The first time I experienced depression I was 13 or 14. I began to refuse to go to school. I’d wake terrified of the day, not that I had slept much at night, but I felt like I couldn’t leave my bed let alone go out the door. I was defeated before the day had started. It was around that time I had my first visit with a psychiatrist.
What followed was nearly 20 years of thinking I was doing okay, then a wave of numbness then embarrassment at my behaviour, then deep depression ranging from days to months. During that time I drank heavily and I was a heavy drug user. I was the soul of a party but wracked with fear for the following days.
I couldn’t hold down a serious relationship as I would affect people with my chaos so much their mental health was impacted and they would have to walk away. I attracted chaotic and unwell people. I couldn’t hold a college place. I’d come out of the blocks so fast that I would be burned out by Christmas, gone by Easter. I’d lose jobs and I couldn’t control my money.
In my early 20’s I got a job painting a house for someone. When I got paid I decided I was moving to Canada, told my family, and in a fortnight I was gone. Depression and fear hit when I landed so I hid during the day and worked a bar at night. I’d have to get high before I worked and after work I wandered the streets of Toronto mixing with similar people. Eventually broke, my Dad had to pay for me to come home.
I moved to Edinburgh in 2007 with my then girlfriend. Within a couple of months of my up and down behaviour I was again single. I fell back into my lifestyle of living at night, working at night, thinking I am fine, being really happy and creative and then numb then depressed.
In 2010 I didn’t come home for Christmas. I was in my shared apartment for two weeks alone. I would go out at night, shop, try to score and return to my bed. After Christmas my sister and Dad came and brought me home. At this point I was having intrusive thoughts of ending my life as I couldn’t see how I could live like this anymore.
This really is where my journey to managing my life begins, but, slowly. The first decision I made was to get sober – one of the best decisions of my life. With the help of my sister and a psychiatric nurse both observing and talking with me the question of bipolar disorder came up and I was brought to the psychiatrist who eventually diagnosed me with type 2 bipolar disorder. I resisted that diagnosis for years, going off my medication, missing appointments with the mental health team, not working or having a life plan. I was up and down, high and low, happy or crying, all or nothing, and nothing changed other than the fact that I knew deep down, “I do live with a mental health illness and I must address it”.
In 2018 I had a bad a breakdown and those intrusive thoughts came back and that was my catalyst. I made a verbal agreement to meet the mental health team half way and I stuck to it. I explored new medications with my psychiatrist and found what works for me. I enrolled in a personal development course and I made contact with Aware, first through meetings then a course on Living Well With Bipolar Disorder and eventually facilitating. I continue to work on myself, I have a counsellor, I have tools to draw on and I have a safety net. I can honestly say that in 2022 I was for the first-time, overall content. I still have bad days because I am human and I am allowed to have bad days without it triggering internal or external panic, but I continue to learn to manage them. I’m curious now not a critic.
Living with any mental health issue is so difficult but if you can do one thing today to help yourself then please do it, no matter how big or small. That one thing is your foundation and through curiosity, repetition, patience and being gentle with yourself, it can be managed.
This blog is by Niall Sheehy as part of a blog series for World Bipolar Day (March 30 2023).