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The SANE Blog

Balancing complex mental health issues and employment

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Anita is a vet and a published author who loves reading, writing, baking and throwing a good party. She’s also a SANE Peer Ambassador with lived experience of postnatal psychosis and bipolar 1 disorder.  

Over 50 years I have lived in Germany, Saudi Arabia, Germany again, Brisbane, Adelaide, the UK and then Brisbane again.  I now share a home and garden in Brisbane with Michael, my husband of 23 years, and my two teenage children. Unfortunately, I now have to avoid travel involving crossing major time zones because of the risk this could trigger a bipolar episode. 

Anita experienced some symptoms of burnout while working as a vet and had no history of mental illness through her childhood, adolescence or early adulthood.  

I was nearly 33 when I had my first baby. I went into a 33-hour labour on 2 hours sleep and then didn’t sleep for the following 4 nights in hospital. By the time I was due to be discharged home I was curled up in a ball on the floor crying and had started to stutter.  

Thankfully I was referred to a mother baby unit at a private psychiatric hospital. If they had sent me home neither I nor my baby may be here today.  

Anita’s psychosis recurred three and a half years after her first episode, six weeks after the birth of her second baby.  When she continued to have manic and psychotic episodes and occasional depressive episodes well outside of the perinatal period, Anita’s psychiatrist confirmed her diagnosis of bipolar 1 disorder. 

I recognise that it is not possible for everyone to speak out about their experiences to reduce stigma, but that my circumstances of good care even with a severe mental illness meant I had long stretches of time when I was well enough to be open about my lived experience, and to show that with the right care it is possible to live a good life with severe mental illness. 

Anita’s lifestyle, budget and wellbeing have been impacted by her complex mental health needs and she understands everyone’s experience and pattern of bipolar 1 disorder is different.  

So far my pattern is when I am well, I am very well and function happily. During periods of wellness (aside from taking a lot of medication and having regular consultations with my psychiatrist and psychologist) my lifestyle and wellbeing are barely impacted by my illness.  

My symptoms have no respect for special occasions, so I have spent many anniversaries and other days of celebration in hospital and too unwell to mark them. 

One of my worst nightmares is experiencing a psychotic episode far away from the access to hospital care I need to recover. 

I am fortunate we can afford private health insurance because appropriate treatment for me usually involves hospitalisation. Without private health insurance I would not be able to afford this treatment as an out-of-pocket expense. 

I returned to work after I recovered from the postnatal psychosis and continued to work as a vet part time for another 12 years. My employers were generally understanding when I became unwell.  I would always lose all of my work hours when I was hospitalised but managed to regain employment as a vet once I’d recovered.  

My husband has been unwaveringly supportive of me. I have also formed friendships with people I have met in hospital, which have been invaluable and counter feelings of loneliness and isolation. 

Anita promotes visibility of her lived experience of postnatal psychosis and bipolar 1 disorder. 

I feel we have a long way to go when it comes to destigmatising mental illness that features psychosis. Even with access to the best mental health care, it has taken time to gain insight into my symptoms, which has made managing them much easier.  

When I am unwell my symptoms collapse my world and leave me incapable of functioning. What I have now learnt and accepted is that I must work towards living my life between episodes.  

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