GUEST BLOG: Jonny’s Story

GUEST BLOG: Jonny’s Story

At Oakleaf, we are always encouraging people to share their stories and experiences in the hope it will encourage others to do the same. In light of the World Mental Health Day 2022 theme ‘Make Mental Health and Wellbeing for All a Global Priority’, we feel it is so important to normalise those conversations surrounding mental health to help reduce stigma within our communities. 

We are therefore delighted to introduce a guest blog from the lovely Jonny. 

Jonny Hennessey-Brown, Co-Director of Hennessey Brown Music and Buzz Music Group, has supported Oakleaf for many years, helping to raise awareness and funds for our vital mental health and wellbeing support for hundreds of individuals across Surrey. Like many of us, Jonny has dealt with mental ill-health in the past and has very kindly and courageously decided to share his story with you all:

“So, it’s #WorldMentalHealthDay2022 and I thought it would be appropriate to talk about experience and recovery a tiny bit.

When I first started to blog and vlog about being bipolar one, it felt like a terrible risk. Now it feels as if people will be thinking “Oh God, not him again.” But I guess I’ve learnt that it’s a waste of energy guessing what other people might be thinking. The more important thing is that if what I write helps somebody else deal with the prejudices that they may be facing or even admit to themselves that they need support and help, then it’s worth continuing to do it.

When I was 17 years old; in the tennis team at school, heading for Oxbridge, and in The National Youth Orchestra, I went on a family holiday near Dartington. I started feeling unable to sleep and analysing the Rite of Spring score throughout the night. I lost all my inhibitions and kept trying to chat up the barmaid who was about twice my age. I was obsessed with one of my fellow members in the orchestra. Gradually I lost all touch with reality and by the end of the summer was convinced that my dad was a Chancellor of the Exchequer and had control over the next budget! There are often sadly/ funny sections to stories of manic depression, psychotic episodes, bipolar one or whatever it is fashionable to call it. But it didn’t end up funny because this was the beginning of one of my five trips to psychiatric hospital, which I have had to bounce back from, and each time was harder than the previous one.

Back to being 17 and hospitalised for the first time… I was terrified and had no idea where I was. I thought that the nurses were terrorists. I remember being in room 17 and thinking that the person in room 19 was going to be the girl that I like from the National youth orchestra and that we would be married in a Royal Wedding! None of these things happened, funnily enough.

I slept nearly all day, every day during my A-level years, managed to scrape an A, B and D, and just about got into Royal College Of Music. There was absolutely no passion or desire in the way I played the cello, or did anything, as I was monged out on lithium and haloperidol. My poor parents had nobody to talk to about it. Mental health just wasn’t discussed. Strangely though, the hospital was full. It wasn’t long after people used to say “the big C” instead of cancer so they really was no chance of an open forum to discuss various physical health issues let alone mental health. In fact, I often think that I was happier in Mexico than England in some ways because people said what they thought more and vulnerability was seen as a strength not a weakness.

Anyway, it’s 30 years later and around 11 years ago I had an episode that was far worse than the one when I was 17. I nearly finished my career in all the fields that I am currently involved in. The recovery time was around 18 months and I just slept, eating fast food and staying above my Gran’s room in Addlestone. I was on jobseekers and smoked about 30 cigarettes a day. The only thing I achieved during that time was to just about continue being an effective father and not drink alcohol, one day at a time.

A dear man gave me a job in the YMCA kitchen volunteering, which started to give me focus and a routine. Next came about 12 days working on the Mission Impossible film miming. Managing to get there on time was a massive turning point and I started to freelance again. I haven’t had a bipolar episode in the last 11 years and I think some of the reasons for this have been the following:

  • I have had absolutely no alcohol or mind-altering substances whatsoever. Most medications for my disease say not to be mixed with alcohol. I have taken the medication that my doctor has prescribed religiously every day. When I have felt that the dose is a bit low and I am getting too active (and probably very annoying) and a bit high or depressed, I do something about it and use my experience to essentially tell the doctor what I think that they should be. It’s not an exact science and being firm about it whilst ready to listen to the doctor’s views, mean that I’ve generally been getting it right.
  • I surround myself with people that I trust and who trust me and who are kind and to whom I am kind. I keep away from people who are toxic.
  • I have had a service position for a decade in my twelve-step fellowship and use the 12 steps, loosely, as my moral code.
  • I work hard but keep aware of when I am going into overdrive and force myself to stop, turn the phone off and become unavailable.
  • I make absolutely sure that I keep around people that make me laugh and I don’t take myself too seriously, and I certainly don’t talk about this type of stuff on a regular basis at work. There is a lovely old saying from the rooms that I go to every week: “ To improve your self-esteem do esteemable things.” So, within the limits of what someone who has to take a very low dose of sedatives every evening can manage, I turn up for life, I get to work on time, I see my children as much as I possibly can and I try to be patient, kind and tolerant of any point of view.


This last part – being tolerant of different viewpoints, has taken a long time coming and I’m still very stubborn sometimes. However, I like to think that my interaction with other human beings is round about as good as people who have no recognisable mental health condition or diagnosis. In fact because of the terrifying alternatives, I aim for a pretty high standard from myself. Of course it slips, and when it does I feel absolutely dreadful straight away and have to apologise. 

Do I have any particular message on #WorldMentalHealthDay2022 ? I guess I have one, and I’ve said it before. Talk about it because it literally saves lives. I know several people who never could quite open up and they are dead.”

We can’t thank Jonny enough for sharing his story. If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health or any of the topics mentioned above, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Help is always available. For more information, visit: 

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