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Alumni Spotlight: Being bipolar and following my dreams

Alumna Jane-May Cross studied the Legal Practice Course (LPC) at our Birmingham campus before going on to have a rich and varied career. However, during her school years, she experienced symptoms that led her to being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Instead of letting this hold her back, while she prioritised her health, she did everything she could to make sure her career dreams were fulfilled. We caught up with Jane-May to learn more about her experiences and get her advice for people balancing their dreams and their health.  

By Cara Fielder. Published 16 May 2024.

Currently, I am in the second year of a four-year term serving as an elected parent governor at our local primary school that my two daughters attend. My role involves being a critical friend of the school, which means that I am there to ask questions and make sure things are being done properly. If they aren’t, why aren’t they? And what steps can be taken to remedy matters.

I was inspired to study law by the General Counsel at National Grid and her team.Initially, I sat with the team for half a day through a Take Your Daughters to Work scheme.When I sat with them, they were polished, sharp and intelligent. I thought to myself, I want to be like them. A year later, I applied for a two-week placement through official channels and thus began my happy career in law.

When I studied, The University of Law (College of Law as it was then) was a preferred provider of the law firm I had my training contract with. The institution had a great reputation as it still does today. I enjoyed my time there and made many friends.

I got my training contract through hard work and determination. And a big sister who put me through my paces in the preparation stages. We went through known questions, previous questions she had been asked, case studies… it was meticulous. I didn’t make lots of training contract applications, just a select few but I made sure they were decent and focused. I was rewarded with two offers and two reserve lists. I cannot thank my sister enough. I actually became a mentor by way of giving thanks so I could be a big sister to others. It is hugely rewarding. I received a CV from a girl whose grades were not perfect, but I could see she had potential. When she received her training contract offer from Bird & Bird law firm, I knew I had done my job in giving back.

As for my health, I started having problems in my third year at school, having what is now known as an identity crisis. I had some counselling in the fourth year but by the lower sixth, things had spiralled out of control. I was having a manic episode and my parents sought help quickly, securing a diagnosis. The Warwickshire mental health team are second to none and I could not have survived without them.

After my diagnosis, I was worried that I couldn’t go to university and pursue my dream of becoming a lawyer. My parents advised me to keep my goal in mind but to see how things panned out. I took a three-year sixth form and for most of my final year, worked in a high street law firm to gain a real insight into law and the legal profession. My determination and character remained the same, and the people around me could see this. So, if anything, I received even more support.

My three-year sixth form came about from conversations between myself, my parents and the school. They were very flexible, and I needed the time to recover while trying to avoid any unexplained gaps in my CV. The recovery time was frustrating of course, but necessary.

I sought advice about whether to declare the condition before applying to work for Practical Law. Always tell the truth! When I had bipolar issues at work, things were much easier because I had declared my condition and HR were very supportive and understanding.

I have always shared my diagnosis with my colleagues. I find that someone always knows someone who is also bipolar, so the world is smaller than you think. Everyone has some issues, whether it be bipolar disorder or something else. Things are only taboo if you make them so.

When it comes to handling stress, I have been a lifelong fan of yoga and meditation. I have been to classes and on a lot of courses with my mum over the years; remembering to breathe and not hold your breath can be key. Growing up playing the violin and piano from a young age and training at the Royal College of Music on a Leverhulme Trust Scholarship and Berkshire County Music Award means that I also find music incredibly calming. Even Rachmaninoff. There is truth and beauty in those frustrated chords, making it a tonic for any stress.

Because we couldn’t find anything suitable, my husband is in the process of creating an app to help manage bipolar symptoms both during and outside of an episode. Maybe if he reads this, he will get it over the line.

My advice for students with their own concerns is to use your condition as drive to achieve your goals.

 

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