Bipolar: my life on the North and South Poles

I see bipolar like the North and South Pole. When I'm depressed I'm in bed for days. When I’m manic I’m days without sleep. But treatment keeps me on the equator.

Bipolar disorder, which affects one in 50 Australian adults each year, is a chronic mental health condition that causes extreme fluctuations in mood and energy. Our Supported Employee Peter, shares what it’s like to live with bipolar.

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 seven 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 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.

I gained 40kg in 6 months

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 I need to.

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.

My North and South Poles

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 Aruma 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.

Breaking down the stigma

People think that having a mental illness makes you different, and straight away there can be a stigma. My disability is hidden, 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.

November 2020 update:

Sadly, Peter’s Mum Yvonne passed away in October 2020. Peter wrote this heartfelt message to his Mum, who gave Peter such amazing support throughout his life:

Mum, you were 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.

– Peter

If you (or someone you know) are concerned about any symptoms of mental illness, talk to a GP or medical professional.

If you need to talk to someone about 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.