I reached my breakpoint in the summer of 2008 when I had a complete mental breakdown. It had been a very long road to the breakpoint and I had pushed and pushed myself along that road with no idea of the harm I was doing to myself. The road was a great one though; don’t get me wrong. It was exciting and action packed - joining the Army at 18 to serve my Queen and Country, followed by a very exciting career in computing that sent me to far flung parts of the world. I couldn’t have asked for more. But I also took in my stride a decade full of life changing events which would eventually lead to my downfall.
I was 41 when I had the mental breakdown. I was extremely fortunate to have very good private healthcare as part of my benefits package at work, so I received excellent psychiatric and psychological care in a private hospital. I was suffering from Major Depressive Disorder but no end of treatment, therapy or medication could lift me out of depression or stop the psychosis and suicidal thoughts. Work and family relationships also suffered as a consequence of the illness.
I ended up being off sick for long periods and had several admissions as an inpatient and day-patient in the private psychiatric hospital. This would turn into a career destroying illness for me. In my fourth year of illness, the symptoms started changing, but sadly for the worse. I was having wild mood swings and a host of other symptoms that were alien to me. Eventually it was recognised as bipolar type II disorder with rapid cycling. At first I thought this was the beginning of the end, it certainly felt like it anyway. My career of nearly 10 years ended abruptly with a redundancy not long after I was diagnosed. This was followed shortly after by the death of my precious cat, just before his 18th birthday. At this point I discovered that once you have lost everything, you have nothing left to lose. I was at my choice point. Do or die. Everything repeatedly pointed in the direction of ‘die’. However, my psychologist wouldn’t let that happen, so I had another admission to hospital in July this year.
My psychiatrist is still working to find the right medication and to balance the dosage versus tolerance of nasty and at times toxic side effects. Even when the right dose is found, it will not cure me. The intention of the medication is to lift the lows and reduce the highs. This however won’t produce a flat-line effect or totally stable mood; I will still be on a rollercoaster, just a tamer one that is more manageable than what I have been experiencing over the last 12 months.
I have finally realised that my illness is for life, but there is hope for long periods of wellness in the future. The journey to that point will not be easy, but it will be worth doing. So far, September has been ground-breaking for me. I have had flashes of inspiration and brief visions of what a future could look like. By making lifestyle changes such as: strict medication regime, dietary changes, no alcohol, getting adequate sleep, having a balanced social life and getting plenty of the right kind of exercise, I have a chance of having less symptoms and a more stable mood.
Sounds easy, but I know the reality is not that easy at all; especially on the mornings that I don’t wake until lunchtime, then climb out of bed into a lead suit. I open all the curtains but only darkness floods in, I feel disconnected from the world and terrorised by hallucinations. I am also still plagued by suicidal thoughts.
My psychologist encouraged me to start writing, and to get out there and get involved with online organisations so I can share my experiences with other people who may be struggling in a similar way to me. She made me realise that I have something to give to the world. So, that’s what I am doing now. March was the beginning of the end – yes - the end of an era, the end of a career, the end of being a pet owner, but it wasn’t the end of my life. September looks very much like the start of a new beginning for me, a new beginning that comes with some hope. My psychologist gave me that sense of hope in my last session, so I no longer feel hopeless. I am still living a day at a time, but I do really feel like I have something to give, and this is giving me something to look forward to - something to live for, so my message of hope is:
"Just for today, I promise to continue living. Tomorrow is another day."
The photo attached to this story is called “Painting the Clouds.” I took this picture in the grounds of the psychiatric hospital on one of my stays as an inpatient. The soft thistle heads reminded me of paint brushes and the beautiful blue sky breaking through the fluffy white clouds filled my heart with admiration and hope. I will never forget that moment.