July 3, 2012

Kev, a Time to Change bloggerI was diagnosed with clinical depression in my early teens. This was the 1980's. There wasn't much about in terms of treatment so I had monthly meetings with a 'psychiatric nurse' (what would be called a CPN today) during which she demonstrated her boredom and I learned not to tell her anything even slightly important.

I limped through a version of life in my teens and twenties that was bewildering and at times frightening. I had no idea how to control the hallucinations, depression and the instances of utter euphoria. As I grew older however I learned to source and pay for illegal drugs to try to control my symptoms. However I could do nothing about the hallucinations, both visual and auditory, that have never left me alone all through my life.

My thirties were better. I still had no clue that I had manic depression – I don't even think I'd heard of such a thing – but somehow I felt more settled.

However that settled feeling inevitably gave way to a very severe series of highs and lows that culminated with me getting a referral to see a psychiatrist. It was her who gave me the diagnosis of Bipolar I Disorder.

I am a Web Developer by trade. I have been for over ten years now. I started in a design studio in the West Midlands. I had several depressive episodes during the time I was there. At the time I had no idea I had manic depression. That would come 4 years later. In the meantime I was trying to hold on to my sanity and struggle to hold down a wage. When the dotcom bubble burst, I was laid off and sank into a long term depression.

I had the choice of telling my employer or of trying to battle through. I opted for telling them.

When I was eventually diagnosed four years after being laid off, I was working as an in-house designer for a large consultancy company in Birmingham. I had the choice of telling my employer or of trying to battle through. I opted for telling them. They were very good and offered support in the shape of time working from home and time off to see my CPN etc.

Eventually though I left that job in 2009 as the result of a damaging (to both my career and friendships) manic episode. 2009 was also the year my then wife and I separated and eventually divorced. I relocated to Oxfordshire. Close enough to get to my kids and far enough away to start a new life. I met someone and we started a relationship. However, I was still going through my manic episode and I ended up being taken into hospital (with my agreement).

my new partner did not give up on me

However, my new partner did not give up on me. She visited me whenever she was allowed to. She took me in to the hospital and when I was discharged she took me home. I am now with someone who values me for me – manic depression and all – and I know even if I become ill she will not give up on me.

These days, I’m married to this same lady. I have also given up on permanent work and have become a freelancer and contractor. This enables me to organise my own time and if I need to, slow down for a while.

A large part of coming to terms with my bipolar was deciding what to do about and how to handle the stigma that comes with any diagnosis of mental illness.

A large part of coming to terms with my bipolar was deciding what to do about and how to handle the stigma that comes with any diagnosis of mental illness. How to manage other people’s misconceptions and beliefs is difficult - and it’s a shame that it’s necessary at all, but it is.

Some of my friends felt very awkward after I told them I was ill. I was even dismissed by some people as being ‘faddy’ – they felt that because some celebs were claiming (rightly or wrongly) that they had bipolar that it was simply a rather pathetic plea for attention. Further, when I was ill, I lost friends who simply refused to engage with the idea of mental illness.

the set of people who have been most understanding and patient have been employers

Perversely, the set of people who have been most understanding and patient have been employers. Before I went freelance, I had told three different employers that I had manic depression. One during the time I was already employed and two at the interview stage. All three asked if there was anything they could do to accommodate any needs I might have. All three assured me they understood the ramifications of a period of illness. For one set of employers that didn’t turn out to be quite true but even they were supportive rather than damning.

I finally feel I have got used to my diagnosis. Looking back over the last 30 years of diagnosed and undiagnosed manic depression I blame my unmanaged disorder for my losing jobs, friends and relationships. However, I also know that I am what I am. The first step to accepting your own diagnosis and all it may entail is to challenge stigma, to be upfront about who and what you are and to accept that not everyone you meet will be able to handle the fact of your illness. But that’s their choice and their loss.

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