I was walking out through the doors of Henry Bennett Psychiatric Hospital, my head held high with tears in my eyes, as I thought to myself, “I will never return to this place again, as a patient.”
One of my passions in life is people who have a mental illness. I hear them, understand them and empathise with them. Because I myself have lived with Bipolar Disorder for over 20yrs. It is an illness where you experience days/ weeks/ months of an extremely high or extremely low emotional state.
Oh how I loved my highs! I was impulsive, outrageously fun, incredibly confident, proactive and a little bit naughty.
My lows were usually me crying in the bath or the shower or on the floor of my bedroom, where I literally felt like the earth was about to end. These times were helped along by my addictions to cocaine, ecstasy, alcohol, and men. Doctors love to call this self medicating, personally I don’t like that term, I call it self soothing, confidence boosting and life enhancing as best I knew how then.
It worked for me! I managed a successful career, relationships, world travel, becoming a business owner and my ultimate life goal of finding ‘the one’. I married him. I got pregnant, and did what most mothers do, I stopped all of my vices for the safety and well being of our baby……By 15weeks into the pregnancy I had an almighty breakdown. My body did not know what the heck was going on! I was taken under the wing of Maternal Mental Health. Sober and VERY depressed I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and began my journey of self discovery.
5 yrs ago, I was experiencing my mood getting lower and lower. One day it just dawned on me why people commit suicide, they’ve just had enough of feeling so damned awful. I had never really understood why before. This realisation scared the hell out of me. I was struggling, I put my hand up and asked for help, and was given the opportunity for time out in a Respite home. The doctors decided the medication I was on wasn’t working well and I needed to come off it, then start another which works better for Bipolar. The withdrawal of the medication was severe for me, and this added to my low state of mind and the fact that I was away from my family, and my youngest child who I had still been breastfeeding. I got so low my nurse in the respite home felt she couldn’t care for me any longer and organised to move me into a Psychiatric Hospital.
I remember walking down the corridor of the ward, to me it screamed prison. Scary looking people and shut doors with a peep window for the nurses to check on you. It was cold and clinical. I was petrified. My experience there was a pivotal time in my life. I was there for a month. I got more depressed than I ever thought possible, but then I turned a corner and started to feel better on the new medication. I did art and relaxation classes and started seeing a way out of the darkness.
I’ve learnt that mental illness often goes hand in hand with addictions. A lot of people believe that drugs induce mental illnesses, perhaps they do, but I’m still not sure. For me I liken it to what comes first, the egg or the chicken? As far back that my memory will take me, I have felt depressed, and my discovery of drugs merely made me feel better, albeit not for very long.
I lost myself for a few years there, being sober and working hard to learn healthy coping skills and finding out who I really am. My life is so different now. I’m happy.
I have heard our public mental health system being slammed for years. I’m here as living proof that our mental health system is there and working. If you ask for help, the help will be given, and given well.
1 in 6 adults in NZ are diagnosed with a common mental illness in their lifetime, I get up and speak on this topic in the hope I may offer some understanding and contribute to the change in stigma towards mental illness.
I love getting up onstage and sharing my story animatedly, from hot mess to hot Mumma.