"Footy was something I’d grown up with and was passionate about. So when I decided to quit out of the blue I started to think ‘this is not me.'"
My whole life I had known that something wasn't quite right. I had always suffered with really extreme mood changes, thoughts of suicide and sadness for no apparent reason. The older I got, the more noticeable it became to others.
Growing up, my family believed that my moods were just me 'being a teenager.' At school, I found it very hard to concentrate on my work and difficult to maintain strong friendships. I put on a mask so people didn't see the real me.
When I lost interest in sport, I realised I had to seek help. Footy was something I'd grown up with and was passionate about. So when I decided to quit out of the blue I started to think 'this is not me.' It definitely surprised some people.
I was diagnosed with depression when I was 19-years old. I initially thought I would be okay. That I could just get over it.
I still didn't really understand the difference between depression and sadness, so I didn't follow the doctor's instructions properly.
After 12-18 months, I went back to the doctor and took his advice more seriously. But I started to get frustrated by the treatment I was receiving and I had made attempts at suicide. I remember thinking, 'If this is the way I'm going to live for the rest of my life, I don't want to live anymore.'
I ended up doing some research and found a specialist in Melbourne who gave me my second diagnosis of bipolar II disorder. This was nine years after my first diagnosis of depression.
Although my uncle had had what they then called 'manic depression.' I hadn't heard of bipolar II disorder and didn't know anything about it. I was very angry that it had taken so long to get the right diagnosis, but I was also hugely relieved to finally know.
For the people around me, I find that being open about what I'm going through makes a difference. My wife is very supportive and I think it's because we are able to talk about my mental health and how I'm doing.
With my parents, it was definitely an education. I had to help them understand what I was going through. A couple of years after my initial diagnosis they began to accept it more, and now are very supportive. Around 4 years ago, my mum was actually diagnosed with depression herself. So there's been sort of a role reversal with me helping and supporting my mum.
Medication is a big part of how I stay well now. I've also found that exercise helps a lot – I can fall into a big slump if I don't exercise.
Just being aware of what's happening with me helps too. I used to get angry with myself when I was feeling depressed but now I have accepted that it's a part of my illness. However, at times it still angers me that my illness affects my family.
I've been a Black Dog Presenter for 4 1/2 years and it has given me a real sense of purpose. If I'm struggling it's something I can focus on and remind myself I'm helping others. I feel like being a younger man and being involved in sporting clubs helps me connect with other men.
I've found that when I talk honestly about having a mental illness people connect and listen to what you have to say. One of my favourite things about presenting is the feedback I get from the audience. It took me a long time to accept the compliments like, 'You're an inspiration,' but I can see that I've met my aim of making a difference.
Despite being 600km away from Sydney in Albury-Wodonga, I feel like I am a part of the Black Dog family.
To help raise funds and more awareness for the Institute I decided to take on a massive physical challenge. I would ride a bush bike from my home town in Albury-Wodonga to the Institute's headquarters in Sydney.
With plenty of massive hills and rough roads, the six-day, 632km ride not only tested me physically but mentally and emotionally. I received wonderful support from my friends, family, and local businesses in Albury-Wodonga. Along with support from individuals, businesses and community groups along the way I was able to raise nearly $10,000.
In the future, I hope that more is done to help get accurate diagnoses for people experiencing bipolar, as suicide rates are high for people with incorrect diagnoses. And I know personally the anger and frustration that comes with an incorrect diagnosis.
The Black Dog Institute's focus on awareness through education and research makes a real difference.