Dad and author with bipolar disorder thanks Chorley nurse who helped to save his life

He was on the brink of suicide due to a painful battle with bipolar disorder when he received a phone call that saved his life.

Tuesday, 8th September 2020, 7:00 am

Dad-of-seven Ben Woodward is now a world away from planning to end his life and spends his days travelling the world as a best-selling author and international public speaker. And he says that a lot of his recovery is down to the voice at the other end of the phone on that unforgettable day - a Chorley nurse who refused to give up on him.

With his debut book, The Empowerment Paradox: Seven Vital Virtues to Turn Struggle Into Strength, topping three categories on just a week after its release in July, Ben is thanking Chorley community psychiatric nurse Caron Kelly, and the mental health team at Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust, for helping him to rediscover the value of his life.

Describing the pain he felt when he approached the busy Hartwood Hall roundabout outside Chorley Hospital just a few years before, he said: "At that time for me, it wasn't if I would take my own life, it was when.

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Dad-of-seven Ben Woodward with his family, who now live in California.

“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 helping to take care of Ben after he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Formerly known as manic depression, this mental health condition can cause people’s mood to swing from one extreme to another.

He thrived on the high mood swings of the illness - but when he would crash and hit a low, he was left feeling suicidal.

"Sometimes you don't realise you're on a certain path,” Ben said.

Caron Kelly, a Chorley community psychiatric nurse, helped to save Ben's life when he was on the brink of suicide.

“I went from fantasizing about dying, to researching the most effective methods and from there to setting a date to do it.”

He had been prescribed a mood stabiliser before coming into the team’s care - but Caron was concerned that it would not help to raise his mood.

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.”

Ben Woodward describes his battle with bipolar disorder in his new book.

And it paid off, with the new pills having a life-altering effect.

“When my feelings of suicide were getting worse and worse, the medication was changed for the better," said Ben.

"I remember Caron telling me how wanting to take your own life is not normal thinking. It was evidence of psychosis."

The caring nurse also helped him to access NHS-led courses to teach him how to better manage his illness. And with Ben becoming more stable and his suicidal feelings beginning to ease, the team stepped back to allow him to manage his condition on his own.

But Ben says he then decided to come off his medication - which he now admits was the wrong thing to do - and ended up at the Oakfield unit at Chorley Hospital.

"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," he added.

And when she saw him again, Caron felt the ache of experience that comes from working as a mental health nurse for more than 25 years.

"There was something not right about him. He was very subdued and closed off. It was just the way he was not communicating. Someone can say a lot by not communicating.

"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.

"He put on this bravado, telling me he was absolutely fine. I said ‘no Ben, I want you to come back’.

Reluctantly, Ben returned to the unit and by the time he walked in the door, Caron had already spoken to a consultant about increasing the dose of his medication to give him more support.

For the mental health nurse, it was a crucial moment.

As she said: "If I hadn't have done that, I do think we'd have lost Ben that day."

With the team's support, Ben was determined to recover, continuing to run his own businesses and travel the world. He now has a new life in California and is not only awaiting the arrival of his eighth child, he also helps to inspire hundreds of people at a time as a public speaker on transformation, leadership, and life with bipolar.

He remembers the first time that he opened up about the condition in front of a huge crowd at an event in England.

"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," he said.

"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."

Even to this day, Ben is working towards his recovery and says he still has periods when he struggles with bipolar. And now, having a jam-packed schedule, he must work harder than ever to stay on top of his moods and medication.

But what has always remained strong is his special bond with Caron, who he credited for saving his life while writing the acknowledgements of his book.

"I found that so many of the good feelings I have from being in recovery are reminiscent of my time with Caron," he said.

"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."

Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust brought them back together as an extra surprise for the nurse when it arranged a video call between them, allowing her to see just how far Ben has come.

Now the author is determined to show the world that people with mental illness are just as valuable as anyone else and do not deserve to be shamed for their battles.

"People who struggle with their mental health are often portrayed as social misfits but it's often far from the case," he said.

"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, please contact 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.

Ben Woodward’s book The Empowerment Paradox: Seven Vital Virtues to Turn Struggle Into Strength is now available via Amazon.