No longer on the fringes

Mental health survivor Richard Jameson writes
about his long-term struggle for survival and acceptance.

A s president of Oxford University
Experimental Theatre Club, I was invited up to Edinburgh to play a
madman on the fringe. Then fiction became reality. It was the start
of 15 years in and out of hospital. I was certified nine times and
sampled some of the worst hospital conditions imaginable.

My mother came to the rescue, getting me
transferred to the magnificent Atkinson Morley hospital in
Wimbledon, run by Dr Desmond Kelly. Whatever he did to me, I have
never looked back and have had no trouble for the past 26 years. I
am still on medication and will be for the rest of my life, but I
don’t think coming off drugs is any great virtue. I owe my success
to a mixture of pills and perseverance – control from the drugs and
my own determination.

There were grim times when I was really ill
but also a great deal of hilarity. I was suffering (if that is the
right word) from hypomania – extreme euphoria leading to
hallucinations. When I emerged into the community, I put it all
down on paper and the play Is it a Crime to be Happy has
been successfully staged by one of London’s top fringe theatres,
the King’s Head, Islington. Also I have been lucky enough to have
articles published in a number of national newspapers and

I have managed to earn my living like
everybody else though I must say when I started out in 1975 it was
not easy to land a job being labelled a schizophrenic. But I
believe attitudes are changing and employers nowadays are far more
likely to give you a chance. I even reached the dizzy heights of
company director for a firm that went bust.

Ever since playing Macbeth at Winchester
College, I have wanted to be an actor and I did have a year in the
profession before collapsing during a tour of Sweden. The
conditions were appalling – no wonder I pegged out and no wonder so
many actors have breakdowns. But I have taken part in many
successful amateur productions in the past 25 years around west
London. My next gig is with the mental health charity Mind in
Mental Health Week. I also run a writers’ group, which is very

You may have gathered that I am now getting on
a bit, but I am not letting the grass grow under my feet. I keep a
wary eye out for any signs of ill health, but my psychiatrist says
I’m doing fine. You learn a lot from setbacks – how to recover,
survive and even flourish as you have never flourished before.

In fact the lesson I have learned from all
this is that there is life after lunacy. There seems no way out
when you are ill, but I have discovered you can emerge and triumph.
Nothing is lost except the time you were ill.

I have watched the world grow more sympathetic
towards most types of mental illness. When I first fell ill the
madman was either hated or ignored. I can only call the progress
since then heartwarming. My opinion of doctors has shot up. I have
learned too a lot about myself, my brain and my body. Everything is
under control in a way that it certainly wasn’t in 1960. I can only
express my relief and gratitude that in this case the authorities
have got it right.

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