WHAT’S it like to go through life without any mental health issues and then, at the age of 38, suffer a shocking nervous breakdown?

In the third of our special series looking at all aspects of mental health, one woman describes how she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder after suddenly spiralling into psychosis.

Esme Brooke, 52, was a happily married and hard-working employee who, apart from a couple of turbulent years as a moody teen, had had no mental health issues at all.

“I’ve had a job from the age of 16 and bought my first home when I was 18,” she said.

At the age of 38 she’d held down various jobs from being a Boots dispensing assistant to working in the railways; she was employed at a primary school when stress started to affect her.

“It was literally an overnight thing.

"I had a panic attack in bed and was certain that my husband was about to kill me by putting a pillow over my face.

"I crept out of the bedroom and called a friend who told me to come over and stay with her.”

Esme, who now works as a project officer for Leeds City Council, even called the police and told them that she was in danger from her husband.

Psychosis can take many forms but essentially sufferers lose all sense of reality and can see and hear things that aren’t there.

Often it is one of the most terrifying and misunderstood aspects of mental health both for sufferers and their loved ones.

“It came out of nowhere and the only thing that had changed was the work stress.”

The next day her friend took her to the doctor and she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and immediately placed on the anti-psychotic drug, Olanzapine.

“I was completely lucid and calm, just utterly convinced my husband was trying to kill me.

"My mind was working overtime, I had racing thoughts but outwardly I looked normal and nothing like I was having a meltdown.”

Around one in 50 people are said to suffer from this condition formerly known as manic depression and a host of celebrities like Stephen Fry, actress Catherine Zeta-Jones and pop star Demi Lovato have spoken out about their illness.

A mood disorder, sufferers can experience extreme highs called mania - a state of euphoria which can manifest in reckless behaviour and paranoia - and crippling depression.

The medication worked quickly but had severe side effects.

“I was on a high dose which knocked me out.

"It meant my mum had to come to live with me as the medication completely floored me but within a week it worked to stop my racing brain.”

Esme suffered four more psychotic breakdowns and has been hospitalised twice.

One of the episodes was triggered by losing her own mum to suicide.

“I never suffered the depression part of the illness and I never experienced suicidal thoughts but when my own mum killed herself by hanging there was the concern that it might be a genetic condition and I was on suicide watch in hospital.

“I would have the mania which would result in me going on extreme spending sprees.

"I feel embarrassed about how much I would buy and also I would give things away.

“I found hospital a challenging experience but there were some really amazing staff there.”

Through it all she managed to hold down a full-time job, only taking time off when she suffered the psychosis.

“I was off work for six weeks and visited at home for a welfare check by my employer.

"I found the questions to be intrusive and not very sympathetic.

"I was even asked if I was in the right job for someone with my condition.

“I’ve since changed jobs and find my present employer to be more understanding.”

With the help of a very sympathetic GP, Dr Angela Moulson, Esme was also able to identify the specific triggers for her condition.

“I know that if I get less than six to eight hours of sleep at night I am vulnerable to an episode.

"I start to feel sleepy at 9pm and I will take myself off to bed.

“I like to unwind by watching a little television but absolutely no iPhone or computer for three hours before bed.”

The Olanzapine also had an unpleasant side effect of making her gain eight stone in weight.

“The medication was a lifeline and I know I wouldn’t be able to function without it.

"Whenever I have tried to cut down I deteriorate very quickly but I wasn’t happy with the weight gain.”

Her GP supported her decision to have a gastric bypass on the NHS.

“I have got my life back and I am so grateful for the gastric bypass that I cook everything from scratch now and I eat healthily.”

She also switched to a different medication which doesn’t have an effect as much on weight.

She said working from home had been a godsend during lockdown.

“I am a morning person so I have been waking up at 6am and turning the computer on and getting on with my work.

"It has worked really well for me.

“I am very open about my condition and I think the more we talk about mental health it will help to reduce the stigma around it.”

Bradford-born Dr Angela Moulson, who is based at Tong Medical Practice, has 32 years’ experience as a GP and urged anyone suffering from any kind of mental health issues to contact their doctor.

She has a special interest in mental health and holds a number of high profile roles such as Associate Clinical Director Mental Wellbeing Bradford & Craven Clinical Commissioning Group, Clinical Specialist for SMI (Serious Mental Illness) project Bradford District and Craven Clinical Commissioning Group, Clinical Director BD4+ Primary Care Network and Director of Healthy Lifestyle.

She believes that mental and physical health go hand in hand and cannot be treated in isolation.

“Many people with mental health problems will die up to 20 years before their peers and that figure hasn’t changed since 1950," she said.

"We haven’t made any inroads since then but a project started last year aims to address that."

She advocates medication in some cases but will listen to patients’ needs and concerns.

“In Esme’s case, medication has been necessary but you have to listen to the patient and give them the space to tell you how they feel.

"I am not automatically reaching for my prescription pad.

“Bradford is very lucky to have some excellent voluntary services and, where their services would help, I can point people in the right direction.

"There are organisations like the My WellBeing College provided by Bradford District Care Foundation Trust which can help people who are suffering mild to moderate problems.

“If it is an emergency situation then there is the NHS First Response service which helps people in crisis of all ages, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"The number to call is 01274 221181.”

She said there had been a rise in people suffering psychosis and acute mental health problems during the Covid crisis.

“We are open throughout this pandemic.

"It might be over the phone or video call but we are here and we want people to come to us, not to sit and suffer in silence. We are still here to help.”

To make an appointment with your GP to talk about your thoughts and feelings, call the practice where you are registered.

If you don't feel comfortable speaking with your GP about your mental health, you can talk confidentially to Guide-Line, run by Mind in Bradford, on 01274 594594 between 12pm and 12am every day or find hundreds of other local services and useful information on healthyminds.services.

On the NHS website you can take your own mood self-assessment to help you better understand how you've been feeling recently. Visit https://bit.ly/2Ao9IZf

By Anila Baig