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Peter who has bipolar, standing outside while working at House with No Steps

Bipolar: my life on the North and South Poles

October 7, 2014

I look at bipolar like the earth. I have my North Pole and South Pole. One is completely opposite to the other. But the treatment keeps me on the equator.

I was born in 69, the flower power days.

School for me was hard because I have dyslexia, and back then the word ‘dyslexia’ wasn’t in the dictionary. Instead they said I was lazy and not working hard enough.

But I pushed through, and after school I worked as a high class jeweller – you don’t need to read much when you are a jeweller you see. That’s around the time I met Roseanne. I was with Roseanne for 7 years, but when we broke up, the depression set in.

At the time, Roseanne was pregnant with my daughter Ruby, and the picket fence dream of having a relationship, a daughter, and a roof over our heads had gone out of the window.

I hit rock bottom, I was suicidal, I had major depression. People were spinning out as I’ve never been a fighter, I’ve never hit or harmed another person in my life (and I never will), but all of a sudden when I got upset or frustrated, I hit walls. And that was when I was diagnosed with bipolar.

I had been going through life basically unaware that I had bipolar. I was having mood swings all the time but not realising why – it hadn’t clicked to me, or to anyone really.

When I was first diagnosed, it still wasn’t obvious to me that I was any ‘different’ to anyone else. I was in denial, and my attitude was very much, ‘I don’t need medication’.

More out of curiosity than anything else, I did agree to take the medication. Since then, I’m a better person, I’m under control, and I’ve realised that now. The impulses I was having when I was frustrated were controlled, and my moods are stable.

One thing that was a bit of a shock to the system was the weight gain which one of the meds I was on caused. “You’re going to gain a bit of weight” the doctor said, I gained 40kgs in 6 months! As you can imagine this was a bit of a downer, especially when I was already depressed. Since, I’ve swapped the meds around, and I’m starting to see the weight drop off.

I also noticed that my mind used to race – I used to use this to write song lyrics and poetry in my head. But when I started the meds, I lost some of this creativity and the lyrics stopped flowing, but, I could also actually sleep.

I’m an advocate for taking pills these days – for taking my meds. Because I know it’s doing me good. Even though in the short term it might be a trial to get the medication right, in the long term it’s very beneficial – even if that means taking them for the rest of my life if need be.

There are still moments in my life where bipolar sets in. Events can trigger it – major let downs, or major excitements. If I have a blow, it can trigger depression, and if something cool is happening, or life’s really a breeze, I can be manic.

I now look at bipolar like the earth. I have my North Pole and South Pole. One is completely opposite to the other. I have my depressive side, and my manic wild times. In my South Pole periods, I can be in bed for 1, 2 or even 3 days at a time. And when I’m manic, I’m shouting out to the world and going for days without sleep. But the treatment keeps me on the equator. I might go the Tropic of Cancer and Capricorn maybe, but I won’t be going to each pole.

I am still having treatment, and have found a fantastic doctor who understands me and will call me out on any bullshit which I need.

Keeping busy and active really is the thing for me to keep the bipolar under control. I never find myself with nothing to do, really I don’t. I live life to the full.

Since being diagnosed, I got my Certificate III in Horticulture and Landscape Gardening, I work at House with No Steps doing garden and property maintenance, I’m in a band called ‘Electric Grapefruit’ (formerly ‘Men with facial hair’), and I love fishing with a sanger, a can of drink, and some friends.

People think that having a mental illness makes you different, and straight away there can be a stigma. My disabilities are hidden, both dyslexia and bipolar. It’s something I can cover quite quickly and easily, and it’s not something that people often see. Even so, I have copped it rough in my life.

For me we need to be breaking down the stigma around mental illness – even the label ‘mental’ in front of the word illness is kind of a downer.

When I am working with people with a disability, I don’t see someone as having Down syndrome or bipolar or any other disability, I see Peter, Maree, Stephen, and Adrian.

Through my life I’ve gone through ups and downs and had different challenges, but, I don’t want to change who I am for quids.

To my Mum, Mum, you’ve been there the whole time, through helping me learn at school, teaching me to read and do my homework, seeing specialists, and throughout my bipolar. Mum, you’re the reason why I’m here.

by Peter

If you need to talk to someone about mental illness or a crisis in your life, please consider calling Lifeline on 13 11 14, beyondblue on 1300 22 4636, or the Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.