My Story

As someone who suffers from depression & bipolar disorder, it's hard at times to deal with the stigma many people still associate with the diagnosis. Sufferers will not admit to having a mental illness for fear of being labelled as crazy, be accused of faking it or being shunned & ridiculed in other ways. Even worse is when they won't admit it to themselves, these people can become a danger to themselves & those around them.

On the other side are people who don't recognise the signs and blame it on other things. This is the group I fell into, not knowing what severe depression or bipolar was. Many uninformed people think it's just a case of being sad most of the time & totally crazy at others. Those that suffer from these illnesses know it is much, much more than that.

Here I am going to relate some of my personal story in a hope it may shed some light on what these conditions can do to you, and those around you. Well, at least what it did to me.

I was in my mid-thirties when a diagnosis of major depression was made by my doctor. Since then, with more knowledge of the illness, I've discovered it's something I've had at least since my mid-teens, probably earlier but my memory is a bit flaky. It explained a lot of things that had happened to me in my past.

How I got to be diagnosed is a bit of a story in itself. I had grown up watching the old comedies that showed, as a joke, housewives crying over the daytime soapies. But now, that was me. I wasn't crying over soaps, but sad stories or movies could bring on uncontrollable tears. But I was a man, in the prime of my life - no way in hell I was going to tell ANYONE about that.

But in the end it became too much. I remember the moment I decided something must be done quite well, it was a major turning point in my life. I had taken my teenage son to the GP and I was going to see him myself about another matter. While sitting in the waiting room I picked up a copy of The Readers Digest from the table and started to read. I came across an article about a young Sydney girl, Samantha Knight, who had disappeared several years earlier. By halfway through the story, I was in tears.

It was here, at last, I admitted to myself that there was something seriously wrong with me. My behaviour was far from 'normal'. I decided that I had to speak to someone about it and of course, I was in the right place for that. After the doctor had attended to my son, I sent the boy out into the waiting room & told the doctor what was going on. Depression was not the diagnosis I was expecting.

Getting diagnosed is only the start of what for most is a long, treacherous journey. With knowledge of my problem I was able to look at myself and recognize other signs that I would not have associated with mental illness. I had been a very heavy drinker for years, blotting out unsettling thoughts and ideas with alcohol.

Another thing, which was a major concern for me with a young family, was violent mood swings. And I mean VIOLENT mood swings. Things could be going along just great but then something so small, so unimportant would set me off. I would throw things, yell, scream, punch walls and worst of all, lash out at those around me. How my own family put up with me I can't understand. And a lot of times, after these episodes, I would be so ashamed & upset by what I had done I'd start thinking the world would be better off without me.

Of course, that diagnosis and a few tablets wasn't the solution of my problems. It would be many years, many different medications and (at last) a diagnosis of bipolar that would at least start me on the way to some semblance of a normal life.

The diagnosis itself was enough to send me spiraling down. At the time I was self-employed in the IT industry, but over the coming months it became exceedingly hard to leave home and eventually led to a period of almost 2 years when I only ever left the house when I needed to go to the doctors.

Then the anxiety/panic attacks started. If I went out in public, it wouldn't be long before I would start shaking and sweating while inside my head I was screaming to escape, to get back home where it was safe. I stopped talking to people & visiting family. And having visitors was a major issue, eventually most people stopped trying.

And then I started withdrawing from my wife & kids. I didn't like the physical contact, my little girls couldn't crawl into my lap for a hug. I'd go from weeks of no energy, no motivation to brief periods where I couldn't stop thinking, couldn't settle down & wouldn't sleep for days on end. And the spending - so much money on things we didn't want or need, while the bills piled up. And this would all start getting on top of me, and the downward trend would start again.

Understandably it became to much for us all and I left my family before I did something terrible. It seemed like the end of my world. It wasn't, they were still in my life and for that I was glad. But it didn't change me for the better.. Nothing had changed, if anything at times it was worse. I kept spiraling lower & lower, it seemed as if nothing helped.

Either the medications I was on didn't help (there are depression meds that someone with bipolar should NEVER take), or if I was up I didn't think I needed them. And when down I didn't want them. Taking them or not seemed to make no difference.

This is the period when I was at my lowest, and things got even worse. It was during this time that I lost all contact with my family. Even now all I have is memories (not all good) & photographs. I wasn't the father my children needed & I can't blame them for wanting better from life. But it almost killed me.

Eventually I moved out of the city, away from the people, the noise, the lifestyle. I thought that maybe moving back to my roots, to a quieter, more relaxed lifestyle would help. It didn't. Even after 10 years I was still being treated incorrectly and nothing really changed much. A new doctor didn't seem to help either. While he tried to work with me I wasn't the best patient & he was still operating on the initial diagnosis of major depression.

But I had one difference here, I had someone who accepted me, almost regardless of what I did or had done. But like it seemed with most everything else in my life up to then, I took something good & turned it black. I became too intrusive in their life, possessive even. Of course, eventually it all blew up in my face. I thought I had lost everything again.

But it was to be a real turning point for me. I realized I needed to talk to my doctor. And I mean really talk! I sat down & told him everything, the good, the bad & the outright ugly. I think it was then that I finally accepted myself & my illness for the first time. And it made a huge difference in my life.

My doctor immediately changed my diagnosis to bipolar (along with a few other things). I got on new medications, got a new psychologist to see and a new way of looking at myself. It seemed as if things were changing overnight.

I became a different person, and others noticed it. One of my brothers commented that he had stopped visiting because he didn't know how to deal with me I was so withdrawn. But now I at least seemed to be in the same room as him.

And the person who was the catalyst of this change came back into my life, being smart enough to see what had happened between us wasn't what I intended, wasn't really me. Of course things were never quite the same, it took a long time to get the trust back but today we have a good relationship, along with my acceptance by some of the others involved.

But there is still a lot to do. I'm far from being what others would be considered normal. I still have my dark times. But some people, who never knew me when I was going through the real bad times, don't accept that I have bipolar at all. They have only seen me on the new medications & when I can control myself & my emotions better than in the past. They have never seen the rages or the emotional roller coaster that was my life for so long.

At times, to these people, I must seem like an emotional black hole. My emotions & feelings are so tightly reigned in that almost nothing shows. And even to me I sometimes feel emotionally detached from everything, unable to feel or express emotions. And I still have trouble with intimacy, getting physically close to people. That seems to be one constant through all this - 10 years ago I couldn't cuddle my kids and today hugging someone is still an issue. These things make it hard to form relationships.

I don't know what the future may bring, but there are a few things I would like to eventually see. I would love to be in some way involved with my children again, for them to see me now & maybe realize I never meant things to be the way they were. I still need to be able to deal with the highs & lows that come along - I can see them coming at times, but feel I don't deal with them too well at all.

And, probably the thing that concerns me most right now, is dealing with my almost constant emotional detachment. To be able to feel, but still be in control of myself. Music can move me, but not real life. That is something that I really have trouble accepting. I hope I can change this eventually.

Well, that's my story, at least up to now. After years of wandering in the darkness, now I can see there is light at the end of the tunnel, and it's not always an oncoming train.

Take care,

1 comment:

  1. Not much seems to have really changed for me since I wrote this 4 years ago, except the relationship I thought I had rebuilt wasn't what I thinking it was, not even close to the past. That's hard for me right now.