This week is Mental Health Week in Victoria and as someone who lives with a mental illness I thought I’d tell you a bit about my journey with Bipolar Disorder. I deliberately said I live with the illness rather than I suffer from the illness. In the past I’ve seen myself as a sufferer. I felt my condition was very much who I was. Whenever I met someone knew and they asked me what I do I’d apologise and say, ‘ I don’t work anymore, I’m bipolar.’ I felt guilty that I no longer worked. I felt like I’d let my family down, let society down and that I was less than a man.
I was diagnosed as Bi Polar in 1992. But managed to keep working full-time until I had my first hospital admission . I remember those first few nights in the psych ward. Remember feeling disconnected, feeling lost, but strangely, feeling for the first time in a while,safe. My stay in hospital came after a period of depression that had knocked me on my bum. I was suicidal and my doctor at the time convinced me that an admission might help me break out of the darkness. He was right. In a few weeks the clouds had lifted. The desire to hurt myself had faded and I came out ready to start again.
In the years that followed I stopped working. I had a couple of trips back to Sunshine hospital. I had a couple of courses of ECT. And I lent heavily on my wife , my children and my friends. Over the years I’ve met a lot of people who have a mental illness. I’ve seen many people making the journey through without the blessing of family and friends. Seen them struggle against the odds. Seen them keep going at times when there was no little voice to come home too. Those people are my heroes. Their struggles against the odds, against the darkness have shown me what real courage is.
I’ve met mental health workers who build bridges for people. Met a psychologist who has helped me turn my own ship around and have in recent times found a way to be. My day always starts with a coffee and my pills. I don’t resent that. I know that for me the medication is just something I have to take. But over the last twelve months my daily dose has got smaller.
I took on a junk mail round last year and as a result walk for about ten hours a week. The moneys not great but the daily act of trudging around the neighborhood has been the best thing for my mental health in years. I’m not claiming that walking is the miracle cure for mental illness. I know enough about the condition to that it just doesn’t disappear. Mental illness will sometimes hide itself in the shadows and reappear when you least expect it. It’ll torment you, bully, you and keep you captive. But at the moment I feel for the first time in years I’m taking on the bully.
I’ve replaced days where I slept a lot with lots of activity. I go to bed earlier, get up earlier and I set myself little projects, one of which is writing in this blog. I try and be as good to myself as I am to others. Try and focus on what I can do rather than what I can’t.
As the old song goes, ‘ I Get By with A little Help From My Friends.’ And hope when I can I’ll be there to help others.