilled potential at school, dropping out of my degree. I changed job a lot; had relationship issues. I did eventually qualify as a solicitor, and got married, but really struggled. I got more and more ill, and impossible to live with. My wife couldn’t cope any longer, and left. I ended up trying to kill myself.
I moved out into a tiny flat, with no job, too ill to work. Too scared to go out. One crucial victory: I finally got a proper diagnosis – bipolar. With the right treatment, I started inching my way upwards. I couldn’t work for over a year, but eventually found a job in the Aviva call centre. I was terrified at first, but slowly found my feet, and flourished. I was even promoted.
Aviva does a lot for people that struggle with their mental health. One of these things was to make a video of staff with mental health problems, explaining their experiences. I volunteered, and featured in it. It was well received. Having been in that video, I gave Mind a quote when they were working with us on a press release in response to a report into mental health at work. This then somehow became an interview, which metamorphosed into appearing in a pre-recorded BBC news clip. The Beeb liked this, and so I got a phone call in the pub that evening inviting me to appear on BBC Breakfast the following morning, alongside Mind’s Emma Mamo.
I found myself at the BBC’s Salford Quays studios, nervously sipping coffee and being reassured.
After a half four start, I found myself at the BBC’s Salford Quays studios, nervously sipping coffee and being reassured by a team of assistants. After a quick dash of make-up, I was sat on the breakfast sofa with Charlie and Naga. They were both very friendly. I prayed I wouldn’t dry up into quacking noises when spoken to. Naga helpfully said to imagine we were chatting over a drink. One of our press officers prepped me brilliantly up before and after.
I was sat on the breakfast sofa with Charlie and Naga. I prayed I wouldn’t dry up into quacking noises when spoken to.
You can see the results of both parts; judge for yourself how I did if you’re curious. I was happy though; it was a big deal for me, and I hopefully said something constructive. It’s such an important issue. Aviva has done excellent things, but it’d be naïve to think there isn’t still work to do.
It feels like such a long way from some the other experiences I’ve had. I vividly remember the senior partner at one solicitors I worked for ringing me when I was off ill, to encourage me to kill myself. That’s the worst example I can think of, but he wasn’t too far ahead of some others. Even the sympathetic ones were ultimately driven by the need for profit, and getting rid of me was simplest. That may well have changed in the time since. After all, society has moved on. But I’ve had other ex-lawyers contact me with similar tales, so I’m not unique.
Strangely, the press seemed keener to take photos of Prince Harry and Fearne Cotton than me.
Mind were pleased with the response to the story, and off the back of it I signed up to become one of their media volunteers. As a thank you, they invited me to their annual Mind Media Awards ceremony in London, along with some of my colleagues from Aviva that had helped with the story. That meant appearing on the Leicester Square red carpet for the first and, almost certainly, only time in my life. Strangely, the press seemed keener to take photos of Prince Harry and Fearne Cotton than me. Still a brilliant experience though; the winners’ stories were hugely inspiring. I came away thinking that I can do more. It’ll sound daft, but I feel I owe it; repayments to those who helped save me.