As a care assistant, Loughgall woman Jackie Hughes spent her entire working life looking after elderly and vulnerable people.
Even at home, the mum-of-five helped care for her mother who is in poor health.
But in the past three years, she has found herself on the receiving end of the healthcare system, following a shock diagnosis of bipolar disorder.
Jackie (50) believes pressures of work may have been one of the triggers for her first episode but she will never know.
What she does know is that on October 30, 2012 she had a breakdown, hearing voices from a ‘higher spirit’. The week previous to that, Jackie had felt compelled to write down all what she saw as all her sins.
Alarm bells sounded for her family when the formerly busy wife and mum lost interest in the home and stopped doing essential cooking and cleaning.
Jackie was referred to Bluestone Psychiatric Hospital in Craigavon where she was treated for three weeks and diagnosed with manic bipolar disorder.
“I was in denial,” she said. “For the first couple of days I refused medication but then I started taking it. I was told to write down everything that was on my mind.”
Her recovery was slow and painful. She spent a year in bed, suffering periodically with “the shakes”, and felt like she was in a black hole, even experiencing suicidal thoughts on a few occasions.
Since then, Jackie has been in and out of the Bluestone Unit but with the aid of medication her condition has remained relatively stable.
However, life as she knew it has totally changed. She finds it hard to focus and has not been able to return to work - although she is hopeful she may be able to do voluntary work in the future.
Her husband Paul, a part-time mechanic who works from home, and her children aged between 15 and 24, have had to shoulder the extra responsibility of the everyday household chores she once took in her stride.
But with time has come acceptance. “I have an illness but life goes on,” she said. I have the assistance of my medical team behind me. I would like to be out working again, even some voluntary work for the southern health trust.
“I would like to give something back to them.”
Jackie has nothing but praise for the medical support she has received since her diagnosis. She attends the Beacon Centre in Dungannon twice a week for art therapy classes, where she has worked with silk and other mediums, and even restored furniture.
She has also attended WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plan) courses which have helped her manage her illness and spot the early warning signs of any deterioration in her condition.
“I could be very high or very low but the medication keeps me right,” she added.
A community psychiatric nurse is also a lifeline, with Jackie and any member of the family able to phone her at any time.
Jackie also keeps herself well by indulging in her new-found hobby of spiritualism. She attends a weekly psychic awareness class in Banbridge and, having always been a church-goer, now attends a spiritual church there too.
She also follows Paranormal Study and Investigation Ireland, a team which investigates and researches paranormal phenomena.
And since becoming unwell, she says a daily prayer given to her by a nun.
Another ‘keep well tool’ is a Facebook site she has set up herself, called ‘Our Angel Friends’, which is a collection of positive and inspirational thoughts and messages.
She explained, “It’s all about keeping a positive mindset. I cannot tolerate any negativity. Everything on the site is positive.”
Jackie admits her diagnosis has been tough on her family and describes husband Paul as her “rock”, and likewise her sister-in-law Sheila.
She does not feel any bitterness or hatred about the turn her life has taken. “I had a perfectly normal life, I lived for my family and worked for my family.
“If there were any extra shifts going in work, I would have taken them. Now I take the rough with the smooth,” she said.
Jackie is keen to reassure anyone else who has also received such a life-changing diagnosis that there is professional help out there and light at the end of what can often seem a very long tunnel.