PART SIX – MY TEMPORARY RECOVERY AND INEVITABLE RELAPSE
A year and a few months moved on, and eventually I progressively got back into line and length of normal life again. I felt well, invigorated, and reconnected with the world around me, but it took one hell of a long time. Life seemed to have returned to where it once was and the old Andrew was back at long last. It had been an epic struggle so a feeling of wellness was something I would never again take for granted. My family and I did a couple trips to Queensland for a holiday, we did stuff together again on the weekends, and my kids got to know the dad they used to know before the black clouds arrived. I also did a separate trip with my mother to catch-up with my estranged brother who I had not seen in nearly 10 years as I felt the need to reconnect with my past, and deal with some demons that had been a part of my life for so long.
Under the advice of my Psychiatrist, I reduced my intake of mirtazapine, and began walking, playing squash again, and eating properly. I lost quite a bit of weight and began to feel physically better than I had felt in many years. All these signs pointed to someone who had conquered depression and had it all under control, but that was not to be the case as it was soon to return, but in a far worse form than it had ever been before.
In early 2004, I felt the dark clouds of depression begin to emerge once again, but this time it felt different. Prior to the clouds, I had gone through a period of unrealistic expectation upon myself, with a mind riddled with grandiose and racing thoughts. On some occasions I was barely able to complete a sentence without changing the topic midstream, and often forgetting what I had initially began talking about. People sometimes commented on the rapid manner in which I spoke, and the comment “hey slow down a bit”, while I was trying to explain things to them. I often perceived myself as someone with powers and ability to intimidate people well outside my circle of influence. There are some examples of this that I choose not to discuss in detail, but my behavior at times could be considered as highly in appropriate. Although always known for an overt sense of humor, this feature of my personality had become a noticeable feature to those I work and socialize with, more so than in previous times. The list of my behavioral traits and the change that had emerged in my personality and behavior is long, & far too detailed to include in this story, but they were evident nevertheless.
On one particular occasion, I went on a crusade to purchase an expensive waterproof jacket so I could use it to wear at the football in the rainy wintry months. I had a clear idea in my mind about what sort of jacket I wanted. It had to be 100% waterproof, and brightly coloured as my reserved seat at the football was on the front row, and likely to be scanned by the television camera while the play was happening in that area of the ground. I wanted to be seen on television, so a bright colour was imperative to make me stand out from the crowd, On the face of this, it seems quite normal and random that people at the football seek to see themselves on the replay, but in my own mind, a prime purpose of this jacket was to make me stand out, and maybe even become semi famous as I wanted television viewers to see me on a regular basis so that I could become recognisable. This unrealistic expectation goes beyond the typical jovial quest most people pursue to get their heads on television.
The actual purchase of the jacket was in itself an unusual procedure. Having investigated the various styles and bright colours from many of the outlets in Geelong, I had narrowed my purchase choice to two particular outlets that stocked an almost identical jacket, (approximately $5 separated them in price), but otherwise almost analogous in the product itself. One of these stores was located in the northern suburbs of Geelong opposite the Ford plant, the other located in Torquay, and they were both approximately 25 kilometers apart.
One Saturday afternoon, I travelled between these two stores (among several others), comparing the features of each jacket, which had almost identical appearance & functionality of the other, before finally making my purchase decision purely out of shear frustration. I traversed between each store, back and forth between North Geelong, and Torque approximately 10 times over the course of the afternoon. I was in a state of high irritability and reverted back to my radical high speed, lane changing, behavior I had experienced once before on my way to Bacchus Marsh. I was unable to make a simple decision on what was essentially the same product.
This is not typical behavior for me, it is a confused and indecisive reaction to my rapidly deteriorating mind, and hinted at my diminishing ability to make a rational decision about a simple purchase choice. This event became a precursor to my subsequent loss of rational decision making skills about anything at all, as the skill of rational thought was soon to dwindle in more ways than one, and was to be who didn’t need sleep, and would often go the whole night without even bothering to try and go to bed. Some nights I wrote stuff down, some nights I would disrupt my family by music playing or watching television with the volume up, and often sit and play my guitar and write music for the whole night. Sometimes I’d be writing poetry, but night time was my time, it’s when my thoughts and creativity flowed at their best. I’d carry on the next day as normal, either manic, depressed, or a combination of both, regardless of sleep or no sleep skills about anything at all, as the skill of rational thought was soon to dwindle in more ways than one, and was to be replaced with a confused mess of confused racing thoughts that didn’t make any sense, combined with an increasing sense of emerging depression.
My recollection of this period, particularly after the jacket purchase, remains a bit of a blur when it comes to recalling specific detail, other than remembering it as a maze of twisted and convoluted nonsensical thoughts, very little sleep, and mixed in with waves of black ugly depression.
My sequential recollection of this period remains all out of place and inconclusive, even as I write this. There are many details I do recall, but can’t recall in what order they occurred relative to each other, so I will talk about some of them, but they are not necessarily in chronological flow.
It was around this time that my Psychiatrist had removed Mirtazapine, and introduced lithium to my medication to try and stabilise my radical mood swings that are conducive with Bipolar. By this time I had been absent from work for an indefinite period, and it would be some time before I would return. I can’t recall if that leave commenced before or after the jacket purchase, but I had been away for a couple of weeks at least. Without going through the specific detail, I felt aggrieved that the income protection scheme I had once signed up to would not recognize my illness as a legitimate condition, and classified it in the same category as stress, personal problems, etc..etc… (So much for destigmatising mental illness, but that’s another story).
As a result of having this discrimination forced upon me, I embarked on a crusade to seriously embarrass the instigators of this shameful policy. Over the course of what I recall as about a week I sent something in the order of 25 scathing emails to various influential people both at my work, and to the underwriters of the income protection insurance policy. I made a complete menace of myself to numerous people and organizations, by sending all these emails. I took on crusades regarding various other matters and social injustices. My behavior had become destructive to myself, my family, and it placed me in a position where I could have faced some serious penalties. All of this harassment took place in the small hours of the morning, and was not uncommon to hear the tap of my keyboard at 4:00am, when I was at my most productive and unable to sleep.
Although my continuous flow of correspondence to my work and insurance underwriters was in itself not morally corrupt, (as stigmatisation is a serious issue), it was out of character for me to undertake a crusade such as this. I stopped sending emails when my shop steward from work visited me at home and told me it has to stop. I look back at that and realise that I could have been sacked for this, but at the time, I saw myself as the saviour and “Grand Master” of those that were subject to the trivialization and misunderstandings of mental illness. In terms of sleep, I saw little need for it, for it had become a waste of time and energy, it was a meaningless non-productive period in the day. I had evolved into a state where I believed I was one of those people the night before. and go to bed.
Some nights I wrote stuff down, some nights I would disrupt my family by music playing or watching television with the volume up, and often sit and play my guitar and write music for the whole night. Sometimes I’d be writing poetry, but night time was my time, it’s when my thoughts and creativity flowed at their best. I’d carry on the next day as normal, either manic, depressed, or a combination of both, regardless of sleep or no sleep the night before.
Not all days were filled with beans, in fact, most days were filled with extreme irritability trying to cope with the massive flow of diverse and irrational thoughts that were flowing through my mind, coupled up with the depression, a depression that was growing and taking some higher presence. As a result of all these racing thoughts, I had dosed myself up almost on a daily basis with a drug called Alprazolam. Under the influence of this drug, I was unable to drive, and upon reflection, should not have been driving anyway because of my terrible state of health and inability to behave rationally.
I went through a phase where each morning, I’d catch a bus into town just for the thrill of riding on a bus. I would walk town around and hang out in the city with no particular purpose, I’d just walk around to nowhere like a homeless street person, often walking very fast as if I were in a hurry to get somewhere, but I was going nowhere then I’d catch another bus back home again. One day, I made an impulsive decision to get another two tattoos on my chest to match the one I already had. I can’t remember what made me do that, I just did because I had lost my sense of rational judgment. There is no harm in getting tattoos, but not what I would usually do. It was an impulsive thing I did on the spot with no consideration for it being permanent.
One evening when my wife was at work and I was supposed to be responsible for the kids, and I was doing it particularly tough with depression. I can recall that I was on the brink of calling my mother or my mother in law to come over, I just wasn’t coping with the rigors of caring for 3 demanding children. My oldest daughter took charge, she could sense that it was all beyond me. She had organized her brother into the bath, she had cooked dinner, and assumed a leadership role with her siblings.
When everything was under control and my boy was tucked into bed, she and I passed each other in the hallway. I thanked her for doing what she did to help me. She was old enough to understand what was happening with me, so I owed it to her to provide an explanation. She was only 12 years old, but she behaved in a manner well beyond her years. We hugged each other in front of the laundry door near our family room. We both cried, I sobbed on her shoulder and told her how proud of her I was, she cried too, and told me she loved me. She said, “I love you dad, I love you. I understand, it’s ok, it’s ok, I’m here for you, I love you dad”, we made a special connection that night, and without either of us ever needing to refer to it again, Maybe it’s something we will both hang onto in various situations throughout our lives when we recall that occasion.
Time rolled on, I had lost all perspective on how long a period all this happened, I can’t recall exactly when my mind really began to betray me. I knew my mind had become a mess, but I think there was a time when it decided to really cut loose with depression and muddled racing thoughts and behavior. I couldn’t make sense of anything, and found my perspective on sounds around me had begun to change. The times I didn’t go to bed at all had become more frequent than the times I did go to bed. One night I heard weird sounds from my backyard and thought a dog had got in to maul my kid’s guinea pigs.
Other nights when I tried to sleep, I laid in bed hearing the sound of a machine rhythmically thumping in the distance, I thought it was someone operating a small factory in the area. Other times I heard a car with a diesel engine out the front of my house with its motor idling, so I was constantly getting up and looking out the front window throughout the night as my mind was all over the place with racing thoughts. I would often, (and sometimes still do), talk to myself, and mutter strange phrases with no meaning, then go onto another phrase. I’d speak random words that didn’t relate to anything, they just flowed out of my mouth. My wife was beside herself with worry for me but she didn’t say much, she didn’t know what to say other than reassure me. Maybe those sounds were actually there and my hearing had become over sensitive. Eventually I grew weary of even going to bed at all, it was a lost cause.
I was weary of the sounds, weary of laying there trying to quench my mind, I had become weary and frustrated with life. I went through a pattern for I think about 5 nights on end where I did not go to bed at all, nor did I sleep during that period. I just sat up all night, restless, sometimes overtaken by hysterical laughter over something on television, or playing my guitar. I remember one morning as the sun was coming up, I got into the flow of some really nice chords, and felt an almost spiritual connection with a new day, it was a euphoric feeling and a relief from what had been going on, but it was soon swept away by a tidal wave of depression. My memory of this period is really shaky, so I’m light on with detail, but I certainly remember the next bit.
PART SEVEN – HOSPITAL
One Friday night (about 3:00am Saturday morning), after I had not been to bed for what I think was nearly a week, my wife came downstairs and insisted I try get some sleep, so I laid on the bed fully clothed and just waited for the sun to come up, still no sleep. When the sun began to come up, (but it was still mainly dark), I got up to go for a walk, and set off. I got to the intersection of the main highways near where I live, and purposely stepped out in front of a blue and white coloured Kenworth truck.
I stood slightly off centre so the wheels would go over me and really do a job of it. All I can recall is the sound of its horn, and the truck doing a radical lane change, and seeing a multitude of wheels going past my face. The irony of my survival is that the reflective sleeves on the red jacket I bought probably saved me in the end, as the sun was not fully up at this stage. I think an alert truck driver played a big role too. I turned around and walked home, sat at the table and pretended to read the newspaper, all as if nothing had happened. I watched my kids staring out the window at the hailstorm, they were amazed to see all the little white bits of ice on the trampoline and over the path. I sat at the table for hours, expressionless and dazed. In the end, I decided to go to Bunnings to buy some rope to hang myself, but instead of turning left into the car park, I turned right toward Deakin University where I parked in the car park and cried for about an hour. I rang a friend and told her I had tried to suicide earlier that morning, she was calm and in control. She talked to me, asked me where I was, told me to think of my family, and to seek help. She told me she understands, and she didn’t judge me. She told me to go home and tell my wife, tell her everything that I tried to do that morning, and to not follow through with suicide.
She was strong for me when I couldn’t be strong for myself, she saved my life through her calmness and rational mind. I drove home and walked inside, took my wife and asked her to come with me to the lounge room away from the kids, and then I told her what I did with the truck, and that I don’t think I’ll survive the day without dying, and I told her that I think I need to go to hospital. We made some phone calls to the emergency section of the psychiatric ward and they advised us to come in urgently. My wife arranged for our oldest daughter to be in charge of the two younger ones, because mummy needed to take dad to the doctor.
Our oldest daughter sensed something was going on, and in her typical manner, assumed her usual leadership role as she had done many times before due to my illness. We left the house without me even acknowledging the kids or talking to them as I couldn’t face their fears of uncertainty. We arrived at the Swanston Centre (Geelong Hospital psychiatric unit), and she asked me if I was sure I wanted to go through with it. I replied to the effect that I either have the courage to do this, or the alternative is that you go to my funeral later this week, so we walked in and I was soon admitted.
The next block of time I spent in hospital, spending the days just wandering around asking myself how the hell had I had been reduced to this situation. I apparently phoned various people while I was there that I don’t remember calling, for reasons that I can’t recall today. I hated the hospital, I was obsessed in getting out, but at the same time I felt safe. Hospital was a haven and a sanctuary, a time for me to gather my thoughts and wait for the suicidal desire to pass. The first thing they did when I was admitted was to confiscate my belt so that I couldn’t hang myself in my room away from view of everyone.
I met some interesting people from all walks of life, professional people, drug users, and family people just like myself. Mental illness is so democratic, it doesn’t care who it strikes at. On the Monday, I saw a different Psychiatrist from the one I usually see as I had been admitted as a public patient and didn’t have a choice of doctor. He told me that I was clearly manic. “You’re manic, very manic” he told me. He wanted me to have a course of Electro Convulsive Treatment, as he felt it was the only thing to treat my condition. I had only been on Lithium for a short time at this stage, and had only just within a few weeks got the dosage to the correct level, so I was taken aback by this suggestion on the basis of a five-minute consultation.
I told him that I want a second opinion from my regular Psychiatrist before agreeing to that, and as such, I discussed that with him the next day as I had already had a prearranged appointment before all this had happened. It was suggested that although ECT is an effective treatment, that option is a little bit down the track, and to allow Lithium a bit more time to kick in. I was stressed out over the prospect of ECT; I pictured it as something I saw in the movie One Flew over a Cuckoo’s Nest, although in reality, it’s not at all like that anymore. That afternoon, my mother came to visit me and I had to try hard to keep a brave face to shield my dear mum from the trauma her son was enduring.
I made her a cup of tea and introduced her to my regular Psychiatrist who just happened to be in the ward at the time, and came over to say a casual hello to me. I tried to prepare her for the prospect that I may have to have E.C.T and that it was nothing to worry about. In spite of my attempts to portray a calm persona, mum saw right through me as I babbled on in my customary manic “rapid speak, change of topic mid sentence” talk. She must have seen the depression in my eyes as well, I won’t ever forget the look of confused worry on her face, and I think the reality of mental illness took quite a swipe at mum that afternoon.
She hugged me, then she left in time to get her bus back home, very much a worried woman for her son, she was confused about what was happening to me. When she left, I burst into tears and was comforted by a visitor of another patient. One of the male nurses took me to a private room and sat with me until I regained my composure. The staff in this ward are outstanding people. They are so professional, well trained, but above all, they genuinely care about what they do. They do their job with compassion and conviction, and they do it so well. I can never speak highly enough of these people, I can’t remember any of their names, but I’ll always remember them as wonderful people and professionals in their field.
That night, my wife bought my kids in to visit me, I had been missing them so much. My seven-year-old boy came and hugged me as I met them near the reception area, and that was followed up with a hug from my 10 & 12-year-old daughters. The whole time, I felt so much like bursting into tears because my precious little kids were visiting their dad in a psychiatric ward, I had to be strong and put on a happy face because I was wondering if they would be freaked out by it and what they would think of me. I wasn’t the strong reliable daddy anymore, maybe they’ll never look up to me again.
I know now, that’s not the case, but at the time, my mind was fragile, and I was an emotional mess. They didn’t stay all that long, I hugged my boy, then my two girls both hugged me at the same time, then I hugged my wife, and they left. I couldn’t hold my emotions in any longer, I bolted down to my room where it was private, fell onto both my knees, held my head in both my hands, and wailed like a baby, I don’t think I have ever cried that much in my life. I was only beginning to contain my emotions, when a friend from work turned up to visit me. She gave me a hug, and with her even having to say anything, she knew what was making me cry as she saw my family leaving on her way in. She sat and listened to me waffle on about what was in my head. Sometimes people say so much without saying much at all, and just having her there meant a lot to me, and she was there at a time when I really needed it.
There are so many details about hospital I can’t remember, I was very dosed up on medication, it’s all a bit of a blur other than just wanting to go home. A couple of times I was on some sort of anti-psychotic medication, “just to give the mind a bit of a break”, so I was told by one of the nursing staff. This stuff kicked like a mule and I found it hard to walk due to its effect. The medication took the edge off the hell life had become, but there remained an underlying desire to get out of that place. The second last day I was there, I got up one morning to have a cup of tea before breakfast arrived, and that morning I noticed I was feeling a little bit better. On the sugar satchels for the tea, they had little proverbs or sayings of inspiration.
The one I used that morning said “If you can laugh at it, you can live with it”, I grinned as I read it. It was my first spontaneous smile in ages, I had forgotten what it felt like, but that morning, I remembered again and it felt nice. I still have that empty sugar satchel taped to the wall adjacent to my desk at work. It reminds me that when the chips are down, things can turn around if we truly believe in it. I noticed also that as I drank my tea, my hand had a tremor and I felt a little sick in the stomach. It was beautiful nausea, a welcome friend. Nausea and hand tremors are a side effect of lithium, and I think it may have begun to have its effect at last. There may have been a whole host of reasons for that feeling, but I wanted to believe it was my Lithium taking effect. I felt a breeze of well-being, just a little one, but a breeze nevertheless, perhaps I had turned the corner at last.
During that day, I found it a lot easier to read. I tried to make this my main pastime in hospital where I would try and become lost in a novel to distract me from the reality of being in this situation. I was fairly reclusive, and spent most of my time on my own reading a book. It’s difficult to read when the mind is so manic and racing around everywhere and a feeling of terrible depression, sometimes at the same time, and sometimes in isolation.
Reading requires a level of concentration, something I did not have a lot of during that period, and other at times during my struggle with bipolar. Reading became a lost cause at times, it became part of a facade to convince the staff I was settled and ready to go home, even though a lot of the time I wasn’t reading at all, I just held the book up to make it look that way. Later that evening, my sister Kathy came to see me. I think she suspected that I was pretending to be better just to get out of hospital. She said she would come over and have dinner with me the next night, (she is a general ward nurse in the main part of the hospital).
The Psychiatric Nurse that was sitting talking to me about another matter gave us a look to indicate I wouldn’t be still in hospital tomorrow night, it seemed like I had been earmarked for discharge the next day. Kathy was very concerned for me, and when she left, we told each other we loved one another. She went home, but this time, no tears from me. That night, I had sat in the main area of the ward and watched big brother on television with a few of the other patients. That’s something I had not done much of before. I found myself chatting and laughing with one of the other male patients about some stupid thing in Big Brother. It was spontaneous conversation, it wasn’t forced, but it flowed easily. Later on, we watched C.S.I, then Rove. After Rove, I went to bed filled with anticipation of being discharged the next day. I didn’t sleep a wink that night, but I dared not ask for any medication to sleep in fear of it being reviewed by the doctor, and having him withhold my discharge. Kathy was right, I was putting on a bit of an act so that I could go home, I did a lot of that while in hospital to convince the staff I was actually alright, but they saw through it, they are professionals and they care for people like me and have my best interest at heart.
The following day I felt slightly better again, I was still in a fragile state, but a definite improvement had emerged. I had an appointment with the public health system Psychiatrist and was anticipating he would grill me about my suicide attempt again. I told him that the crisis that bought me here has been and gone, and although I’m not out of the woods yet, I feel better. He was a gentlemanly person, dressed in a grey suit, and said to me, “Well I think you can go home now”. I get the impression he was a genuinely nice person, although a bit confrontational, but that comes with the turf. He stood and smiled, and shook my hand, and he wished me luck with my sickness. I thanked him for his help in a very difficult time, and I left the room. It all took about 60 seconds.
I went to the reception area, phoned my wife and merely said, “Come and get me”, she arrived 15 minutes later. By this time I had my red jacket and other belongings all together on a chair near reception, and we did all the administrative Medicare things, collected my belt & medication, and left the building. She drove me home, and as I walked in the front door, I kissed the bricks in a gesture of hello to our house. It was so nice to be home again, it seemed like an eternity since I had been there. My wife made me a coffee and we sat around the same table I sat at where I silently planned my suicide attempt, but things were different now. I was feeling weak and nauseous, I had hardly eaten in days, and had no sleep the night before. I had lost an amazing amount of weight, as I’d got out of the habit of eating, and when I did, it was usually just crap food. I had given up caring about my physical health quite some time back.
Later that afternoon we went to pick up our kids from school. While I sat in the car waiting for my wife to come back with our oldest daughter from the entrance of her high school, I was very close to opening the passenger side car door, and vomiting on the road, but I held it back, and the nausea eventually passed. I still didn’t feel at all well both physically and mentally, my mind was still all over the place and I felt depressed, but not to the same extent I experienced in hospital and the period leading up to it. When my daughter arrived at the car, she saw me sitting in there and her face said it all, I could tell she had a huge wave of relief wash over her to see her dad out of hospital, it was a nice surprise for her. I got a similar response from my other 2 kids when we picked them up from primary school, they were surprised yet thrilled to see me.
It was nice to be home again, but it occurred to me that I had done some damage to my relationship with my family over the period I had been sick. I realized the trauma they must have undergone and how the innocent minds of my younger children in particular, must have been so confused by my radical change in behavior leading up to, and definitely including my episode with bipolar. My son said to me that night while only the two of us were in the room, in the coolest voice he could muster up, “It’s great to have you home dad”. There was much rebuilding to do particularly with my son, to repair the relationship damage my sickness had caused.
PART EIGHT – GETTING BETTER AGAIN
Over the next few weeks, my health improved very significantly at an almost frightening pace. I wasn’t sure if this was something I should just embrace, or something to be concerned about, as it could have just been a cyclic thing and I may have been headed for another manic bout. Perhaps I was ramping up to take a massive dive into suicidal depression. Upon reflection, it appears that I had in fact become well again, and as such, we reignited our lost hopes of another family holiday to the Gold Coast. We had planned and paid for this trip many months prior to this time, but when I became gravely ill, we assumed our holiday was a lost cause due to my health.
So off to Queensland we trekked in my new Ford Territory that I had just taken possession of a few days after getting out of hospital. I loved this vehicle and commented on it so much en route to the Gold Coast as I demonstrated all its features to my family. This enthusiastic behavior was vastly different from the manic state that had overtaken me previously. It was indicative of a reinvigorated Andrew, there was a sense of life and future, I sensed it, my wife and kids certainly sensed it too. No words were spoken, but the intrinsic message I got was, “welcome home”. Not welcome home from hospital, but welcome home from hell. They all sensed I was better, without me having to tell them, they felt my well being return to our family.
Everything was sensational, we had a great time together and spent bucket loads of money on all sorts of fun things. It was on this trip that I confirmed the plans in my mind to return to work when we got back. I desperately wanted to get right back into mainstream life again, and I felt well enough to do that. I am often asked how I’m going, sometimes although I feel ok, I’m just not sure. I think people like me lose calibration on what normal is, we lose our way, the benchmark of wellness is not always clear. I returned to work and sat down at my desk on that first day to recap what I was up to prior to becoming ill.
Apart from a few people who had actively supported me while I had been away, not many people spoke to me, certainly not about my illness. It was starkly apparent that most people through no fault of their own, were ignorant about mental illness, and just didn’t know what to say. Although they all cared for my well being and wanted nothing but the best for me, they didn’t know how to convey that sentiment. When I refer to people’s ignorance about mental illness, I don’t mean that in manner that is critical of those people.
There are many sicknesses I have never confronted, because myself, or my loved ones have never been exposed to them, so I too am ignorant, that’s nothing to feel uncomfortable about. With the vast myriad of knowledge in the world, it’s unreasonable to expect people to have an in depth knowledge in everything, unless it’s something they have been confronted with, or need to understand for a whole host of reasons. My wife and other people close to me, people who have supported me, have made it their business to research and understand. These are the people who speak openly with me about it, and keep a check and balance on my progress, without the awkwardness some may assume is present in situations like mine. I have never had a problem talking about it, I’m neither embarrassed nor ashamed of having Bipolar and I’m not at all uncomfortable in discussing it.
There is a sense of uneasiness from other people, simply because they have not taken the time to find out about what I endure. I’m happy to educate them, but they need to be receptive to that, and initiate the conversation themselves, it’s not for me to force my knowledge upon them. So therefore it becomes a “catch 22” situation where the ignorance prevails, and I can do nothing about it until they ask me to educate them, but they don’t know they’re ignorant….it’s an interesting argument.
At the time of writing this story, I feel well and pretty much free of my symptoms. I have had some relapses since my discharge from hospital, some of them somewhat severe, but definitely not to the lowly suicidal levels I experienced in the past. I have had bouts of depression, and in more recent times, periods where hypomania has been very evident. My Psychiatrist has added Valproate to my medication to try and enhance my mood stability, so far it seems to have worked, but time will tell in the long term. I’m fortunate that I don’t seem to experience much of the usual side effects associated with mood stabilizing drugs, I have a wonderful and robust support structure. I am a fortunate bipolar sufferer, (if there is any such thing), I have all the odds working in my favour.
Although I anticipate ongoing episodes of mania and depression in the future, I will work through those periods and come out the other end knowing more about how to manage it, as experience tells me that if I take some ownership for my condition, I can ride those times out. I cherish life and have a deep desire to be a grumpy old man one day, and all the experiences in between are something I look forward to as I have a lot to live for. I cannot live my life worrying about my future health, I can only accept the feeling of wellness and take all the steps I need to, to prevent serious reoccurrences. I have to plan for success and not place my life on hold, or restrict myself in fear of what might happen if I get sick again.
I also believe that my personality has changed a little since being on Lithium. I have quietened down and have lost the edge to my often loud & overt sense of humor. I’ll never know how much of my raucous laughter was driven by early level mania, and how much of it was my natural jovial sense of humor. I still laugh, I am quick with a joke and definitely enjoy my silly banter, but it has had the edge taken off it. I’m happy to loose some small components to my joviality as a trade off for stabilizing the devastation of Bipolar. It’s an easy trade, as I come out of it as the winner, the investment in taking stabilizing drugs pays a generous dividend. This story is only a brief overview of my experience with mental illness. There are so many anecdotes and experiences I have not included here.
There are many gaps in my story, but to include them would go well beyond the scope of transcending my experience to paper. I’m sometimes asked by people around me what they can do to support me when I’m unwell. The answer is simple, I need them to be educated about my illness. I don’t seek sympathy or attention, but I do seek empathy and understanding, those virtues are a vital part of being a good support person. Mental illness is not a taboo subject for me, I’m not sensitive about discussing it.
I don’t wish to throw it in people’s faces, but for those that wish to support me, all I ask is that the talk to me about it, preferably with some background knowledge. The most supportive people in my life are those that can “shoot the breeze” with me about it and ask me how I’m travelling. We pretend that the stigma has gone, but as a community, we are largely ignorant about mental illness, so therefore the words of mass destigmatisation are empty rhetoric without a solid understanding of the illness by individuals, and as a broader community.
Thank you for taking the time to read my story, it has often been a difficult task to recount those times when I was so unwell, and in particular, the times I came close to death. It’s been a painful reflection and a stark reminder of how far I’ve come to manage my condition. If you are a sufferer of mental illness or a person who supports someone, I hope you find the courage to see your way through.
I’m alive today for a number of reasons. One of those is the help I got from the staff at the Swanston Centre in Geelong. I have been in a position on 2 occasions where I needed their help in a crisis situation. I could use so many words here to portray the professionalism and dedication of these people, but my descriptive skills would fall well short of capturing the true essence of their compassion and commitment. The same applies to my Psychiatrist. Over the time I have been consulting him, we have built a Doctor patient comprehension second to none. He has been a wonderful teacher and as such, has helped me to accept my illness for what it is, and aided me to apply strategies to manage it, by understanding it.
There are some very special people in my life who have taken centre stage at various times and have been instrumental in helping me to get better. One of them is my wife. Her support and understanding has never wavered or faltered, it has remained rock solid regardless of the circumstances. She has endured my behavior and rode the rough times. She has suffered alongside me, but she has never complained, and it has never been too much for her. When I have been unwell, she just takes care of business in her typical no fuss, no nonsense manner.
She looks after the nuts and bolts of running our home in the face of my sometimes horrendous state of mental health, and then she looks after me too. She has bared a heavy load through my illness, but rarely shows it outwardly. She epitomizes the ultimate support person and is the prime example to those that care for someone like me. She should step up and take a bow, for this woman has been a star performer.