From total isolation and grave-like lows to feeling like she’s on Venus, here, in her own words, Hayley Denise Sawkins tells of living with bipolar affective disorder
“Before the illness struck at 25 years of age, I was gregarious, vivacious, outstanding and ambitious.
“At 14, I had a Saturday job in London’s Hampstead which I loved, not only serving the public but I remember the delicious sandwiches from the wonderful Jewish deli.
Hayley Denise Sawkins, left, with the memorial bench to her mother
“I would sometimes take myself to Keats House. I was intrigued by his stunningly beautiful play-on-words poetry.
“Other times, I could be found sitting on the heath known as the Village of London – so terribly peaceful. There I remained for three years in sales.
“At 16, I left Camden School for Girls rather proud but not complete as such, as from the age of 11 it was found I was dyslexic, with reading and spelling difficulties.
“To this day I still rely on my Franklin pocket speller, not a keen typist at all. Having dyslexia made me painfully shy and I dreaded exams.
“I did my very best, say no more, and stepped into the world of fashion as a buyer assistant for a leading fashion house, again in London.
“Funny now, I look back there as my boss, Ms Kretish, would from time to time come to my parent’s house for supper.
“I remember her distinctly saying to my mother: “Hayley has rather a unique eye for fashion and works relentlessly with the running of the establishment.
“However, she seems to be doing things remarkably quickly and at times her concentration goes adrift.”
Hayley with friends Debbie Haynes, Tracy Carr and Marie Jordan at the Talk It Out wellbeing centre in Deal
“She said I exhibited some high-octane patterns of behaviour.
“I stayed in this position for 18 months – five days a week plus Saturdays at Hampstead Shoe Shop, a specialist in large footwear.
“I saved more or less every pound and shilling as I had a desire by the age of 18 to return to Australia.
“My parents took us for the very first time to Australia one Christmas – I was 15.
“We arrived Christmas morning and were met by my mum’s cousins who had settled there very nicely and lived in a posh suburb of Sydney.
“The house was stilted and at dusk and dawn you could see the Blue Mountains.
“Thirteen years ago, my brother, Tim, and sister-in-law emigrated to Western Australia. Thank goodness my brother has a healthy, brilliant brain.
“Now with this introduction, I begin to write more on bipolar affective disorder.
“I finally value my life at this stage… it has taken so many years of feeling ashamed” – Hayley Denise Sawkins
“I have never worn a watch and nine times out of 10 I have an accurate placement awareness of precision timing.
“I have chosen to write my second article. The Matter of One’s Mind, my first publication, was at Stephen Fry’s office at Mind’s head office in Oxford Circus.
“In fact it was five years ago this article was discovered and read by over 30,000 other sufferers.
“I wrote it directly after my mother’s natural death and in memory of a young lady, Zoe, a victim to manic depression, a rapid cycler, as I am, and who tragically took her own life.
“What a tremendous loss to this day. I still see her as my rainbow.
“Here goes my mother’s serious suicide attempt. I was in Australia into month nine, almost 18, and I had excelled remarkably, gained a sponsor and been offered full-time employment as office junior in Sydney with a permanent entry to Australia.
“Due to exceptionally difficult circumstances it was then that I had to return.
“It was always a Sunday night weekly, exactly at 6pm, that my parents called me from the UK.
“Those days the home telephone line plus those light blue air-mail letters were the only means of communication.
“This particular Sunday it was my dad’s voice that said hello. Usually it was my mother’s. ‘Hayley, your mother isn’t well at all. She has, as it seems, a problem with her nerves’.
“I didn’t quite grasp exactly what this meant. What I did automatically think and feel was that I wanted to repair her.
“I returned home to the UK within one week. This next chapter to this very day still punctures my heart. I am crying as I write.
An invitation from Hayley’s mother’s memorial service
“What then was her very last thought? Thoughts of a beautiful lady with a terrific husband – totally monogamous – two great kids that were young adults and a fabulous home in London’s Muswell Hill.
“The Royal Free Hospital actually saved her life. Her heart had given up after she had taken a massive overdose of Ativan, otherwise prescribed as Valium.
“How on earth was this given out on a repeat 28-day prescription? Miraculously, she survived.
“Only that she had built up part resistance to this drug somehow prevented her death.
“My aunt found her in the nick of time. She was sectioned for three months and it took two years in total with the medical team to stabilise her.
“She was offered electric shock treatment or a well researched medication known as lithium, alongside her family unit support network, and with her own determination and tremendous efforts to achieve a level of stability.
“She was given 800mg daily of lithium with regular blood works to ensure her therapeutic level was completely correct.
“This drug can have fatal consequences of toxicating the body. It’s not everyone’s first choice due to the profile of some damaging side effects.
The Talk It Out well-being centre located at The Landmark Centre in Deal
“At the age of 66, my mother passed away peacefully. I was assured all her main organs had shut down.
“She took this medication for more than 30 years and often said it was the lesser of two evils.
“She was a fantastic example of life – flamboyant, candid, astonishing, at times versatile, exceptionally attentive to her own insight medically and a well respected lady within the community, and above all she always thought people were more important than anything.
“She was curious and forever interested in supporting others through their trials and tribulations.
“This quality I fortunately inherited. Thank you forever there, Mum.
“What was exceptionally difficult for her to accept was my diagnosis at the age of 25.
“Two doctors – the first Dr Sarsed, at a practice in Whitstable – diagnosed me instantly. I was hyper manic that entire summer.
“At the time, my mother and father were successfully self-employed, trading in antiques between Whitstable and Greenwich.
“Some very concerned customers and friends, on several occasions, went to my mother’s shop and said: ‘Valerie, what on earth is wrong with Hayley? She isn’t right at all’.
“The display went on. By September, I was full-blown manic and had to have another home visit – an injection to bring me down.
“I just hope by taking a little time myself that this story may well help and support others that may read it” – Hayley Denise Sawkins
“To follow, a possible section at St Martin’s in Canterbury. Immediately, the decision was made that I should be taken to The Priory for further help and expertise.
“It was a German doctor, Dr Stein, who explained things. It was undoubtedly hereditary and he profusely told my mother to ease up on her self-blame pain.
“I look back, now at the age of 51, and it is quite a miracle that I remain in the game of life as such.
“This illness has certainly distorted my life and taken its toll over the years with problematic mainstream medications breaking down my immune system.
“I religiously take two leading mood stabilisers plus 7.5mg of zopiclone when needed.
“I have chronic, sporadic sleep patterns. It’s incredible that I can function on as little as four-and-a-half hours a night for weeks on end.
“My energy levels are particularly high and I try absolutely everything to reduce them, for example I walk up to 30 miles a week, most often with my terrific dad, Dennis.
“Him, alongside my remarkable razzle-dazzle daughter, Roxanna, 30, have been my main lifelines along with other family members. Thank you always.
“Other coping mechanisms are from the practise of meditation at home but soon I will return to a lovely lady, Dr Ingrid Dodd at the Golf Road Centre, Deal. Her ancient practice is excellent.
“I have a very careful diet –mainly omega-3, masses of avocados, coconut water for the immune system and I work closely with my dietician’s advice as my weight sits at seven stone and my BMI is rather worrying.
“At the moment, I see my marvellous consultant as and when needed.
“I finally value my life at this stage. It has taken so many years of feeling ashamed.
“It’s not easy being placed on the mental heath register at 26. Now I feel, at last, the government is looking at the picture.
“Before I finish I would like to give a tremendous mention to both Tracy Carr and retried psychotherapist Marie Jordan for their outstanding efforts launching the Talk It Out Thursday evening support group over five years ago and I highlight their Talk It Out wellbeing centre at the Landmark Centre in Deal, open every weekday, all year round, for those in isolation or in need of secure, understanding friendships.
“Please do not hesitate to contact Tracy Carr on 07923 096273, if you would like to make a donation of any shape or form to enable this centre to remain long-term.
“They have so far had some fantastic backing from Kent Police.
“I just hope by taking a little time myself that this story may well help and support others that may read it.
“On a brighter note, I once sold one of my poems A Deeper Love for a fiver. If I can support anyone in any way please email firstname.lastname@example.org”
Hayley, 51, who lives in Sholden has titled her story A Language Understood and wants to raise awareness during Mental Health Month and show her support to the Talk It Out Wellbeing Centre at Deal’s Landmark Centre.
Hayley gives special thanks to: Alistair Gould and all at the Pines Gardens in St Margaret’s, Joan Bull at the British Red Cross shop in Deal, Samantha Burgh for the carefully chosen gift of a WH Smith spell checker, David Richards, a friend for life who helped, cared and understood through her darkest days, Madalin and Catherine Michel, family friends for 20 years living in Marseille, and Suzanne West, her very best friend and godmother to her daughter.