If we are going to take this journey together, I feel it only right that I let you know a little bit about me and what has brought me to this point. Grab a coffee and get comfortable while I share with you my life living with bipolar.
I had a very happy childhood growing up in country Queensland. My passion was riding horses, something I did every day. I was happy and well-adjusted. When I turned thirteen, I experienced my first major depressive episode. I continued to battle throughout my teen years, never seeking help for my growing depression, obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety. I was a very naive and innocent teen who spent most days and weekends in my room trying not to be visible.
At eighteen I met and had a relationship with a very destructive and manipulative older man. He was emotionally and sexually abusive and I became a person that I wasn’t very proud of. In my attempt to control some part of my life I became anorexic. By the end of the relationship I weighed a mere 37 kg and was a complete and utter mess mentally and emotionally. At this point my obsessive behaviours grew until they almost drove me mad. Being out of the relationship and over time, I began to heal.
The following year I started studying social work at university. At first, I did really well and enjoyed the lifestyle that university afforded, but that didn’t last long. Once again, my depression and anxiety took back control. I became paranoid and extremely anxious. I imagined that all my classmates hated me. That they wanted to hurt me. I imagined that they were laughing at me and were plotting my downfall. I thought they were all laughing at the clothes that I wore, the things that I said and the way that I looked. I stopped going to class and started to drink. I spent my nights at Mary Street, a nightclub in the city. When I drank, I felt confident, self-assured and attractive.
It was here that one fateful night I met Scott. From the very beginning we were inseparable. It was an all-consuming love. I knew I had found my soulmate. A year later we were engaged and a year after that we were married. It was the happiest time of my life. My depression was not so bad, and I had stopped drinking for the most part. We tried to have children straight away. We wanted to share our love with as many children as possible, but nothing happened. As the months turned into years my disappointment gre into devastation and despair. I saw several doctors until five years later I was finally referred to Dr John. He helped us straight away. It took two rounds of IVF, one miscarriage and loads of courage but finally we fell pregnant. In December 1999 I gave birth to Jonah my shining light. He was a healthy, calm, bundle of joy that made all my dreams come true. We were finally a family.
IVF, pregnancy and childbirth took their toll and when Jonah was twelve months old, I went to my GP complaining that I was dizzy and nauseous and incredibly irritable. I was told that I was a mother and I was supposed to feel that way, so I battled on. Another twelve months after Scott came home from work and told me that he had made an appointment with his padre (he was in the army) to have some marriage counseling as things between us had become very toxic. This was the switch. I knew the problem wasn’t our marriage or Scott, it was me. I was broken. I was sad, irritable, irrational, obsessive and broken. I saw my doctor the next day and was finally diagnosed with depression. 15 years after my first depressive episode. I began taking antidepressants and couldn’t believe the difference they made to me. I remember saying to Scott at the time “Do you get to feel like this every day?” It was extraordinary. It was the first time I felt normal since I was thirteen.
In 2003 the mania began. Scott was deployed to Jordan in the middle of the hunt for Saddam Hussein. It was an extremely difficult time for our family. I become friendly with a lady from play group. Suddenly, as mania kicked in, I became obsessed. I saw her every day. I talked with her all the time. We did everything together. There wasn’t a day that went by that we didn’t hang out. I suddenly couldn’t see straight. Scott was paid in excess of thirty thousand dollars for his war service. I spent every penny with nothing to show for it. I bought a fence that went half way across the front of our yard. It made no sense. Nothing I did was rational.
In 2005 someone suggested we open a retail business specialising in the new age. I had no interest in new age prior to this but I was manic, so I agreed. I took out a loan and opened a shop that I knew nothing about. I became obsessed with the shop, every waking minute was spent in the shop, planning for the shop, talking about the shop. I was completely out of control.
Then then the wheels fell off. My relationship with my friend and business partner broke down and we went our separate ways. The business failed. I owed a great deal of money to a lot of people. The mania had subsided, but the consequences of the mania had only just begun. I took a job as a mortgage broker which I absolutely hated. I had no interest in finance at all. I was doing ok but as with all manic episodes it was quickly followed by a major depressive. This time I fell big. A very difficult client had phoned the office and told my boss they were going to sue me. I couldn’t hold it together any longer. I was found under my desk crying. Scott came and collected me and took me home where I lived under my doona for several months. I was suicidal, fantasised about death and dying, I didn’t talk, I just slept. I was nearly driven crazy with the voices in my head telling me to kill myself. I started going to therapy with Alix my psychologist. I turned up each week and she instructed me on how to get better and would leave her office and forget everything she said. I would then turn up at the next appointment and wonder why I wasn’t better.
After nearly a year, I walked in to Alix’s office one day a blithering mess of anxiety and sadness, Alix put down her pen and paper, sighed deeply and said to me “Is this how you want to live your life?”. This was the moment I realised that I had a choice here. Alix made me see that if I did the work, did what she was telling me to do, I’d get better and I wouldn’t have to go through this anymore.
From that day on I made it my mission to work hard and get better. Every day I worked to improve my mental health, and it worked! I did get better. I got so well that I didn’t have a depressive episode for eight years!! A record. I got so well that I finally had a life. I could do all the things that I’ve ever wanted to do. I spent time with family, hosted dinner parties, went on holidays, and even started working part time. I thought that I had finally found a cure for my depression.
I soon learned that there is no cure for depression. He lurks there in the corner waiting for an opportunity to come back in and mess up your entire life and it was me who gave him the opportunity.
My family asked me if I would be there office manager for a new business they were launching. Just nine hours a week that’s all. It was a very small business and just in the early stages so not too much stress. Yay! Perfect. I could finally be productive. Pretty soon my mania had kicked in again. I was working full time and going above and beyond my duties. I was putting 200% into the business and making sure that it was a booming success. I worked overtime, weekends, and talked business all the time. The business was a booming success, but I was miserable. I was falling into the pit again. I worked at the business for two years and by the end, I couldn’t work another day. I had become so unwell that I was suicidal again and this time ended up in hospital and a course of Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT). I was starting over.
While this is the end of my bipolar journey, it is also the beginning, again. I learned the hard way that depression is not something that you can just get rid of. It’s not something that you can pretend you don’t have. It is ever present. It’s not always full blown and in the way of life, but it is always there, lurking, ready to pounce on you if you are not prepared or vigilant. The secret to living with depression is not feeling like you don’t have it, it’s about being ever watchful, every wary. If life is going well, because you are working hard at staying well, you must maintain your vigilance. Don’t get complacent. Manage you stress, control your environment, seek support. Do all you can to stay well.
My blog is my attempt to pass on what I have learnt over the years. To provide a positive platform for people to explore ways that they too can manage those demons in our lives. I want people to know that there is hope and support out there so that one day, we will all find a way to banish this black dog from controlling our lives.
It’s not going to be easy but together we can do this.