Think with your feet - Keith's story


For World Bipolar Day, Keith shares his long history with bipolar disorder, from his first episode to his most recent. He sheds light on the experience of hypermania and stigma from past relationships. Even though he has been in and out of hospital for 33 years, Keith has accomplished a number of incredible things: setting up mental health sports groups, working with students and carrying out mental health research.

I’m a male in my mid fifties. I was born in Newcastle upon Tyne but have lived in Harrogate (North Yorkshire) for many years until very recently, when I relocated to Boroughbridge in September 2021. I have 33 years of lived experience with bipolar disorder. I’ve had 13 manic episodes and two depressive, which has meant I’ve gone into hospital for varying amounts of time.  

My first episode and experience with symptoms occurred in 1990. At the time, there was a lot going on in my life: I was playing cricket for Yorkshire Colts, playing football for Bradford City FC, involved in Royal Navy pilot training, buying a house with my childhood sweetheart and trialling to become a footballer for various football clubs.

I also ran my own civil structural engineering business, contracting for numerous consulting engineers on a wide variety of projects throughout the UK & worldwide. I suffered a breakdown and had to go into hospital because I was very high in mood. I thought I was going to become a professional footballer, used to go out and bother the York football team on the training grounds, telling the manager that their team was rubbish. This manic episode lasted three months. 

  • I feel invincible when I experience hypermania.

It took the doctor four weeks to diagnose my hypermania and I was put on a mood-stabiliser. I lost my ex-fiancée, she didn’t want to know me. My friends disappeared off the face of the earth. My Dad dropped me for a week, but then came back. I remember we had a heartfelt conversation playing table tennis when I was in hospital. He told me that he didn’t understand my condition because he hadn’t seen anyone in his family go through it before, but that he still wanted to stand by me. I’ve been married and divorced twice because my previous partners couldn’t make sense of my symptoms. I’m currently with a partner who I’m engaged to. She really understands and supports me tremendously. 

I feel invincible when I experience hypermania. I turn myself into an SAS soldier. A lot of people I know were in military training, my great uncles fought in Dunkirk and my grandfather was in India fighting the Japanese. When I experienced the depressive symptoms of bipolar disorder in 1996, I didn’t want to eat, get out of bed or shave. I wouldn’t speak with anybody and thought I was the Angel of the North. I felt immortal.

I also had six sessions of Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) done which worked. It allowed me to stop feeling so depressed. After being on my mood-stabiliser for 15 years, I became poisoned by the medication and my body would no longer accept it. I had to be put on another medication. 

  • I want to remain well and out of hospital; to make life a little easier for people like me.

From 2009, I’ve been working at University of York, completing lived experience sessions with medical students. I’ve also been involved as the chairman of the SUPA group in the social work department, working with social work students. Over the years, I’ve also co-written a book, called “The Routledge Handbook of Social Work Practice Research”, and set up a mental health football group in Harrogate for people aged between 18-25. I found this really rewarding and it ran for five years, raising £5000 from Sport England to run the sessions. Middlesbrough FC Foundation approached me to set up a similar activity for people suffering from mental health in that area. They called it “Think with your feet” and it still helps people in that area today. I've also started a Facebook bipolar support page with my good friend, helping other sufferers to speak out and post comments about their experiences.

I want to remain well and out of hospitalisation. It takes a lot out of me, my family and fiancée. When I had my latest episode in 2022, my fiancée said she felt really lonely when I had to be hospitalised; that it felt like ‘a death in the family’. This has motivated me to get better. With all the work I do now, I’m trying to end discrimination of mental health within the general public. I want to make life a little easier for people like me.