Ruth Durkin: Chris' Story

In this interview with Ruth Durkin, Chris tells of mental health challenges, diagnoses (and mis-diagnoses) and treatments over forty years. He describes how, since stabilising on correct medication, performing music has become central to his wellbeing.


I’ve coped with mental illness now from my early twenties, 21 to be exact, and I’m now 60. I’ve come through them dark periods and if I can help anybody and give anybody hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel and you can come through it, then that’s what I’d like to get from this.

I was diagnosed at 21 after a relationship breakdown; up to then I’d had quite a normal life, if you like. I started work at 16 and I broke up with this girl and that was the start of my problems, really. At first they thought it was schizophrenia, paranoid schizophrenia and that’s what I was treated for. Unfortunately I was in Benidorm at the time of my first episode in 1982 and I got flown back eventually, air ambulance, and took to Rotherham – I’m a Rotherham lad by the way. It’s acute, I’m not chronic, which is a bonus really, I’m very fortunate in that respect – and I got better within about 3 months.

I got my act together and then I got back into work. Then 2 years down the line the same thing happened again and I was in Spain again. And it’s only because the Psychiatrist had given me ‘the ok’ to fly and go on holiday again that the holiday insurance accepted my claim for the air ambulance that got me back to Britain.

Back in ’82 it was horrendous – my first episode in Benidorm. Alicante mental hospital it was; I was tied to the bed and all sorts. It was really barbaric. My wrists and ankles were tied and I was catheterised. I didn’t understand what the catheter was and I tried to pull it out and I caused damage to my urethra – it was just awful. I had several operations after that to try and rectify it.

I’ve had about 6 episodes now and I always get sectioned. I can get very elated and hearing voices. I believe I’m Jesus, and stuff like that, I believe I can talk telepathically to people through gas fires -when it clicks and warms up you can change it into syllables in your head.  The worry of it is that you don’t know you’re poorly.

I’ve had a really good CPN (Community Psychiatric Nurse) all the way through it, or most of it. She came to the house once to give me a check up – I was on Depixol injections (an antipsychotic drug to treat schizophrenia), it was horrible, it used to make me right lethargic. She said “I don’t think you are schizophrenic, you know, I think you’re more Bipolar.” So she had a word with the Psychiatrist and he agreed, so they swapped my medication so I’ve been on lithium and all sorts but I now take Depakote – 2 doses, one in a morning and one at night and I’ve been on it for God knows how many years now. 

Even though I’ve had some more attacks, I’ve been well for quite a while now. I’m going through one now, I get quite flat – but that’s about the extent of it. I get demotivated. In fact my girlfriend’s outside now jet-washing and I’m just sat in the house because I can’t motivate myself to help her but she’s quite understanding.

So they said, working is not helping you. If you go back to work and 2 years down the line you might have another episode. You need to stop work, you’ve done your bit now. A lot of people with the condition don’t work at all. So that’s what I ended up doing eventually, about 52 I packed in. Which is great, retiring at 52, and my mortgage were paid, thank God. I miss work, I worked quite a stressful job actually, all over the country. I’m a lot happier and as I say, 10 years down the line. Once you’ve done all the DIY that’s been mounting up over the years, I was getting a bit isolated not going to work.

I’ve always played the guitar, and someone at Rotherham Voluntary Centre put me in touch with Open Door Music Group, and that’s been a Godsend and I can’t thank them enough. I’ve met some fantastic friends, I’ve met some fantastic musicians and my musical talent has come on, leaps and bounds, and my confidence. My lifelong ambition was to perform on stage as part of a band and I’ve achieved it with them. I’ve really missed it during lockdown. We do it on Zoom but it’s not the same, you get that slight delay. We support each other, we’ve all got a good idea what everyone’s going through as we’ve all been through the mill.

The first time I went to the Music group I was looking forward to it but also felt apprehensive. One of the members met me outside and it was quite daunting walking into this little room that was packed with musicians way better than me! I could play chords and could sing a little bit but I wasn’t familiar with keys and things like that. After that first week I couldn’t wait until the next Friday and I’ve hardly missed any Fridays. Once a month we get to perform in a band in a café. I’d say to people considering it to just bite the bullet and go, find some confidence from somewhere. We tend to have a social life as well, some of us will go for a drink after the group.

I also volunteer teaching kids the guitar. It’s an after-school club at Rawmarsh, and there’s me and a drummer. I love kids and music and I’ve managed to combine both my loves and it’s fantastic. When you get them to play a chord or a song and it all comes together, it’s a fantastic feeling.  I hope somebody can read this and find something positive. We don’t all come through it (mental illness), I’m not gonna lie, but certainly I have.

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