'I may have bipolar disorder, but it doesn’t have me.'
'I have always had stuff going on in my head but had never seen it as a mental illness.
I was suicidal at 18 and have had depression a lot throughout my life. However, I thought what was going on in my head was going on in everybody’s heads. I was just pushing through life and ignoring it.
I realised things weren’t right when it all built up and pushed me over. I didn’t have much family support at the time, limited contact with friends, and a complete lack of sleep. My mind was going nuts, thinking and over-thinking things. I even experienced hallucinations and delusions.
Once, I went for a drive and couldn’t remember how long I was gone for. It made me scared to get out of my car and I was screaming. My neighbours tried to calm me down but they couldn’t, so the police and ambulance came.
My first hospitalisation was my turning point. I realised I’d had been experiencing both manic and depressive episodes. I was able to start realising what was going on and what it was all about.
At 42, I was diagnosed with bipolar I disorder. When I was first diagnosed I was pretty embarrassed. Friends rejected me and I just thought of it as a life sentence.
In the early stages, there were peaks and troughs in my medication and recovery. My psychiatrist once took me off my medication, and, at one hospital, I’d been given the wrong medication.
However, after a few times in hospital, I found my triggers and knew what to do. Being able to recognise my symptoms really helped to rebuild my confidence.
My psychiatrist signed off on a new plan where I’d medicate within the dosages that they set. That was another turning point for me. It meant I could rest and recover when I was struggling, rather than being hospitalised. My sister helps with my plan; I call her every 8 hours. I also have a friend who comes and checks on me. My mum and sister have learned about bipolar disorder and have both been very supportive.
Over the years, the illness has definitely had an impact on my work life. I work in project and change management where there are strict timelines. So if I need to take time off, it can be a real problem. I have definitely lacked support in the work place and at times felt like the system has failed me. I have had to take time off work due to being hospitalised or just needing to recover and each time that has led to the termination of my contract.
Sometimes I think senior business leaders wrongly judge people as ‘poor performers’ when in fact they are struggling with mental health issues. They find it easier to let people go because it’s all money to them.
For me, staying well involves balance. A healthy social life is important, as well as doing fun things. I keep in contact with my family and get a lot of satisfaction from helping others at my church.
I work; I have a mortgage to pay! But it can be really hard, so I take time off and return when I feel better. I stay on medication but I’m not afraid to ask whether it can be increased or decreased.
I try to take a holistic approach to life. I don’t think there’s any point in ‘having it all’ if you aren’t balanced across each aspect.
I’ve been involved with the Black Dog Institute since 2014. I first learnt about the Black Dog Institute through a psychiatrist. I saw that the institute was after presenters, so I put in an application.
I appreciate that Black Dog is a research-based organisation with the knowledge and the know-how. I have a strong desire to help others and the education tools the Black Dog Institute provides are fantastic. I often promote them on Facebook to my friends.
My role as a presenter is important as it creates awareness around mental health problems. I’m very passionate about connecting with people to get them the help they need.
I no longer feel like my diagnosis is a life sentence. Being a community presenter enables me to provide insights to the friends and family of people experiencing mental health problems, as well as encourage people to follow through with their treatment and medication.
Due to my experiences, I’m not as open about the illness with my workplace for want of not getting the job or being wrongly judged. In the future I’d like to see more businesses develop proactive mental health programs.
I may have bipolar disorder, but it doesn’t have me.'