BIBLE HILL, N.S.
During one manic episode, Darrell Hunt climbed a fence at a Toronto airport, used mobile stairs to get into a parked plane, and was singing We are the World by the time he was removed for questioning, and then sent to a psychiatric ward.
Things are very different today. Darrell, now 54, is enjoying life with his wife, Patty, writing songs and taking part in music ministry at places like Wynn Park and the Nova Institution for Women.
“What I went through was bad, but it gave me a lot of compassion and understanding, so I wouldn’t change it,” he said.
Darrell grew up in Conception Bay South, N.L., with an alcoholic father and a mother who was bipolar. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 19, and two of his brothers and his sister have been diagnosed with it. He has one brother who doesn’t have the condition.
“For a while, I was in a group home, where I mostly slept, just getting up when it was time to eat,” he recalled. “I felt I had no future, no church, no friends. I lost all hope. I thought about jumping off a bridge, but I didn’t want to go to hell.”
He’s had someone threaten him with a knife to his throat, was homeless in Toronto’s Bloor Street district for six months and spent time in a few hospitals.
“I had 35 to 40 shock treatments, and that took some of my memory away,” he said. “Some has come back now.
“For 30 years the medication I was given didn’t work, but I finally got something that helped. It’s been about 10 years since I was manic.”
He reconnected with his faith and feels well enough now that he’s been off medication for a couple of months, under medical supervision.
He began writing songs about 20 years ago; at first, they were secular but now he focuses on Christian music and has released a CD.
He and Patty love taking music to the women’s prison.
“God gave me the songs, but they’re for other people,” he said. “The women are really encouraged, and they tell us how much they appreciate what we’re doing. They talk to us about what they’re going through.
“They did a crime. They made a mistake and they’re paying for it. We need to have grace for people who are broken.”
Judy Adams, chaplain at Nova Institution, is in charge of chapel volunteers.
“Volunteers are valuable in any prison, because they verify to the women that they have worth,” she said. “They see that people will give of their time to come and offer themselves.
“The women really enjoy the music, and it’s good for mental health. It’s also good for them to hear other people’s stories. They see people and think, ‘This person’s got it all together.’ Then they hear their stories, and it gives them hope.”
Darrell and Patty met at the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Friendship Club and have been married for almost three years.
“It was Darrell who asked me if I wanted to be saved,” Patty said. “The walls I had up are down now; I’m like a whole new person through God.
“When I go to the prison I can relate to what they’re saying, because I went through a lot of struggles. My mother was an alcoholic and my father was away a lot; my first husband and I were alcoholics and I used to cut. I’ve struggled with depression since I was young and was told I had borderline personality disorder.
“It hasn’t been easy but it’s been worth it, and the prison ministry is so important to me because it lets me reach out and help.”
Although he’s never had an addiction problem, Darrell knows what it means to be isolated.
“Things are good now,” he added. “I want to glorify God and what he’s done, and as long as I have God, Patty and music, I’m all right.”