James’ Story

When did you first get symptoms of Bipolar Disorder?

In my early twenties I showed the first symptoms of depression.  I went to counselling which helped.  In hindsight there were also periods of elevation in mood and some strange behaviour in my 20’s.  However a defining time was in 1997 (I was 27) when I landed a great full time job following uni (I was highly qualified with a PhD in marine / fisheries science). – the position was in New Zealand though and I was in such a distressed state before going, I went to the GP the day before the flight and the doctor advised anti-depressants – but I point blank refused to take them.  I did start a course of sleeping pills to help me sleep though. It was either cope or lose this big opportunity.

In New Zealand I wasn’t coping though and spiralled downhill fast.  After a few weeks I went to a GP who again diagnosed severe clinical depression, and prescribed Prozac, which this time I complied with.  But due to me not responding, the dose was increased a few times times, and due to not having any mood stabiliser on board I “switched”- had a manic Bipolar 1 episode. I had very strange behaviour and thinking – I was very paranoid, confused, had delusions (thought the phones at work were bugged, that people in the street and my doctors were trying to trick me). I was very hyperactive but thought that it was the sleeping pills!

After seeing some specialists – by myself – I was put on Melleril (an antipsychotic) but the pharmacy gave me pills with ten times the dose that was written on the prescription! Thankfully I didn’t take them as I had just enough sense to question it. I had a racing heart (200 bpm) so called 000 and the ambulance came – I was put in a hospital overnight – I thought the hospital staff had my mum on the phone (on speaker) the whole time. After hearing that I ended up in hospital my employer took things a lot more seriously, but it was a career limiting time. I had to go back to Australia to get cared for. The employer made my role redundant in the mean time and I never got back into the profession again. I applied for other jobs but never got them.

After 6 months I started working again, but as a labourer which I did for a couple of years. The exercise was good for me and gave my mind a rest.  I then started temping (computers and admin roles) and moved into reporting and data analysis as time went on, which was a better use of my skills. However at this stage I didn’t realise I was bipolar.  I saw psychiatrists on and off since the New Zealand episode.  In fact I wrote up four pages of notes on how my thinking was strange – including thinking that I was bipolar – oh the irony! My health record says “allergic(!) to Prozac”. At one stage they initially thought maybe I was schizophrenic but didn’t treat me for that.

When did you first get official diagnosis?

In 2010, so that took about 13 years from that major Bipolar I episode in NZ.

How did your first diagnosis come about?

I had a melt down at work.  I saw a different GP to usual.  I was on an anti-depressant.  He wanted to increase my anti-depressant but I said no because I’d been looking at self-diagnosis tools, etc.  The GP diagnosed Bipolar then and there. When I first got official diagnosis and new medications I cried at the chemist. It was confronting but also a relief to finally have some answers.

Things that have helped me:

  • Medication-getting that right helped a lot. And talking the medication everyday when I should.
  • Seeing a goodpsychiatrist regularly.
  • A psychologist did help in the past.
  • The Bipolar Life Support Groups. Meeting others, talking and listening to other people’s experiences.
  • Noise-cancelling headphones at work (to minimise annoying background noise).
  • Self-education – understanding my disorder through books and online.
  • Family support – my mum has been very supportive.
  • A stable environment – own house, stable job.
  • My dogs – company (I live by myself).
  • Sleeping well – I try to keep the same bed time and not stay up too late.  (One night recently I worked on a work issue all night until 6 am.  I talked to the psychiatrist about this and nipped it in the bud.)
  • Listening to music – all sorts depending on my mood of course!
  • I keep a comprehensive diary using an app on my phone called eMoods. I log my sleep, moods, medication, anxiety, weight, etc.
  • Getting out and about with my girlfriend and seeing new things.


How I am going now:

I’m enjoying my work again after some flat times recently. Studying hard and learning new technologies.  My boss is happy with me. I’ve nearly paid off my house.  I have a girlfriend (who doesn’t know about the Bipolar yet but will soon).  I’m going on an overseas holiday soon in April.  My finances are going very well.  My moods are stable and I can see that on

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