Shooting the Breeze with... Geraldine and Clive Bailey

There is hope after depression

Geraldine and Clive Bailey. Photo: Trish Forde.

Geraldine and Clive Bailey. Photo: Trish Forde.

“The first time I could say that it affected my life was when I was 30 years old. We were married, we had two children at that stage. I was working with an insurance company and had done very well for the first 10 years I was there. I had been given the job as an area manager and we moved to Sligo. I was only there a short time and I started feeling unwell.

“Anxiety was a big part of it at that time. I didn’t want to get out of bed. I didn’t want to meet people. My job was an outdoor job so that was disastrous. I went to my local GP and he prescribed anxiety medication. Then I’d be grand again.”

That was the beginning of a long battle for Dublin native Clive Bailey who spent the following two decades struggling to find a proper diagnosis for his condition before eventually finding the medication to suit.

“It’s a miracle our marriage survived.” Those are the sentiments of Geraldine, wife of Clive who was eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Geraldine and Clive talked candidly to the Mayo Advertiser this week about Clive’s struggle with bipolar disorder, its affect on their relationship, family life, his career prospects and how they have overcome this debilitating illness and are now enjoying their retirement outside Ballinrobe.

“The key message is there is hope,” stressed Geraldine.

For a young married couple with two small children at the time, when depression hit Clive Bailey, he did not know what it was as he had never heard of it. Neither had his wife Geraldine who stood by his side for nearly 20 years of doctors, new medications, hospitalisation and heart attacks, before Clive was finally prescribed medication which suited him and has given him back his life.

Lethargy, unexplained highs and lows, difficulty in meeting his work targets during periods of lows, became the norm for Clive during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.

“It eventually got to the stage where I was blaming Sligo, I was blaming the weather, I was blaming everything for this. I had never heard of depression. Neither of us had heard of it or knew anything about the symptoms and my GP, who was a very good GP, hadn’t heard of it either,” explained Clive.

With everything going for them in Sligo - a new house, a company car, a young family, the Baileys made the decision to move back to Dublin.

“We actually ruined his career prospects,” added Geraldine, who could see her husband was very unhappy. What they did not know at the time was that you should not make decisions while you are depressed, but that is exactly what they did.

It was not until years later when they found out about Aware that they learned this valuable piece of information.

Shut off from world

Back in Dublin and following a good spell, Clive’s mood eventually deteriorated again. This time his GP put it down to high blood pressure. However, that did not adequately explain why Clive did not want to get out of bed and shut himself off from the world completely.

“If we had known the depression symptoms, if there had been information out there like there is now, every time we went to the doctor it was put down to blood pressure. We wasted years,” added Geraldine.

When Clive was eventually diagnosed with having depression it was a great relief for the Baileys to finally have a diagnosis. However, depression was not something you talked about in Ireland in the early ‘80s. Every time Clive got a sick cert from his GP there was a different reason put on it. “Anything except depression.” This put further stress on the couple who felt they could not talk about Clive’s illness. From 1977 when he was first diagnosed with having high blood pressure to 1982 when he was first diagnosed with having depression, the Baileys’ life became a constant grind.

A psychologist was little help when he told Clive to set goals. He told him there was no such thing as depression and to focus on organising his life. Next stop was a psychiatrist who would only see Clive but not Geraldine. The medication he prescribed prevented Clive from holding a knife and fork properly. He blamed the death of Clive’s father on his condition.

As well as terrible lows, Clive was by now also having little highs but the couple had not yet recognised these. When he was high Clive would spend a lot of money which put a huge financial strain on the family. Geraldine was at her wits’ end and told the doctor: “I’m sick of this. Every time he spends money it puts us into terrible debt, he goes on a downer and takes to the bed and I’m left picking up the pieces.” That was when they first heard about manic depression (now known as bipolar disorder ). The doctor himself had only just learned about it.

Then their GP gave Clive a book about coping with depression and elation which was written by Dr Pat McKeown, the founder of Aware.

“At the time I was out of work following a bout of blood pressure. I was sitting in the garden with this book and I said God this guy is describing me to a T. I said I’ve got to get this fellow as my doctor. I got into the car and drove down to St Patrick’s Hospital. I was told there was a waiting list and you have to go to your GP, but I said I’m sitting here and not leaving until I get an appointment.”

Turning point

Clive got his appointment and that was the turning point. However they still had a long road to travel. Finding the right medication was not going to be easy but attending Aware meetings helped the couple in the intervening years.

Aware was set up by Dr McKeown because he observed that when people who had been hospitalised with depression or bipolar were discharged they had nowhere to go. At first the meetings were just held in St Patrick’s Hospital and they were so successful that patients would come back to attend the weekly meetings. Eventually groups sprang up all over the country.

Set up in 1985, Aware’s mission is “to create a society where people with depression and their families are understood and supported, are free from stigma and have access to a broad range of appropriate therapies to enable them to reach their full potential”.

Having met Dr McKeown the Baileys were relieved that at last there was somebody who understood the illness. He always treated the two of them; firstly Clive on his own, then Geraldine, and then the two together.

“I would have my own ideas about what was going on but if I wasn’t well I might be completely off the wall,” explained Clive. Geraldine would have to remind him of how things really were the week before or the day before. It was around 1987 now. The Baileys remember the year vividly because Clive had a triple by-pass that year. They had endured 10 terrible years before that “floundering around” before they got the diagnosis of bipolar disorder. At this stage the couple had four children. But it still took a few more years to get Clive stabilised. He was hospitalised a few times and a lot of experimentation went on over the next few years before the right medication was found.

Did you ever try vitamins?

At one stage Clive was in hospital after a heart attack. The staff took all his medication away and even asked Geraldine if they had ever tried vitamins for his illness.

Geraldine went to visit her husband in intensive care. “They took away his medication and he shot up through the roof. I could see him in the bed. They wouldn’t have known him so they just thought he was really outgoing. I went in to see him and he was telling me they do X rays and he didn’t think it was really safe, so he went outside and nobody noticed. He was all plugged up to machines. He said when they weren’t looking he unhooked himself and as soon as they brought the X ray machine down to the bed he hopped outside the door. This was a guy in intensive care following a heart attack and he’s unhooking himself and running out the door. Then he was taken out of intensive care and put in the ward, and he phoned me and said ‘I’m downstairs at the public phone, I thought I’d see how many times I could run up and down the stairs before I got a pain’.”

It was time for the Baileys to tell people about his illness. “We made that conscious decision one day. We were telling lies and I remember saying to Clive if people can’t take it they are not friends, and we found everybody very good.”

Geraldine became Clive’s spotter and the agreement was that when he started getting high she would take the car keys and credit cards. At times she would have to “manoeuvre” him into hospital when he refused to go. It finally got to the stage where Clive was allowed to increase his own medication if he was getting high. The Baileys are now enjoying their retirement outside Ballinrobe but it has been a long road. Along the way Geraldine actually suffered from a bout of depression herself and had to be hospitalised. “She had been through so much she was bound to have a breakdown,” said Clive. Geraldine is a facilitator for Aware in Ballinrobe and is a former chairperson of the organisation.

Factfile

Four hundred thousand people suffer from depression in Ireland.

More than 500 people take their own life each year.

Eighty per cent of people who seek support can lead a normal life.

Women are three to four times more likely than men to have depression.

In 1966 23 per cent of the health budget was spent on mental health. It was 5.4 per cent in 2010.

In 1993 suicide was decriminalised.

Depression is hereditary.

Symptoms of depression

If you experience five or more of these symptoms, lasting for a period of two weeks or more, you should speak to a GP or mental health professional.

• Feeling sad, anxious, or bored.

• Low energy, feeling tired, or fatigued.

• Under- or over-sleeping, or waking frequently during the night.

• Poor concentration, thinking slowed down.

• Loss of interest in hobbies, family, or social life.

• Low self-esteem and feelings of guilt.

• Aches and pains with no physical basis, eg, chest/head/tummy pain associated with anxiety or stress.

• Loss of interest in living, thinking about death, suicidal thoughts.

Aware can help people suffering from depression through weekly support groups, 24-hour helpline counselling service (1890 303 302 ), online supports (email support service, online support service, discussion board www.aware.ie ), Beat the Blues (A campaign for transition year students to increase awareness and understanding of depression ).

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