Today I'm delighted to be hosting another guest blog from my colleague Jason. Jason shared his story at a recent event at work. He stood tall on a stage and told people who he was and told them it was alright to be himself. He did himself proud. I'm proud to know him and pleased he has shared to help others understand about bipolar disorder
Take Care Paul
SHINE BRIGHT LIKE A DIAMOND
1 in 4
You know that statistic sounds familiar? 1 in 4 people will suffer from a mental illness at some time, stress, anxiety, depression, bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia for example. If you are lucky you never will, but you will know somebody that does – it touches us all!
I am that 1, if you think about it in a team of 20 people 5 will be affected by mental health issues.
I have bipolar disorder – this is my story which I have written to be honest and thought provoking - so that you can understand what goes on and that there is always hope. People with bi-polar disorder experience mood swings from depression to extreme elation and these cycle at different rates. Left untreated can lead to psychosis –as you will see.
If I think back I was always happy, high spirited, mischievous and outgoing, but then this was interspersed with periods of being seriously introverted. I never thought anything of it. I did very well at school, college and university – degree in Environmental Science. I ended up working for a big international company and was picked up in their management development program. So I was managing a large business with a multi million £ turnover.
I had noticed that my performance at work would vary markedly and I did end up in two uncomfortable performance reviews (not good when you have depression and don’t know it) – all my colleagues seemed stable and even, but I felt like life was a roller coaster. I did well until 1998, I suffered from a serious bout of depression and was off work for a month. Well it happened, at the end of 1998 until the beginning of February 1999 I suffered from a serious manic/psychotic episode. What does this mean? Racing thoughts, paranoia, hallucinations, flashing lights, no need to sleep, spending sprees and really totally out of control.
At this point I nearly became another statistic – the biggest killer of men under the age of 45 is suicide – the only way out of this thing is to stop it dead?
Luckily for me my wife, best friend and father took control of the situation – they took me to a psychiatric hospital in Manchester and had me sectioned under the mental health act. Hard as it was for them and for me (this was the most frightening, degrading and humiliating experiences of my life) it probably saved my life. I recovered, I spent 4 weeks in hospital and 9 months off work to recover – what’s more is that now I had a label, BIPOLAR!
What I needed now was a period of stability, but this did not happen. In 2000 I was made redundant as the company was bought out. I finished my MBA and worked part time as a consultant, looking after my new daughter as much as I could. I knew that I wanted a “proper” job again but struggled to find what I wanted. So I took it upon myself to work up from the bottom – this is exactly what I did and now find myself working in a really interesting and demanding role at the Environment Agency.
All this time I am medicated and I will be for the rest of my life – I take lithium (plus others) as a mood stabiliser, but mood swings still break through from time to time although not as severe. I have wrestled with the NHS, they added a very strong anti-psychotic medication to the mix about 9 years ago as I was still having issues. I never liked this medication for a whole host of reasons – and eventually with the help of my GP I was released from its grasp in November 2016. This has made an enormous change to my life – every aspect, I now know that this medication (does work) affected my relationship with my wife, my relationship with my kids and my performance at work. Now I feel like I am back (a bit like Arnie!!) , the old me that I knew so long ago.
Working at the Environment Agency has helped me a lot, I regained my dignity and self respect. The EA actively helps people like me, all of the team leaders that I have had (about 6) have supported me throughout. I use the employee passport scheme and this has helped me explain and negotiate reasonable adjustments – I don’t ask for much just some understanding, support and flexibility. I have been involved in some fantastic challenging work and worked in some great teams, and a number of years ago I thought that my career was over. You might have seen my story before as I have shared it with the Mental Health Network, a group that I helped establish.
My concluding comments are – I do not feel mentally disabled I feel “enabled”. I represent the 1:4, if you do the right things you can stay well and achieve many things that you didn’t think possible. I have developed a sound self management regime including – correct medication, support network, exercise, good diet, proper R&R, planning workload and I have a crisis management plan too. I promised myself, my wife and my family that I would never go back to the “ward” – keeping everything in balance helps – working here enables me to maintain this and be myself.
I have come to realise that I am part of an elite group of people – some great people with bi-polar - Stephen Fry, Kurt Cobain, Sinead O’Connor, Frank Sinatra, Ludwig van Beethoven, Spike Milligan, John Cleese , Robin Williams, Mel Gibson, Bill Oddie, David Walliams & Katherine Zeta-Jones &Paul Gascoigne – the list goes on and on………………….if you check out Wikipedia there is an A to Z
When I was at Paul Wyse’s brilliant Mental Health unconference recently I had a brief conversation with the EA MHN sponsor. We talked about all the brilliant creative people that work for the EA and how to capture their creativity as this is something we often miss. Being bi-polar I am very aware of this and my creativity and passion ebbs and flows like the tide. Andy talked about harnessing this, but I am not quite so sure?
When I am in an up phase I am very prolific and productive and I am not sure that this really need to be encouraged too much because things could accelerate away out of control. There is a way of capturing this and it takes recognising that it is happening because sometimes it is over before it’s over. When I am in my creative /up phase I pass on lots of ideas to my team and team leader and the people around me, they might not recognise this but it does happen. Sometimes the ideas are really good and sometimes they are rubbish – they do need to be filtered.
The way in which I manage myself – I try to control the urge to be too creative and get excited about new ideas. However, when I do have them I have to let them out or else they go around and around in my head eventually going into an accelerated freefall. I guess it is about balance and the balance that I have found over the years seems to work.
Mr Paul Wyse