I’ve known there was something different about me for many, many years - even when I was 13 or 14 years old. As my younger self, I never thought I’d find someone to accept me as I am, warts and all. But it did happen. And now I have a wonderful wife and two amazing children. I also have treatment-resistant bipolar disorder.
I was diagnosed officially about 10 to 12 years ago. I knew something was wrong, but wasn’t sure what it was. At the time, I had no idea about bipolar. It was just a word, so I did a lot of my own research.
Growing up, I’d never had many friends. I would come home from school, go to my dark room and listen to music. I was fortunate that I was good at sport which kept me really busy and also gave me a social life. But when I got older and couldn’t play sport any more, I really struggled. I found it hard to stay in contact with the people I’d associated with. And then I isolated myself.
I remember telling my wife very early on that I was ill. I’d had bad experiences before when I’d told people. It was just like a movie scene where the camera moves away and you’re left sitting there. You could just see, that was it. It was all over right there and then. So rather than just let it go, I thought I’ll tell her. She was fantastic, she’s still fantastic. I wouldn’t be here without her.
I’m medically retired due to my illness, but I really hope to work again one day. In my previous work life, I found the understanding wasn’t there regarding mental health. I wasn’t treated very well at times. I found I was the one having to educate people, having to find the information and explain reasonable adjustment to my employers and the rights I had with my disability.
There’s very little education about mental illness at the managerial level. It’s such a massive undertaking, but things need to change. It would make a huge difference for people with a mental illness to just be able to work and be supported at work, without the added responsibility of having to educate their employers.
When I’m experiencing mania, one of the biggest indicators is that I’ll speak loudly, not letting anyone get a word in, talking over everyone. Of course, people don’t like that... And then you crash. And your bipolar depression comes in. And it’s worse than anything you can imagine.
Suicide is a very real problem in our society. In fact, suicide awareness is one of my biggest passions. It’s something we shy away from acknowledging, even though the statistics are frightening. We don’t talk about it unless we’ve had somebody close to us take their lives. We’re not doing enough about it. It’s as simple as that.
When you’re living with a mental illness, having a respectful and anonymous place like the SANE forums to go to makes a real difference. You don’t have to participate. You can just go and have a look. Or you can share your small wins like being able to get to the shops today – for someone with a mental illness that can be huge, and you’ll get encouragement for that. From time to time, you’ll see something really resonates with you and that can really help.