‘I was just told to ‘toughen up.’’
'I remember being super productive at work and not understanding where the energy was coming from. But then I'd get depressed, miss out on a lot of work and get behind.
Before I was diagnosed with bipolar, I was aware that I was experiencing depression. However, I never understood that those periods where I had loads of energy were actually manic episodes.
Although my mother's mother had experienced bipolar, it was never spoken about so I hadn't been aware of the sorts of behaviours associated with the disorder. After getting diagnosed I was able to educate myself and in hindsight it's obvious to me that I was experiencing manic episodes.
When I went to the doctor they referred me to a psychiatrist straight away.
I was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder at the age of 26. I didn't accept my diagnosis at first but I was relieved. At the same time I was feeling some resentment towards the fact that I would have to take medication for the rest of my life.
I was later re-diagnosed with bipolar I disorder. This involved a long hospital stay which was a learning curve and experience.
Going to the hospital ended up being the best thing for me. During the stay I was able to accept and understand much more about my behaviours. I didn't know much at all about bipolar I or II before my diagnosis, even though I have a family history of the condition.
I have also struggled with some alcoholism issues over the years which definitely had an impact on my family life. However, my family have been very supportive.
When it came to work, I was super productive during my hypomania but my periods of depression made me miss a lot of work and impacted my productivity.
I did disclose to my colleagues that I was suffering with bipolar. I was working in the corporate world at the time and their reaction made me feel like I'd made a big mistake. I was just told to 'toughen up.' It was a fast-paced environment with no understanding or support. I ended up changing organisations which was a good move for me.
Now, I have a great, holistic support system which consists of my psychiatrist, my psychologist, and support groups (to help me with my alcoholism).To help stay healthy I keep an eye on my eating and sleeping patterns. Through learning about bipolar disorder, I'm able to monitor my mood changes and identify when something's not right.
Through volunteering with the Black Dog Institute as a community presenter I'm able to give back. I heard about the Black Dog Institute and the volunteer program really jumped out at me. I'm currently enrolled in TAFE studying community services in mental health and alcohol and other drugs. TAFE requires me to volunteer in the mental health sector so working with Black Dog is perfect for my study. I feel I'm giving back while I learn more about my illness - it's 'win-win.'
The flexibility of the community presenter program is absolute key. If I'm episode-free I can present as much as I want. But if I'm unwell the institute understands. The support the institute provides volunteers is solid. Despite the distance they contact me and are always interested in how the presentations go.
My favourite moments during the presentations are when I get feedback from the audience or when someone comes up and wants to learn more. The presentations are designed to break down stigma and to offer hope. I'm proud to be a part of changing the stigma around mental illness that I’ve faced in the past. I think being able to say, 'I suffer from a mental illness and I'm here' adds to the presentations.
We need to talk about mental illness. I look forward to continuing the conversation so that we can end the stigma and set up solid support networks.'