A bestselling author has opened up about his diagnosis of bipolar disorder and thanked a Lancashire nurse for saving his life, in his debut book.
Today, Ben Woodward is an international public speaker whose book, ‘The Empowerment Paradox: Seven Vital Virtues to Turn Struggle Into Strength’ topped three categories on Amazon.com just a week after its release in July.
Yet just a few years before, as he approached the busy Hartwood Hall roundabout outside Chorley Hospital feeling at his lowest, he received a phone call that stopped him from taking his own life.
The voice on the other end of the line was Caron Kelly, a Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust Community Psychiatric Nurse based in Chorley.
"At that time for me, it wasn't if I would take my own life, it was when.” Ben said. “I was in that place. On that particular day I remember Caron calling and telling me that she wasn't ready to let me go yet. Her interest in making sure I was well brought me from the brink of death. Of that I'm sure."
Caron who is now a Team Manager for the Community Mental Health Team in Chorley and South Ribble, had been taking care of Ben after he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder (formerly known as manic depression), a mental health condition which means that people’s mood can swing from one extreme to another.
She said: “Ben was in quite a low phase when he came to me. I monitored him and made sure he was seen by a consultant to decide the best medication for him to be on to stabilise him.”
As is the case with many of those with bipolar disorder, Ben thrived on the high mood swings of the condition but then he would crash and hit a low, leaving him feeling suicidal.
"Sometimes you don't realise you're on a certain path.” Ben said. “I went from fantasizing about dying, to researching the most effective methods and from there to setting a date to do it.”
Caron didn't feel the medication that Ben had been prescribed prior to him coming into the team’s care would benefit him and help raise his mood.
Ben said: “When I sat down with Caron originally, I was on a mood stabiliser. When my feelings of suicide were getting worse and worse, the medication was changed for the better. I remember her telling me how wanting to take your own life is not normal thinking. It was evidence of psychosis."
With the change of medication and after working through NHS led courses to provide him with knowledge about managing and helping his illness, Ben showed signs of stability.
“When a patient appears to be doing better mentally, the team takes a step back to allow them to manage their condition.” Caron said.
However, as Ben’s suicidal feelings began to reduce, he took the decision to come off his medication, which he now admits was the wrong thing to do.
He said: "The new medication helped and I stupidly came off it. I took myself off it because I didn't feel suicidal. As a result, I slowly sank back to the place where I was before."
After Ben visited the Oakfield unit at Chorley Hospital, Caron felt the ache of experience that comes from working as a mental health nurse for over 25 years.
She said: "There was something not right about him. He left that day and I had this feeling in the pit of my stomach. I rang him and asked if he'd left, and he said yes, he was at the roundabout and I asked him to come back."
Ben however insisted that he was okay.
"He put on this bravado, telling me he was absolutely fine. I said ‘no Ben, I want you to come back’," Caron said.
Reluctantly Ben returned to the unit. By the time he walked in the door, Caron had spoken to a consultant on the unit about increasing the dose of his medication to something that might help.
She admitted: "If I hadn't have done that, I do think we'd have lost Ben that day."
Ben, who has seven children and another on the way, is an in-demand public speaker on transformation and leadership, speaking at events across the world.
He is now a passionate advocate of positive mental health, talking about living with bipolar at his public speaking events. The first time Ben spoke about it in front of hundreds of people, it wasn't easy.
He said: "I was a keynote speaker at an event in England and it wasn't my usual audience. I felt a desire to speak about bipolar and my struggles with it. I remember there being a standing ovation and people with tears streaming down their face afterwards. From that I now see bipolar as my superpower. While it brings with it some challenges, it also offers many benefits. My ability to empathise with others, to be tolerant and understanding and to be patient with progress is something I could not have developed without this. Some wisdom can only come from suffering. It’s a necessary and worthy price to pay."
Ben moved from Chorley to Orange County, California in 2018 and has continued to work hard towards his recovery. He still has periods where he struggles with bipolar and with his now ever-busier schedule, he is doing his best to stay in control of his medication and his mood. What Ben has always retained through what life has provided him was a special bond with Caron. While writing the acknowledgements of his book, Ben felt he had to thank Caron as the person who saved his life.
"I found that so many of the good feelings I have from being in recovery are reminiscent of my time with Caron. Bipolar was such a painful thing to confront and I'm not sure how often people like Caron get acknowledged for saving lives. I hope they do," he said.
Ben also feels strongly about the cliché of how someone who struggles with their mental health is perceived.
"People who struggle with their mental health are often portrayed as social misfits but it's often far from the case. No matter who you are and what you believe others may think, if you're struggling, please seek help. And seek it early! You might just find someone like Caron."
If you are struggling with your mental health in Lancashire or South Cumbria, please get in touch with Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust’s Mental Health Crisis Line, which is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week on 0800 953 0110.
Watch Ben surprise Caron with a call to say thank you: