Although my real name is not Andrew, I have chosen this alias to protect my real identity, as this story contains some very descriptive accounts of my experience with Bipolar disorder. This sickness has led me to some close encounters with suicide. I wish to protect my family and loved ones from the stigma that still remains even in these enlightened times. In this story, I have tried to capture some descriptive accounts of my depressive and manic behavior that took me on more than one occasion, to the edge of suicide. There are some factors and events in my experience that I have chosen to omit, as they still today, remain painful to both me and my family. I see little value in regurgitating such details for all and sundry to read about.
The chronology of this story begins at a time where I can’t specifically recall. Upon reflection, depression had been a factor in my life for so much longer than I had initially realized, perhaps several years in various episodes and intensity. I do know however, that it became starkly apparent during the year of 2001, where my condition and state of mental health had begun to seriously deteriorate. This account of my experience is factual, and absent of theatrical embellishment. This story is not a fiction, it is real, and it happened to me, these events are to the best of my recollection. Far too often, experiences like mine happen to other people as well. To those of you who have had a similar experience, you may read of some similarities in your own feelings and occurrences in your own life.
Part 1: All about me.
As a child, I spent a number of years as an outpatient at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne resulting from some apparent behavioral anomalies. To date, I am still not fully clear as to what those behavioral issues were. In those days, it was uncommon for parents to discuss such matters with children, so many decades passed before I was to discover the truth about my illness back in that period. While at the R.C.H, I was under the care of a child Psychiatrist tried to make a clinical diagnosis and provide appropriate medical/psychiatric treatment for my apparent condition. There have been many unanswered questions from this period, and although not obsessed, a curiosity about that period had hounded me throughout my adult life.
I had been vaguely aware of my behaviors, but many gaps in the Doctor’s analysis remained unclear to me. My mother shared my curiosity, but like myself, had never been provided with any conclusive diagnosis or conclusions. While I was a child, it was my father that facilitated my visits to R.C.H, and as typical of that period, did not share much information with my mother either, as in his mind; he was protecting us from the uncertainty and misunderstanding of what was happening with his son. He shielded my mother and me from the truth with all the best of intentions, and I can only assume he planned to keep a watchful eye on me as I developed into adulthood. This plan never fully came to fruition, as my father died when I was 19, so the mystery of my apparent illness back then remained intact. In recent months, I have attained under the freedom of information legislation, all remaining medical files from the R.C.H on my condition back in the mid seventies.
Although the documentation was limited, it did confirm an interesting entry notated by the R.C.H Psychiatrist. It said “I predict manic depressive disorder in adulthood” (manic depressive disorder is what Bipolar used to be called several years ago). This observation was made when I was 12 years old. Although this is retrospective information after I had been diagnosed with the condition in adulthood, it’s interesting to note that the signs were evident as a child before it became brutally obvious in more recent years. It sets the course for the events that would unfold in later life.
I am now in my early to mid forties; I have lived a stable life in a typical middle class socio economic environment. I grew up in a loving and caring family with a mum and dad, an older brother and a younger sister. I am now married with 3 school age kids, and I hold down a secure semi professional job with a large organization, and I have the potential for promising career opportunities should I seek to peruse that avenue. I get paid a comfortable salary, and as such, my family and I have financial security. I drive a flash new car, and have a nice home in a nice suburb. I have a good circle of friends, who know me as a person who cares, and I have been told that I am a steadying influence in times of crisis. I’m someone that people turn to and confide in during times of trouble and uncertainty in their own lives, for they seek my thoughts, perspectives and guidance. I’m a sociable person with a capricious and sometime bizarre sense of humour, and I make people laugh with my quick wit. I’m a deep thinker, university educated, and I sometimes posses an uncanny sense of wisdom in times where the waters are muddy. On the face of all this self-praise, I appear as a person who has it all.
I am essentially a happy and well-balanced individual, with a clear direction for my life. I have a sense of priority that involves the people and things that I love, and I build my life around those values. My goal is to be happy, healthy and in control of my life and to contribute the same to those that I love. An integral part of that happiness equation entails the happiness of my family and the other special people in my life. This is my purpose and my philosophy, and it’s my personal value system. In spite of all of this stability, things are not always as they appear on the outside.
Part 2: Bipolar depression and my self imposed stigma.
This story, describes something quite different from the perception I portray outwardly, it’s a story of mental pain and destructive behavior that was to emerge in my life as I approached the last few years. Although much of this anecdote speaks of some euphoric, grandiose, albeit muddled thoughts racing around in my mind, it is also mixed with, and all too often, episodes of the blackest and most ghastly life threatening depression imaginable. In previous years before this monster consumed me, I had never contemplated the notion of suicide. I had never understood the thoughts that must gather in the minds of those that have taken their own lives, but now, only after I have been on the doorstep of self inflicted death, do I understand the horrors in the mind of those who needlessly die at their own hands.
I suffer from Bipolar Disorder, but I was originally diagnosed as having clinical depression a few years back before the symptoms of hypomania also became apparent. I recall a feeling of deep sadness emerging a few years back, it felt like something was desperately wrong, but I just didn’t know what it was, I can’t quite describe it, but it felt terrible and became progressively worse. During this period, (in the last 3 years or so), I had begun on occasions, to withdraw from my family, and avoiding people who may have challenge me about “everything being OK”. I began to blame my feelings of sadness and unhappiness upon my job, my marriage and my family.
At this time, I was in a job that required me to do a lot of interaction with people; these negotiating and problem solving skills began to diminish. The demands upon me in that job were rigorous and often stressful, so I thought to myself that maybe that’s what the problem was. The irony here, is that I have previously thrived on stress, and enjoyed the minute to minute, day to day challenges of work, and always coped well, but this all seemed to have changed, I was baffled why this had suddenly altered. There seemed to be a particular cycle emerging within a given day. I would usually wake quite early, several hours before the alarm clock was due to go off to kick start me into my daily routine. This was strangely uncharacteristic of me, as I had always been a solid sleeper.
The early waking was in itself not so much the problem, but it was more the desperate feelings of sadness and total despair. A feeling of uselessness, being unworthy as a husband, parent, and an employee. This sometimes caused me to silently sob in my pillow in the small hours of the night, but doing it quietly so as to not alert my wife who was slumbering beside me in our bed. This feeling continued on and off, for a number of weeks, sometimes in blocks of time over months on end. I often felt like I could no longer cope, I just wanted to curl up in a dark place all day and interact with nobody.
Alas, I had a job to do, and a family to support, so in the midst of all this, I continued on with regular life, portraying an outward persona that all was just “fine and dandy” in the life of Andrew. This outward portrayal became a carefully planned strategy to fend off any probing questions by those perceptive people who had the compassion and courage to confront me regarding my state of well-being. I was infinitely fearful that someone might see through a chink in my armour that protected me from others discovering the blackening torment in my mind.
There was one particular individual (his name is Colin); who I had some occasional interactions with by virtue of my job, as well as having known him in other roles with the company we work for over several years. He confronted me one day in his easy going, but typical manner; he told me straight out, that he “knew something was wrong with me”. He told me he could read it in my body language and insisted he was going to keep an eye out for me, and he did, (and still does to this day). I felt threatened by this person, and over the ensuing months, I made a conscious effort to avoid him, as I had been obviously “busted”. He must have been a movie director in a previous life, because he was the only person who saw through my carefully rehearsed acting skills. Perhaps however, others also saw it, but this man was the only person who had the courage to step out of the comfort zone and confront me. He did this only with my best interest at heart, he was purely motivated by a genuine concern for me, and it was that factor alone that drove him to affront me. I still recall feeling almost panicked by his knowing glare, his perceptive insight into my muddled head, although I don’t think he knew how severe it actually was at the time.
This person was later to become one of those people in my life that I would lean very heavily upon, and he remains today, a person and a friend who I hold in the highest esteem, and regard him with respect for his compassionate wisdom and insight into the condition I suffer today. He was later to be instrumental in helping me discard the stigma of mental illness, much of that stigma was self imposed, but be he played a major role in reconciling my thoughts about my mental condition, and how to deal with other people’s misconceptions.
I had become a second rate actor, and a master of hiding the secret disturbance that had been raging in my thoughts. I often used to talk to myself under the shower in the mornings in anticipation of questions people may fire at me during the day about my inadequacy, and its manifestation in the way I behaved. I would stand there muttering and sobbing until the water went cold and my eyes red from sobbing, as I was rehearsing my lines. I wanted to ensure I had a pre planned response to any of those questions that I may be faced with at any given time. I had a whole series of excuses as to why I had lost so much weight, “It must be all the healthy living”, I would reply with a forced smile and a rehearsed laugh.
I even went to the extent to share ridiculous and eccentric stories of nonsensical things I had done in my life, just to entertain and play the clown, and to reassure those around me that I was doing all right. Occasionally, as the day wore on, my mind eased, and the storm subsided, but sometimes it didn’t. I concluded from this, that I must have hated my job, but during those periods, I hated pretty much everything, mainly myself. I began to hate going to bed at night, as I knew what was awaiting me when I woke. It’s a strange situation that we usually desire to wake from a nightmare to gain relief from the terror, but in my life, it was waking from the relief of sleep, into the nightmare of being awake and facing the reality of my secret anguish once again.
I can recall one particular morning, I was driving to work and upon arrival, I got as far as the entrance to the plant, only to surrender to the impulse that I could no longer do this. I could not face another day interacting with people, my acting skills had become tarnished and worn and so I needed some time to reinvigorate them. I remember driving past my work telling myself I just need some “time out”, and as such, headed back toward my home. After about one kilometer, my memory went blank. I have no recollection of the journey, but found myself a couple of hours later, sitting in my car on the foreshore of Apollo Bay in a sobbing and blubbering uncontrollable mess.
At first, I had no idea where I was, nor how I got there, but this was the first apparent sign to me that not all was well in my mind. I had not yet acknowledged nor recognized this as a clinical condition. I didn’t know at the time I had the symptoms of depression, I couldn’t associate a name for it in my own mindfulness, I only knew that whatever this was, it was a ghastly feeling. I remember I so desperately wanted to reach out to someone, to tell someone of how I was feeling, but my feelings of inadequacy had stopped me. What would people think of me if I made some bold confession that my mind is a jumbled mess of sadness, despair, and a diminishing will to live? I had no idea what had caused all of this. I had everything to live for, my wife, children, extended family, friends, my job, etc.,
I had it all, and so what on earth has triggered this feeling that had begun to erode the person I had once been. When I finally contained my emotions, I drove home to find my wife whom I poured out my heart to. She had expressed to me that she thought things were wrong, but assumed it may have been the pressure and long hours of work. In her typical fashion, she had nothing but total empathy and support, and suggested I see our local Doctor to get some medical treatment, and so she made an appointment for me for the following Monday. By the time that week had ended, and Monday had rolled around, I was feeling a sense of relief, so I decided to forego the Doctor’s appointment and return to work. The symptoms had eased slightly, but the next few months still held periods of deep depression, but in varying intensity. They were waves that came and went, and my acting skills were now very much under control, even if the depression wasn’t. It was far from under control, it became a spiraling slide into a black hole where there seemed to be no escape.
A number of months went by, and my waves of depression came and went in bursts, each episode comprising a daily cycle that usually followed a particular pattern of horrendous beginnings, and often easing as the afternoon progressed, (although never completely leaving me, it just improved from ghastly and unbearable, to a feeling of darkness and despair). There were many days, increasing in frequency, where the mood didn’t lift at all. On these occasions, I felt it almost impossible to interact with my family and often disconnected myself from them on weekends and when I got home from work in the evening.
My wife had become like a single mother where her and the kids did things together, minus my participation as I had become notably withdrawn from them. I had begun to lose interest in other things I previously enjoyed. I found myself silent and unenthusiastic at the football with mate Ed, where this had previously been a great outlet, and a day filled with passion and laughter, but it had all changed. Ed noticed I was different and asked if everything was alright. I felt like telling him to get fucked, but I didn’t because I couldn’t be bothered. I had enjoyed playing squash and probably spent more time laughing at my own skill shortcoming than I did actually trying to hit the ball.
In the end, I stopped playing completely; I just couldn’t be bothered anymore. The humour that Taryn (my squash buddy), and I shared seemed to have gone. I’m sure she wondered what was up with me, I sense she wanted to ask, but wasn’t sure how. I was sinking, but it was so subtle yet so profound, I didn’t realize how serious it was becoming. I’ve always described it as a storm that creeps up out of nowhere; before I knew it the black clouds surrounded me with no blue sky in sight.
A few months after the episode where I finished up in Apollo Bay, I had changed jobs. Although still within the same company, I was now in a different role, and in a different department. I had nominated myself for this position as a means of escaping my existing role, because I thought at that time, my job was the major cause of my misery. I was later to discover that was not the case, I now feel that it is largely caused by biological factors, more than a reaction to environmental situation like stress.
My depression continued to grow to the point where I saw no solution to the predicament, so I began to entertain the idea of suicide, usually in the early hours of the morning when I felt at my worse and on those days where things didn’t improve as the day went on. In the midst of this, I dared not to share these thoughts with anyone fearing the stigma relating to my self-perceived ability to cope, making me feel worthless as a person. Suicidal pensiveness began with a passing thought from time to time, but rapidly grew from a concept, to something far more serious. As this condition deteriorated over time, death had now become more than a notion, but a serious contender on the list of options to end my torment.
The evolution from abstraction to being a highly conceivable outcome moved quickly, but I don’t recall a long period of consideration. I don’t specifically remember when it began, but I do remember it becoming apparent to me that suicide was very much on my mind and often in the midst of my thoughts in the later stages; it had become almost an obsession.
Part 3: A journey towards deathly relief.
I thought in depth about the impact and aftermath of my passing. I thought of the grief it would cause my immediate and extended family, my friends, neighbors, and workmates. I thought long and hard about the effect it would have on my three beautiful children, and my infinitely supportive wife of so many years. I pondered upon my kids returning to school a few days following my funeral, and my family, sitting around the dinner table in the evenings, minus a place usually set for me. I pondered upon how my kids will be growing up without their dad, and how my middle child, a daughter, would cope not being able to cuddle up to me on the sofa when I got home from work each night as she usually does while we watch television together.
I contemplated how my oldest daughter would cope not having me around to share our common and sometimes bizarre sense of humor. I wouldn’t be able to talk to her about things that trouble her, for we have forged amazing father/daughter closeness. I am her mentor, and someone she can lean on when she is moody and uncertain about things. I also thought about my youngest child, a boy, who would not have his dad to wrestle with on the lounge room floor, with his screams of laughter echoing through the house when my hand becomes “the claw”, and attacks his rib cage in a fun filled and loving interlude with my beautiful boy. He would miss out on our occasional visits to a local coastal spot to search for sand crabs as we had sometimes done together, just the two “blokes” in the family hanging out together.
I pictured what life would be like for my wife having to raise those children on her own and not having me there to support her and being someone to help, respect, and love her in our jointly committed endeavour to be the best parents we can possibly be. My family needed me, not just the memory of me, but they need me in person every single day, they crave to have me “on tap”, but at that time in my life, I could not see that as a priority through the blackness of depression. I had everything to live for, yet I had nothing to live for, although my life had been filled with priceless treasures, depression “doesn’t give a fuck” for these things. Regardless of these wonderful riches in my life, I still wanted to die. The notions to instigate my death matched the frazzled thoughts that had invaded my mind. I had explored options such as hanging myself, ramming my car at high speed into large trees, or perhaps finding some sort of toxic substance that would quickly result in death.
During this period, my job entailed travelling from Geelong to Melbourne almost on a daily basis and as such, provided me with ample opportunity to consider my mode of suicide. As there had been some significant road upgrades on the main highway at the time, I opted to travel back to Geelong via Bacchus Marsh so as to avoid the lengthy speed restrictions imposed on the conventional route. It was also a reconnaissance mission as I wanted to survey the practical aspects to executing my death, and so on one of my journey’s back from Melbourne, I took a short drive off the main road from Bacchus Marsh to Geelong, to find a suitable tree that was out of the main view of traffic.
I found one, and it was on a gravel road overlooking a quarry of some sort, but far enough out of view not to be spotted by anyone unless another vehicle happened to come along that same road. This tree had a decent size branch that would take the weight and impact of my body weight, but it meant I would need to stand on the roof of my car to allow sufficient freefall. I didn’t care for what happened after that, I was beyond worrying about the trauma it would cause the next person who would drive down that road and find my hanging lifeless body. I had a suitable length of rope in my garage at home, so I checked it that night to make sure it would be long enough and strong enough to take my body weight.
The following Tuesday, I awoke to the decision that today was going to be the day. This was the last time I would awake, and the last time I would walk out my front door in the morning. I would never return home from work to my family as I had done for many years. Today was the day I would die, but the irony in this decision bought about a special feeling, one I had not experienced before since my depression had emerged. I felt an easing, and a lifting of my depression because in my mind, I had arrived at a solution to end this torture. It’s quite ironic that my decision to die offered a long awaited solution, so a feeling of relief emerged that this pain was to end once and for all.
I showered, went downstairs to have my morning coffee, gathered my things for work, and walked back upstairs to view my children asleep in their beds for the final time, and to say goodbye to my wife. She thought it was just a regular goodbye as I did each morning, but her context was all wrong. It was actually a goodbye forever, but she knew nothing of my plans to die that day. She would discover that reality later in the day when the police arrived at our door to inform her that I had committed suicide.
Later that day, I was in a series of meetings with the people I interacted with in the Melbourne plant. My role at that time entailed understanding some of the technical and engineering aspects of a major program the company had been in the midst of at the time, and to translate problems into specific actions in the Geelong plant to devise solutions. During this day I had become particularly diligent in spite of my plans to die later that afternoon. I discussed some difficult high priority problems with the engineering fraternity, and was feverishly taking notes on their problems while making outlandish but unrealistic commitments to have those problems resolved. I specifically went out of my way to interact with those people that had the most difficult problems to resolve, and falsely portrayed a passionate and enthusiastic desire to get these things fixed. I was filled with grandiose but fictitious commitments, I’m sure they must have thought I was just really motivated to get the job done, I’m sure they were impressed with my energy and keenness to make a significant impact on some problematic issues.
Despite all of the energy and enthusiasm I displayed on this day, there was a lurking factor behind this highly overt behavior. I actually had no intentions of following up these issues. I was merely playing games with these people, for I continued to look at my wristwatch that day, calculating in my mind how many hours I had to live. They had no idea as they discussed problems with me, that in a few hours, I would be dead, (even though I knew it myself), so I decided to have a bit of fun with it all.
As I walked back to my car that afternoon, armed with countless notes and fictitious action plans, I found myself laughing about the whole situation. I thought it so funny that I had behaved in such a way, but only to pour cold water on their expectations when they discovered that I had suicided only hours after our discussions, and our well mapped out solutions to these problems, was purely a game I played with them. I had never been serious about my commitments to follow through; I was only humoring myself one last time before I died. It was an abnormal feeling to get into my car that afternoon with the intention of going to my predetermined place of death, almost counting down the minutes in my mind how much longer I had to live. I think I must have broken just about every road rule that day with my excessive speed along a busy suburban road, and then my uncharacteristic speed and radical lane changes on the main arterial road that leads to the turnoff toward the Bacchus Marsh area. I desperately wanted to arrive at my destination, climb upon the roof of my car parked beside my tree of mercy that I had picked out, armed with my trusty rope, and hang myself.
For some time, the exact duration I can’t recall, I stood on the roof of my silver coloured Ford Escape, with one end of the rope around the branch, and the other end around my neck. Time at this stage had become indistinctive as I made some final reflections upon my children, my wife, and extended family. I can recall thinking about the happy times we had together, the emotions I experienced when my kids were born, childhood memories with my mum, dad, brother and sister, and the impact this action I was about to take would have on those people in my life. I recalled the exhilaration and euphoria when my first daughter was born and laid on my wife’s tummy all wet and gooey, crying her lungs out as new born babies do, and myself in a sobbing outburst of emotion that was driven by the amazing joy of becoming a parent for the first time.
I told my wife through my tears the she is my hero for what she just achieved. She was later to become my hero again, but for so many different reasons. I imagined the phases this tiny child would go through in her life, the stages she would pass through and with me being there as her dad to experience all of that, and feel a sense of joy in watching her grow up and develop. The notion that one day, I would one day change her life forever with jagged scares of pain by ending my own life, but this had never occurred to me at that time of her birth. I also pondered upon that special and significant time in my life where due to unforeseen circumstances, I would be to play midwife to my other daughter at the time of her birth on the floor of our ensuite at home. Her tiny newborn body was wrapped in a towel to keep her warm while we waited for the ambulance to arrive.
My wife and I sat there on the floor leaning against the wall with my arm around my wife’s shoulder as we looked in wonder at this miracle birth as we held our brand new little girl in our arms. It was a feeling of amazing peace, both of us shell shocked by the rapid birth of this beautiful little girl that would as she grew older, snuggle up to me every night when I got home from work. And there were memories of my little boy, and how I cut his chord when he was born in the same room, and in the same hospital as his oldest sister. As he cried, I commented on the shape of his mouth, it was a beautiful shape as he cried, and he still has it today. I still see features in my children today that I noticed when they were new born babies, and those features make me smile and bring so much joy to me when I reflect upon their entrance to the world, but this joy was not enough to neutralize the devastation of depression, and my desire to end my life. There were many things about my family I reflected on while I stood there, but I wanted one last escape from my torment before I jumped.
I didn’t notice the white coloured four wheel drive vehicle pull up on the opposite side of the gravel track I was parked on, and the single occupant, a male aged maybe in his mid to early thirties get out and approach me standing on my car. I can’t recall the exact conversation we had, but it was something to the effect that “it looks like you have a few things on your mind there matey”. He was extremely calm, and not in the least bit confrontational in the face of what was my obvious intention. “How about you have a chat with me about it, and we’ll see if I can help you sort a few of those problems out”. I replied something to the effect that we all need to die sometime, so I guess now is as good a time as any. He kept asking me why I hadn’t jumped yet, “what’s been stopping you?” he just kept going back to that question until I gave him a reply about having some final memories of my family. Then he just focused in on my family and asked me all about my kids, he asked me their names and how I reckon they will cope with this. He knew that was my weakness, he knew if that factor became the core focus, he would stand a chance of getting me down off the car, minus the rope, and he succeeded. This man was a Good Samaritan and he came along at the right time, I think destiny played a hand in my survival on that day.
I’m not a religious person, but if there are any such things as angels, this man was one of them. Perhaps he was sent to me from a higher authority to save me, perhaps not. Maybe it was pure fate that he arrived when he did, I was within seconds of dying, and he stopped me. My specific memories of what transpired after that remains unclear today, other than as I drove back to my home in Geelong He followed me in his car the whole way back. When I pulled into my driveway, he did a “U” turn in the court where I live, gave me a toot of the horn, and a “thumbs up”… and then he drove off. I went inside the house, and pretended nothing had happened. I went to bed early that night.
On the Tuesday of the following week, I was required for another meeting in Melbourne plant, and as was now the norm, I woke to face the usual nightmare of depression in the early hours of the morning. I was still somewhat traumatized by the events of the previous week, and the horror of my close encounter with suicide and its almost horrendous effect on my family had I succeeded. A death in the family is hurtful enough, but for that death to be self inflicted increases the horror many times over, so I had a change of plan about how I were to die. I decided that instead of hanging, I would make it appear as a road accident by “apparently” falling asleep at the wheel of the car. I would slam into a tree at very high speed, and of course, I must have forgotten to fasten my seatbelt that day. This all had to be done out of sight of any other motorist either behind me, or approaching from the opposite direction, as the police would obviously question any witnesses. I knew, of a long row of large trees on the side of the road on the approach to the town from the Melbourne side. I had noticed this in my past entrances to town on previous journeys home via this route, so it seemed like a logical location to stage my mysterious but fatal car accident.
Like the previous day, I left the Melbourne plant bound for Geelong, but in a similar frame of mind, I planned not to return home, but to end my life in this mode, thus mitigating the emotional trauma on those I left behind, by removing the stigma component to my death. as suicide would not be an apparent cause of my demise. I recall taking the exit ramp from the main highway onto the road that lead into town, and while doing so, surveying my rear vision mirror for vehicles behind me, and for those approaching from the opposite direction. I could see myself approaching the row of trees, and as such, removed my seat belt so that upon impact, my body would be thrown perhaps through the windscreen of the car, or at the very least causing such grave injuries, it would surely result in my eventual death.
But for this to happen, I would need to be travelling at very high speed, and collide with one of the trees directly without any braking. I was continually frustrated by the occasional flow of vehicles coming the other way, or alternatively, travelling behind me. At one point, I pulled over to allow a car behind me to pass, and then waited for another I saw in the distant in my rear vision mirror to pass by me also, before continuing my quest. I rounded several bends in the road at a somewhat high speed, in readiness to make that drastic swerve off the road when the coast was clear, and I was out of view of anyone.
With each bend I took, there was another vehicle in the distance heading in the opposite direction to me who would surely have seen me make a deliberate approach at one of these trees. Eventually, I had travelled too far, and the generous menu of trees had diminished as I approached the proximity of the town itself, so this ploy of mine was too risky to do without being detected my motivation being obvious. Having been still intent on carrying out this deceptive plot of mine, I made a “U” turn and drove back to the spot where that road met with the main highway, and doubled back again to make a second approach along the tree infested road, with the hope that this time I could do it without another vehicle in sight. This plot had now become a frenzy of watching for vehicles at my rear, and those coming toward me; each time one went past, another would appear in my rear view mirror.
At the same time, I had to keep a watchful eye on the speedometer of my car to ensure I was travelling fast enough to result in my mutilation upon impact. I have little recollection of events after this second failed attempt, other that screaming at the top of my voice in shear frustration the words “fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck, continuously and in several bouts each lasting many minutes, as I drove back to Geelong. I had failed once again to end my torment. My voice was croaky when arrived to pick up my daughters from girl guides later that evening, but by this time, I had contained my emotions, and replaced the mask I usually wore to conceal what was really going on in my irrational and twisted mind. That evening, I went to bed early again, and sobbed silently in my pillow, I felt like a failure because I was still alive.
Part 4: My bold confession and personal realisation.
A week had gone by and the desire to die hadn’t really diminished, but the depression had become increasingly more difficult to conceal. My nonsensical banter had sometimes become unintelligible at times, and increasingly preposterous to the level where it had begun to defeat the purpose for which it was intended, because of the attention it attracted to me. I think I behaved like this as a decoy to distract people from scrutinizing me; and my state of mental health. Although I laugh about it still today, as I certainly did back then as well, I adopted an affectionate nickname given to me by my peers at work as the Chimp, because of my screams of laughter at the most trivial things. It would be heard from quite some distance in the department where I worked at the time. It seems ironic that in the midst of my depression, I was also more often than not, overcome with the loud laughter about some very trivial events.
So this morning required me to be in an 8:00 am daily meeting in Geelong. I had a role in this meeting to report out on various issues that fell within my area of responsibility. After this, I was to go to the Melbourne plant to participate in a similar forum. Following this meeting, I walked back through the factory to my office, but I gave thought to not going back to the office at all. The rope I had used the week earlier, remained in the back of my car, and it would be convenient for me to drive off right there and then to Bacchus Marsh. I was feeling terrible on this morning in spite of my raucous laughter and “chimp like” screams of humorous laughter.
As I walked through the plant, a few people said hello to me, I uncharacteristically ignored them as I walk in a dazed state toward the exit door. The sight of my car parked near the area I worked, was like a bittersweet object. I saw it in the distance as I approached that location, not knowing whether to get in it and drive off, or to bypass it and seek some help from somebody, but I didn’t know who. This is as I recall my first glimpse in this entire storm, my first acknowledgment, that something was desperately wrong with me. I had a small moment of rational thought, it was like a brief glimpse of reality that overtook the muddled thoughts of suicidal depression. I said to myself. “What the fuck are you doing, this is bullshit”, in acknowledgment of my destructive plans. For the first time since all this began, I realized that I was unwell, but didn’t know what to do about it, or who to turn to, or what to say to them if I did turn to someone.
I was faced with two choices, either get in my car and drive to a place where I could die, or take the more courageous step and raise my hand for help, but my mind was confused and indecisive, so I needed time out to think. Having returned to my office, I removed my “little boy’s jacket”, (that’s a term given to the standard issue jackets we wore at my work, that a friend would humorously call it). I decided that what I needed at that time was to go for a short walk away from my work, just to clear my head and form a plan for my next move. I decided to go on foot as I knew the likely outcome had I chose to take my vehicle, and as such, left it parked in the spot where I parked inside the plant each day. As I walked out of the door of the area where I worked, I said to a couple of the guys I worked with, in as much controlled fashion as I could muster, that I’ll be back later, “shouldn’t be too long”. I was very wrong, for it would be several months from that time that I would eventually return to work. This process marked the ending of my acting, and the beginning of an acknowledgment to myself and those around me that I was unwell.
I stepped out of the office and walked out of the main gate of the plant, which was just adjacent to the area where I worked, and where my car was parked. I had no idea what direction I would walk, or where I would walk to, but all I knew at this time was that I desperately needed some think time away from the distractions of the rigors of my job. I also found within myself, a sense of relief that I had chosen not to take my car; this was a time to reflect upon taking a step forward, rather than being confronted with the option of driving to a secluded place where the outcome of this escape had the potential to be disastrous. It had also become apparent to me that I was in no fit state to drive, I felt sedated and light headed by this drastic realization of the trauma in my life I had only minutes earlier become to finally acknowledge to myself.
The plant where I work is located on a busy multi lane split highway and as such, took me a number of minutes to find a break in the heavy traffic to cross the road toward some parkland that I’d spotted, and saw that as a quiet place to sit for a little while on my own and think about options for seeking help. I recall entering that parkland area once I had crossed the busy highway, and the last thing I remember is seeking out a lonely place to sit, sob, and think, but from that point, everything went blank and I still today, have no memory of what transpired in the ensuing hours from that moment. I have no recollection of where I walked, what I did what I said to anyone, if anything at all, for I had gone into total shutdown mode once again
A few hours later, I found myself sitting on the steps of a well known seafood restaurant in town which is located by the waterfront in Geelong. I have don’t know what route I took to get There, but I was sitting with my head buried in my hands sobbing and openly wailing in total depressive despair. I can only begin to imagine the glares and attention I must have attracted by passers by to see a grown man sitting there in a blubbering emotional mess, for how long, I have no idea as I can’t recall. When I contained my emotions, I decided to call my wife; it was time to come clean with her about my state of mental health, although she had suspected for some time that not all was well with me.
To act at work is one thing, but to continue that facade 24/7 becomes quite a challenge, even for the most accomplished actor. When she answered the phone I just said in a blubbering mess, “It’s me, I don’t know what’s happened to me, I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but I need you to come and get me. I need help”. I gave her instructions at to where I was located, and as such, sat in that place and waited for her green car to arrive at the traffic lights adjacent to where I was sitting and waiting. Not long after, she was there and I got into the passenger side and cried like a baby was out in the open with how I had been feeling.
We pulled off into a small parking area next to where I had been sitting, and I told her in very broad terms (without too much detail at this stage), that I had become suicidal, and had been feeling so low, for so long, and I just couldn’t take this anymore. She immediately took her mobile phone and called our family doctor and explained the situation, he in turn instructed us to go directly to the psychiatric unit of the Geelong Hospital (Swanston Centre), where I could seek some specialist psychiatric assessment and immediate containment of the crisis. This became the beginning of the path back to good health, and the long road to recovery.
We arrived at the TRIAG unit at the psychiatric ward, and within a few minutes I found myself with my wife, in consultation with a psychiatric nurse who had been questioning me about the events leading up to where my health was at that time. She expressed her grave concern for me and indicated that I was suffering serious depression, (which had subsequently been re diagnosed as bipolar), and that I should consider being admitted to hospital until I had become stabilized, and the immediate risk of suicide had subsided. At that time, a consulting Psychiatrist who does work for this area of the hospital, happened to be onsite, and as such, they located him to come and talk to me for further assessment from a medical perspective.
As I described my suicide plans to both the nurse and the Psychiatrist, I was wary of the emotional trauma this had caused my wife to hear such graphic details about my plans to die, she was hearing all this for the first time, and as such, I moderated some of my accounts to protect her from the reality of how close I became to making her into a widow. Those specific details have since been shared with my Psychiatrist in private consultations, and have been also shared with my wife prior to the publication of my story, as painful as that may be to recount such a hurtful and drastic time in both of our lives. I can recall my wife sitting beside me crying, her eyes red with tears as this frightful truth unfolded in front of her. It is uncharacteristic for my wife to express such emotion particularly in front of strangers, needless to say, she was very traumatized to hear all this. And so this day began and ended in an uncharacteristic way.
It began with me getting up to go to work as I usually did, but ended with me sitting in a psychiatric ward having been diagnosed with a mental illness, not quite the typical day at the office to say the least, but at least some of the pressure had now lifted. I no longer needed to act, and a plan was in place to see if I could get better, although initially, I was skeptical about ever feeling better, but would give it a try at least. The Psychiatrist prescribed some medication to get the process underway. As a long-term drug to deal with the depression, I was given a course of a drug called Mirtazapine. This is an antidepressant drug.
Later that day, my wife phoned my boss at work to inform him that I was sick, but not providing any further detail than that, mainly at my request. She was quite “matter of fact” about it, polite, direct, but nothing more. My time of return to work was unknown at this stage pending further medical advice, although both she and I realized it would be quite some time, at least a number of weeks, but as it turned out, it was considerably longer than that. My employer was fully supportive of my situation.
Part 5: Misguided ignorance & stigma.
In the first few days I had been absent from work, I just wanted to sneak back to the office and hope that nobody realized it had been away. My biggest concern at this time was centred on what people would think of me. In those first few days, I insisted upon taking the phone off the hook so that nobody could call to inquire about me, I was petrified that this thing, had gone too far and that the perception others had of me would be forever changed. In some ways, that has been the case, but I am unable to control the perceptions of those around me, I can only manage my own response to those misconceptions. This is a strength I have since developed since that time, but back then, I was a significant cause for concern. Reality told me that at some stage, I would be forced to make contact with the outside world, it would be obvious by now that something significant had happened to me as my vehicle would still be parked in the same spot inside the plant, but not a sight of Andrew anywhere to be found.
A few days later, I decided it was time to leave the phone on the hook, and just wait for whoever wanted to call me, to call me. I answered the ringing phone late one afternoon, and it was my boss from work. He indicated he had tried to call a few times, but the line was engaged, and he understood that I may not have wanted to talk to anyone. He put my mind at ease so much with his compassionate and understanding tone of voice, I felt a sense of relief. The next day, he and another mate I work with, delivered my car back to me during the day. They came into my home with my wife to find me in a fairly nervous and agitated state sitting at our family dining table sipping a coffee in the warm winter sunshine that was beaming in from the window area surrounding our meals area.
They both joined me for a coffee and engaged in a bit of small talk, both of these guys I knew quite well for a number of years. One of them was my boss, the other was a person whom I was his boss, but we were great mates nevertheless, and they were so supportive and just wanted to do anything they could to help, they already had done that just by being there and understanding my situation. They both emphasized that if I need anything at all, just let them know, regardless what it was, they were just there for me if I needed them. When they were leaving after a coffee, I followed them out to the street where they had parked my car and were about to get into my boss’s car, and I said, “There is one thing you can do for me, and I didn’t want to ask this in front of my wife”.
I went on to say words the effect, “could you please remove that length of rope from the back of my car and throw it in a bin somewhere, I can’t even bare to fucking well look at it”. My boss and I engaged in small talk while I had my back to my car so I couldn’t lay eyes on the rope, while the other person took it, apparently rolled it up and placed it in the other car out of my sight. We said our good-byes, and they drove off. I will never forget the look of shear shock on the face of that mate of mine who removed the rope from my car, it was a ghostly, sickly look, and I’ll never forget it, as they both knew what that rope was for, without me even saying a word. I think reality hit pretty hard that morning.
I tried to get some routine into my day so that one day didn’t just roll into the next, although for prolonged periods, that did happen where time became indistinctive, and I often forgot what day it was. There were a number or mornings where I had to force myself out of bed because I knew if I didn’t, I would lay there all day and not even bother showering or eating, I’d just lay there consumed with lifeless depression. During these months, (it had now emerged into winter), and as such, the gas wall Furnace was always in operation in the living area downstairs. Often, I didn’t even have the energy to dress myself, sometimes I didn’t even see the point in getting dressed, but I forced myself to carry out this rudimentary task. I would gather my clothes and walk downstairs just in my underwear to get dressed in front of the heater, (this was always well after the kids had gone to school for the day).
On many mornings, I would crouch down with my head in my hands in front of the heater, just wearing my underwear, and cry, sob, wail… I was just so depressed, but at least I didn’t have to conceal it anymore, so in a sense, I was relieved as well. Some mornings, my wife would have one of my favorite CD’s playing quietly through the speakers in the main living area, she just wanted to do little things, and do anything for me that would ease my situation. There is one CD in particular by Enya… I think the album is called “Watermark”. It is one of those soothing CD’s, well it always was, and it had that effect upon me then. It was like a supportive gesture from my wife that she was thinking of things to ease my troubled mind, as small as those things were, but I have such memories of those gestures of support in one of my darkest periods. Although that is a beautiful CD, I can no longer bare to listen to it today even now I am in reasonable health, it triggers within to do it, it went against all my natural instincts at that time to curl up and do nothing.
Throughout these months of self-imposed semi isolation and absence from work, I had some visitors from time to time, so I had eventually began to reconnect with the world again. There was an event I still remember that remains today, a defining moment in my drawn out recovery. There was an evening where I was sitting in one of our family room chairs waiting for the usual onslaught of noise and activity when my children were to arrive home from school. As I watched Judge Judy on television, my kids came in through the front door and paraded down the hallway in their typical raucous manner, and my little boy made his way to sit upon my lap. Usually, I would have resisted this type of interaction as I had normally been in a state where I needed my space, and would have rejected such close interactions, alas, he planted himself on my lap to watch television with me.
After some conversation about his day at school, he fell asleep with his head nestled in under my chin, and soon after, I too fell asleep. While I slept, my face rested on top of his head as we both slumbered. I awoke before he did, and I felt the warmth of the top of his head on the cheeks of my face. It was a beautiful warmth, and it made me smile. I remember feeling good and at peace with myself, even if just temporary, but I was reminded that these feelings still existed. I tightened my arms around my little boy and hugged him with purpose and love, and I kissed the top of his head. This event may seem insignificant to most people but for me, it marked a turn around and a move in the other direction toward feeling well again. I’ll never forget it, and when my boy is old enough to understand, I’ll tell him how he helped to make his daddy feel better just by being himself.
I had began to feel restless and bored, with one day rolling into the next, my little daily routines were no longer sufficient to satisfy that need. Although still depressed, but to a much lesser extent, I was getting better at last and I felt the ability to function at work again in some sort of capacity. At my own initiation, I contacted the Human Resources people at work, and mooted the suggestion that I return on a part time basis if that arrangement met with the business needs of my employer. The HR person whom I had contacted, set up a meeting at work, and along I came that afternoon to make the appropriate arrangements, and before I knew it, I was back at work but only part time for a while. My re-emergence at work was pretty low key, and I would usually turn up in the late mornings or early afternoon, as my depressive cycle was particularly at its worse first thing in the day. I had been positioned in another department to that which I had previously occupied as due to my lengthy absence, that previous role had to be filled by another person, and although it was a bitter pill to swallow, I was still in no fit state of health to return to the rigors of that job.
And so, a new routine had begun, it one of getting into my work clothes, and going to work once again. The job I was doing, although an important function, was well below the level I was classified. I was still being paid a generous salary and still retained my company car, even though I was only performing a job quite below that grading. Eventually of my own undertaking, I decided to return to work full time but continued in the role given to me upon my part time return. As time went by, although I still didn’t feel 100% well as I still endured periods of mild to moderate depression, I began to give thought to where I were to head from here regarding my future job status. I was keen to return to a role within the company that was commensurate with my grading classification as I was feeling the pressure of receiving the benefits, but not delivering the outcomes of someone at my level.
Eventually I was placed into a role at that level, and so found myself back into the flow of regular work and normal life once again. All appeared to be good, and in the main it was, but a lurking feeling remained that it was a temporary recovery, I felt the inevitable relapse would again return someday.
Part 6: My temporary recovery and inevitable relapse.
A year and a few months moved on, and eventually I progressively got back into line and length of normal life again. I felt well, invigorated, and reconnected with the world around me, but it took one hell of a long time. Life seemed to have returned to where it once was and the old Andrew was back at long last. It had been an epic struggle so a feeling of wellness was something I would never again take for granted. My family and I did a couple trips to Queensland for a holiday, we did stuff together again on the weekends, and my kids got to know the dad they used to know before the black clouds arrived. I also did a separate trip with my mother to catch-up with my estranged brother who I had not seen in nearly 10 years as I felt the need to reconnect with my past, and deal with some demons that had been a part of my life for so long.
Under the advice of my Psychiatrist, I reduced my intake of mirtazapine, and began walking, playing squash again, and eating properly. I lost quite a bit of weight and began to feel physically better than I had felt in many years. All these signs pointed to someone who had conquered depression and had it all under control, but that was not to be the case as it was soon to return, but in a far worse form than it had ever been before.
In early 2004, I felt the dark clouds of depression begin to emerge once again, but this time it felt different. Prior to the clouds, I had gone through a period of unrealistic expectation upon myself, with a mind riddled with grandiose and racing thoughts. On some occasions I was barely able to complete a sentence without changing the topic midstream, and often forgetting what I had initially began talking about. People sometimes commented on the rapid manner in which I spoke, and the comment “hey slow down a bit”, while I was trying to explain things to them. I often perceived myself as someone with powers and ability to intimidate people well outside my circle of influence. There are some examples of this that I choose not to discuss in detail, but my behavior at times could be considered as highly in appropriate. Although always known for an overt sense of humor, this feature of my personality had become a noticeable feature to those I work and socialize with, more so than in previous times. The list of my behavioral traits and the change that had emerged in my personality and behavior is long, & far too detailed to include in this story, but they were evident nevertheless.
On one particular occasion, I went on a crusade to purchase an expensive waterproof jacket so I could use it to wear at the football in the rainy wintry months. I had a clear idea in my mind about what sort of jacket I wanted. It had to be 100% waterproof, and brightly coloured as my reserved seat at the football was on the front row, and likely to be scanned by the television camera while the play was happening in that area of the ground. I wanted to be seen on television, so a bright colour was imperative to make me stand out from the crowd, On the face of this, it seems quite normal and random that people at the football seek to see themselves on the replay, but in my own mind, a prime purpose of this jacket was to make me stand out, and maybe even become semi famous as I wanted television viewers to see me on a regular basis so that I could become recognisable. This unrealistic expectation goes beyond the typical jovial quest most people pursue to get their heads on television.
The actual purchase of the jacket was in itself an unusual procedure. Having investigated the various styles and bright colours from many of the outlets in Geelong, I had narrowed my purchase choice to two particular outlets that stocked an almost identical jacket, (approximately $5 separated them in price), but otherwise almost analogous in the product itself. One of these stores was located in the northern suburbs of Geelong opposite the Ford plant, the other located in Torquay, and they were both approximately 25 kilometers apart.
One Saturday afternoon, I travelled between these two stores (among several others), comparing the features of each jacket, which had almost identical appearance & functionality of the other, before finally making my purchase decision purely out of shear frustration. I traversed between each store, back and forth between North Geelong, and Torque approximately 10 times over the course of the afternoon. I was in a state of high irritability and reverted back to my radical high speed, lane changing, behavior I had experienced once before on my way to Bacchus Marsh. I was unable to make a simple decision on what was essentially the same product.
This is not typical behavior for me, it is a confused and indecisive reaction to my rapidly deteriorating mind, and hinted at my diminishing ability to make a rational decision about a simple purchase choice. This event became a precursor to my subsequent loss of rational decision making skills about anything at all, as the skill of rational thought was soon to dwindle in more ways than one, and was to be who didn’t need sleep, and would often go the whole night without even bothering to try and go to bed. Some nights I wrote stuff down, some nights I would disrupt my family by music playing or watching television with the volume up, and often sit and play my guitar and write music for the whole night. Sometimes I’d be writing poetry, but night time was my time, it’s when my thoughts and creativity flowed at their best. I’d carry on the next day as normal, either manic, depressed, or a combination of both, regardless of sleep or no sleep skills about anything at all, as the skill of rational thought was soon to dwindle in more ways than one, and was to be replaced with a confused mess of confused racing thoughts that didn’t make any sense, combined with an increasing sense of emerging depression.
My recollection of this period, particularly after the jacket purchase, remains a bit of a blur when it comes to recalling specific detail, other than remembering it as a maze of twisted and convoluted nonsensical thoughts, very little sleep, and mixed in with waves of black ugly depression. My sequential recollection of this period remains all out of place and inconclusive, even as I write this. There are many details I do recall, but can’t recall in what order they occurred relative to each other, so I will talk about some of them, but they are not necessarily in chronological flow.
It was around this time that my Psychiatrist had removed Mirtazapine, and introduced lithium to my medication to try and stabilise my radical mood swings that are conducive with Bipolar. By this time I had been absent from work for an indefinite period, and it would be some time before I would return. I can’t recall if that leave commenced before or after the jacket purchase, but I had been away for a couple of weeks at least. Without going through the specific detail, I felt aggrieved that the income protection scheme I had once signed up to would not recognize my illness as a legitimate condition, and classified it in the same category as stress, personal problems, etc..etc… (So much for destigmatising mental illness, but that’s another story).
As a result of having this discrimination forced upon me, I embarked on a crusade to seriously embarrass the instigators of this shameful policy. Over the course of what I recall as about a week I sent something in the order of 25 scathing emails to various influential people both at my work, and to the underwriters of the income protection insurance policy. I made a complete menace of myself to numerous people and organizations, by sending all these emails. I took on crusades regarding various other matters and social injustices. My behavior had become destructive to myself, my family, and it placed me in a position where I could have faced some serious penalties. All of this harassment took place in the small hours of the morning, and was not uncommon to hear the tap of my keyboard at 4:00am, when I was at my most productive and unable to sleep.
Although my continuous flow of correspondence to my work and insurance underwriters was in itself not morally corrupt, (as stigmatisation is a serious issue), it was out of character for me to undertake a crusade such as this. I stopped sending emails when my shop steward from work visited me at home and told me it has to stop. I look back at that and realise that I could have been sacked for this, but at the time, I saw myself as the saviour and “Grand Master” of those that were subject to the trivialization and misunderstandings of mental illness. In terms of sleep, I saw little need for it, for it had become a waste of time and energy, it was a meaningless non-productive period in the day. I had evolved into a state where I believed I was one of those people the night before. and go to bed.
Some nights I wrote stuff down, some nights I would disrupt my family by music playing or watching television with the volume up, and often sit and play my guitar and write music for the whole night. Sometimes I’d be writing poetry, but night time was my time, it’s when my thoughts and creativity flowed at their best. I’d carry on the next day as normal, either manic, depressed, or a combination of both, regardless of sleep or no sleep the night before.
Not all days were filled with beans, in fact, most days were filled with extreme irritability trying to cope with the massive flow of diverse and irrational thoughts that were flowing through my mind, coupled up with the depression, a depression that was growing and taking some higher presence. As a result of all these racing thoughts, I had dosed myself up almost on a daily basis with a drug called Alprazolam. Under the influence of this drug, I was unable to drive, and upon reflection, should not have been driving anyway because of my terrible state of health and inability to behave rationally.
I went through a phase where each morning, I’d catch a bus into town just for the thrill of riding on a bus. I would walk town around and hang out in the city with no particular purpose, I’d just walk around to nowhere like a homeless street person, often walking very fast as if I were in a hurry to get somewhere, but I was going nowhere then I’d catch another bus back home again. One day, I made an impulsive decision to get another two tattoos on my chest to match the one I already had. I can’t remember what made me do that, I just did because I had lost my sense of rational judgment. There is no harm in getting tattoos, but not what I would usually do. It was an impulsive thing I did on the spot with no consideration for it being permanent.
One evening when my wife was at work and I was supposed to be responsible for the kids, and I was doing it particularly tough with depression. I can recall that I was on the brink of calling my mother or my mother in law to come over, I just wasn’t coping with the rigors of caring for 3 demanding children. My oldest daughter took charge, she could sense that it was all beyond me. She had organized her brother into the bath, she had cooked dinner, and assumed a leadership role with her siblings.
When everything was under control and my boy was tucked into bed, she and I passed each other in the hallway. I thanked her for doing what she did to help me. She was old enough to understand what was happening with me, so I owed it to her to provide an explanation. She was only 12 years old, but she behaved in a manner well beyond her years. We hugged each other in front of the laundry door near our family room. We both cried, I sobbed on her shoulder and told her how proud of her I was, she cried too, and told me she loved me. She said, “I love you dad, I love you. I understand, it’s ok, it’s ok, I’m here for you, I love you dad”, we made a special connection that night, and without either of us ever needing to refer to it again, Maybe it’s something we will both hang onto in various situations throughout our lives when we recall that occasion.
Time rolled on, I had lost all perspective on how long a period all this happened, I can’t recall exactly when my mind really began to betray me. I knew my mind had become a mess, but I think there was a time when it decided to really cut loose with depression and muddled racing thoughts and behavior. I couldn’t make sense of anything, and found my perspective on sounds around me had begun to change. The times I didn’t go to bed at all had become more frequent than the times I did go to bed. One night I heard weird sounds from my backyard and thought a dog had got in to maul my kid’s guinea pigs.
Other nights when I tried to sleep, I laid in bed hearing the sound of a machine rhythmically thumping in the distance, I thought it was someone operating a small factory in the area. Other times I heard a car with a diesel engine out the front of my house with its motor idling, so I was constantly getting up and looking out the front window throughout the night as my mind was all over the place with racing thoughts. I would often, (and sometimes still do), talk to myself, and mutter strange phrases with no meaning, then go onto another phrase. I’d speak random words that didn’t relate to anything, they just flowed out of my mouth. My wife was beside herself with worry for me but she didn’t say much, she didn’t know what to say other than reassure me. Maybe those sounds were actually there and my hearing had become over sensitive. Eventually I grew weary of even going to bed at all, it was a lost cause.
I was weary of the sounds, weary of laying there trying to quench my mind, I had become weary and frustrated with life. I went through a pattern for I think about 5 nights on end where I did not go to bed at all, nor did I sleep during that period. I just sat up all night, restless, sometimes overtaken by hysterical laughter over something on television, or playing my guitar. I remember one morning as the sun was coming up, I got into the flow of some really nice chords, and felt an almost spiritual connection with a new day, it was a euphoric feeling and a relief from what had been going on, but it was soon swept away by a tidal wave of depression. My memory of this period is really shaky, so I’m light on with detail, but I certainly remember the next bit.
Part 7: Hospital.
One Friday night (about 3:00am Saturday morning), after I had not been to bed for what I think was nearly a week, my wife came downstairs and insisted I try get some sleep, so I laid on the bed fully clothed and just waited for the sun to come up, still no sleep. When the sun began to come up, (but it was still mainly dark), I got up to go for a walk, and set off. I got to the intersection of the main highways near where I live, and purposely stepped out in front of a blue and white coloured Kenworth truck.
I stood slightly off centre so the wheels would go over me and really do a job of it. All I can recall is the sound of its horn, and the truck doing a radical lane change, and seeing a multitude of wheels going past my face. The irony of my survival is that the reflective sleeves on the red jacket I bought probably saved me in the end, as the sun was not fully up at this stage. I think an alert truck driver played a big role too. I turned around and walked home, sat at the table and pretended to read the newspaper, all as if nothing had happened. I watched my kids staring out the window at the hailstorm, they were amazed to see all the little white bits of ice on the trampoline and over the path. I sat at the table for hours, expressionless and dazed. In the end, I decided to go to Bunnings to buy some rope to hang myself, but instead of turning left into the car park, I turned right toward Deakin University where I parked in the car park and cried for about an hour. I rang a friend and told her I had tried to suicide earlier that morning, she was calm and in control. She talked to me, asked me where I was, told me to think of my family, and to seek help. She told me she understands, and she didn’t judge me. She told me to go home and tell my wife, tell her everything that I tried to do that morning, and to not follow through with suicide.
She was strong for me when I couldn’t be strong for myself, she saved my life through her calmness and rational mind. I drove home and walked inside, took my wife and asked her to come with me to the lounge room away from the kids, and then I told her what I did with the truck, and that I don’t think I’ll survive the day without dying, and I told her that I think I need to go to hospital. We made some phone calls to the emergency section of the psychiatric ward and they advised us to come in urgently. My wife arranged for our oldest daughter to be in charge of the two younger ones, because mummy needed to take dad to the doctor.
Our oldest daughter sensed something was going on, and in her typical manner, assumed her usual leadership role as she had done many times before due to my illness. We left the house without me even acknowledging the kids or talking to them as I couldn’t face their fears of uncertainty. We arrived at the Swanston Centre (Geelong Hospital psychiatric unit), and she asked me if I was sure I wanted to go through with it. I replied to the effect that I either have the courage to do this, or the alternative is that you go to my funeral later this week, so we walked in and I was soon admitted.
The next block of time I spent in hospital, spending the days just wandering around asking myself how the hell had I had been reduced to this situation. I apparently phoned various people while I was there that I don’t remember calling, for reasons that I can’t recall today. I hated the hospital, I was obsessed in getting out, but at the same time I felt safe. Hospital was a haven and a sanctuary, a time for me to gather my thoughts and wait for the suicidal desire to pass. The first thing they did when I was admitted was to confiscate my belt so that I couldn’t hang myself in my room away from view of everyone.
I met some interesting people from all walks of life, professional people, drug users, and family people just like myself. Mental illness is so democratic, it doesn’t care who it strikes at. On the Monday, I saw a different Psychiatrist from the one I usually see as I had been admitted as a public patient and didn’t have a choice of doctor. He told me that I was clearly manic. “You’re manic, very manic” he told me. He wanted me to have a course of Electro Convulsive Treatment, as he felt it was the only thing to treat my condition. I had only been on Lithium for a short time at this stage, and had only just within a few weeks got the dosage to the correct level, so I was taken aback by this suggestion on the basis of a five-minute consultation.
I told him that I want a second opinion from my regular Psychiatrist before agreeing to that, and as such, I discussed that with him the next day as I had already had a prearranged appointment before all this had happened. It was suggested that although ECT is an effective treatment, that option is a little bit down the track, and to allow Lithium a bit more time to kick in. I was stressed out over the prospect of ECT; I pictured it as something I saw in the movie One Flew over a Cuckoo’s Nest, although in reality, it’s not at all like that anymore. That afternoon, my mother came to visit me and I had to try hard to keep a brave face to shield my dear mum from the trauma her son was enduring.
I made her a cup of tea and introduced her to my regular Psychiatrist who just happened to be in the ward at the time, and came over to say a casual hello to me. I tried to prepare her for the prospect that I may have to have E.C.T and that it was nothing to worry about. In spite of my attempts to portray a calm persona, mum saw right through me as I babbled on in my customary manic “rapid speak, change of topic mid sentence” talk. She must have seen the depression in my eyes as well, I won’t ever forget the look of confused worry on her face, and I think the reality of mental illness took quite a swipe at mum that afternoon.
She hugged me, then she left in time to get her bus back home, very much a worried woman for her son, she was confused about what was happening to me. When she left, I burst into tears and was comforted by a visitor of another patient. One of the male nurses took me to a private room and sat with me until I regained my composure. The staff in this ward are outstanding people. They are so professional, well trained, but above all, they genuinely care about what they do. They do their job with compassion and conviction, and they do it so well. I can never speak highly enough of these people, I can’t remember any of their names, but I’ll always remember them as wonderful people and professionals in their field.
That night, my wife bought my kids in to visit me, I had been missing them so much. My seven-year-old boy came and hugged me as I met them near the reception area, and that was followed up with a hug from my 10 & 12-year-old daughters. The whole time, I felt so much like bursting into tears because my precious little kids were visiting their dad in a psychiatric ward, I had to be strong and put on a happy face because I was wondering if they would be freaked out by it and what they would think of me. I wasn’t the strong reliable daddy anymore, maybe they’ll never look up to me again.
I know now, that’s not the case, but at the time, my mind was fragile, and I was an emotional mess. They didn’t stay all that long, I hugged my boy, then my two girls both hugged me at the same time, then I hugged my wife, and they left. I couldn’t hold my emotions in any longer, I bolted down to my room where it was private, fell onto both my knees, held my head in both my hands, and wailed like a baby, I don’t think I have ever cried that much in my life. I was only beginning to contain my emotions, when a friend from work turned up to visit me. She gave me a hug, and with her even having to say anything, she knew what was making me cry as she saw my family leaving on her way in. She sat and listened to me waffle on about what was in my head. Sometimes people say so much without saying much at all, and just having her there meant a lot to me, and she was there at a time when I really needed it.
There are so many details about hospital I can’t remember, I was very dosed up on medication, it’s all a bit of a blur other than just wanting to go home. A couple of times I was on some sort of anti-psychotic medication, “just to give the mind a bit of a break”, so I was told by one of the nursing staff. This stuff kicked like a mule and I found it hard to walk due to its effect. The medication took the edge off the hell life had become, but there remained an underlying desire to get out of that place. The second last day I was there, I got up one morning to have a cup of tea before breakfast arrived, and that morning I noticed I was feeling a little bit better. On the sugar satchels for the tea, they had little proverbs or sayings of inspiration.
The one I used that morning said “If you can laugh at it, you can live with it”, I grinned as I read it. It was my first spontaneous smile in ages, I had forgotten what it felt like, but that morning, I remembered again and it felt nice. I still have that empty sugar satchel taped to the wall adjacent to my desk at work. It reminds me that when the chips are down, things can turn around if we truly believe in it. I noticed also that as I drank my tea, my hand had a tremor and I felt a little sick in the stomach. It was beautiful nausea, a welcome friend. Nausea and hand tremors are a side effect of lithium, and I think it may have begun to have its effect at last. There may have been a whole host of reasons for that feeling, but I wanted to believe it was my Lithium taking effect. I felt a breeze of well-being, just a little one, but a breeze nevertheless, perhaps I had turned the corner at last.
During that day, I found it a lot easier to read. I tried to make this my main pastime in hospital where I would try and become lost in a novel to distract me from the reality of being in this situation. I was fairly reclusive, and spent most of my time on my own reading a book. It’s difficult to read when the mind is so manic and racing around everywhere and a feeling of terrible depression, sometimes at the same time, and sometimes in isolation.
Reading requires a level of concentration, something I did not have a lot of during that period, and other at times during my struggle with bipolar. Reading became a lost cause at times, it became part of a facade to convince the staff I was settled and ready to go home, even though a lot of the time I wasn’t reading at all, I just held the book up to make it look that way. Later that evening, my sister Kathy came to see me. I think she suspected that I was pretending to be better just to get out of hospital. She said she would come over and have dinner with me the next night, (she is a general ward nurse in the main part of the hospital).
The Psychiatric Nurse that was sitting talking to me about another matter gave us a look to indicate I wouldn’t be still in hospital tomorrow night, it seemed like I had been earmarked for discharge the next day. Kathy was very concerned for me, and when she left, we told each other we loved one another. She went home, but this time, no tears from me. That night, I had sat in the main area of the ward and watched big brother on television with a few of the other patients. That’s something I had not done much of before. I found myself chatting and laughing with one of the other male patients about some stupid thing in Big Brother. It was spontaneous conversation, it wasn’t forced, but it flowed easily. Later on, we watched C.S.I, then Rove. After Rove, I went to bed filled with anticipation of being discharged the next day. I didn’t sleep a wink that night, but I dared not ask for any medication to sleep in fear of it being reviewed by the doctor, and having him withhold my discharge. Kathy was right, I was putting on a bit of an act so that I could go home, I did a lot of that while in hospital to convince the staff I was actually alright, but they saw through it, they are professionals and they care for people like me and have my best interest at heart.
The following day I felt slightly better again, I was still in a fragile state, but a definite improvement had emerged. I had an appointment with the public health system Psychiatrist and was anticipating he would grill me about my suicide attempt again. I told him that the crisis that bought me here has been and gone, and although I’m not out of the woods yet, I feel better. He was a gentlemanly person, dressed in a grey suit, and said to me, “Well I think you can go home now”. I get the impression he was a genuinely nice person, although a bit confrontational, but that comes with the turf. He stood and smiled, and shook my hand, and he wished me luck with my sickness. I thanked him for his help in a very difficult time, and I left the room. It all took about 60 seconds.
I went to the reception area, phoned my wife and merely said, “Come and get me”, she arrived 15 minutes later. By this time I had my red jacket and other belongings all together on a chair near reception, and we did all the administrative Medicare things, collected my belt & medication, and left the building. She drove me home, and as I walked in the front door, I kissed the bricks in a gesture of hello to our house. It was so nice to be home again, it seemed like an eternity since I had been there. My wife made me a coffee and we sat around the same table I sat at where I silently planned my suicide attempt, but things were different now. I was feeling weak and nauseous, I had hardly eaten in days, and had no sleep the night before. I had lost an amazing amount of weight, as I’d got out of the habit of eating, and when I did, it was usually just crap food. I had given up caring about my physical health quite some time back.
Later that afternoon we went to pick up our kids from school. While I sat in the car waiting for my wife to come back with our oldest daughter from the entrance of her high school, I was very close to opening the passenger side car door, and vomiting on the road, but I held it back, and the nausea eventually passed. I still didn’t feel at all well both physically and mentally, my mind was still all over the place and I felt depressed, but not to the same extent I experienced in hospital and the period leading up to it. When my daughter arrived at the car, she saw me sitting in there and her face said it all, I could tell she had a huge wave of relief wash over her to see her dad out of hospital, it was a nice surprise for her. I got a similar response from my other 2 kids when we picked them up from primary school, they were surprised yet thrilled to see me.
It was nice to be home again, but it occurred to me that I had done some damage to my relationship with my family over the period I had been sick. I realized the trauma they must have undergone and how the innocent minds of my younger children in particular, must have been so confused by my radical change in behavior leading up to, and definitely including my episode with bipolar. My son said to me that night while only the two of us were in the room, in the coolest voice he could muster up, “It’s great to have you home dad”. There was much rebuilding to do particularly with my son, to repair the relationship damage my sickness had caused.
Part 8: Getting better again.
Over the next few weeks, my health improved very significantly at an almost frightening pace. I wasn’t sure if this was something I should just embrace, or something to be concerned about, as it could have just been a cyclic thing and I may have been headed for another manic bout. Perhaps I was ramping up to take a massive dive into suicidal depression. Upon reflection, it appears that I had in fact become well again, and as such, we reignited our lost hopes of another family holiday to the Gold Coast. We had planned and paid for this trip many months prior to this time, but when I became gravely ill, we assumed our holiday was a lost cause due to my health.
So off to Queensland we trekked in my new Ford Territory that I had just taken possession of a few days after getting out of hospital. I loved this vehicle and commented on it so much en route to the Gold Coast as I demonstrated all its features to my family. This enthusiastic behavior was vastly different from the manic state that had overtaken me previously. It was indicative of a reinvigorated Andrew, there was a sense of life and future, I sensed it, my wife and kids certainly sensed it too. No words were spoken, but the intrinsic message I got was, “welcome home”. Not welcome home from hospital, but welcome home from hell. They all sensed I was better, without me having to tell them, they felt my well being return to our family.
Everything was sensational, we had a great time together and spent bucket loads of money on all sorts of fun things. It was on this trip that I confirmed the plans in my mind to return to work when we got back. I desperately wanted to get right back into mainstream life again, and I felt well enough to do that. I am often asked how I’m going, sometimes although I feel ok, I’m just not sure. I think people like me lose calibration on what normal is, we lose our way, the benchmark of wellness is not always clear. I returned to work and sat down at my desk on that first day to recap what I was up to prior to becoming ill.
Apart from a few people who had actively supported me while I had been away, not many people spoke to me, certainly not about my illness. It was starkly apparent that most people through no fault of their own, were ignorant about mental illness, and just didn’t know what to say. Although they all cared for my well being and wanted nothing but the best for me, they didn’t know how to convey that sentiment. When I refer to people’s ignorance about mental illness, I don’t mean that in manner that is critical of those people.
There are many sicknesses I have never confronted, because myself, or my loved ones have never been exposed to them, so I too am ignorant, that’s nothing to feel uncomfortable about. With the vast myriad of knowledge in the world, it’s unreasonable to expect people to have an in depth knowledge in everything, unless it’s something they have been confronted with, or need to understand for a whole host of reasons. My wife and other people close to me, people who have supported me, have made it their business to research and understand. These are the people who speak openly with me about it, and keep a check and balance on my progress, without the awkwardness some may assume is present in situations like mine. I have never had a problem talking about it, I’m neither embarrassed nor ashamed of having Bipolar and I’m not at all uncomfortable in discussing it.
There is a sense of uneasiness from other people, simply because they have not taken the time to find out about what I endure. I’m happy to educate them, but they need to be receptive to that, and initiate the conversation themselves, it’s not for me to force my knowledge upon them. So therefore it becomes a “catch 22” situation where the ignorance prevails, and I can do nothing about it until they ask me to educate them, but they don’t know they’re ignorant….it’s an interesting argument.
At the time of writing this story, I feel well and pretty much free of my symptoms. I have had some relapses since my discharge from hospital, some of them somewhat severe, but definitely not to the lowly suicidal levels I experienced in the past. I have had bouts of depression, and in more recent times, periods where hypomania has been very evident. My Psychiatrist has added Valproate to my medication to try and enhance my mood stability, so far it seems to have worked, but time will tell in the long term. I’m fortunate that I don’t seem to experience much of the usual side effects associated with mood stabilizing drugs, I have a wonderful and robust support structure. I am a fortunate bipolar sufferer, (if there is any such thing), I have all the odds working in my favour.
Although I anticipate ongoing episodes of mania and depression in the future, I will work through those periods and come out the other end knowing more about how to manage it, as experience tells me that if I take some ownership for my condition, I can ride those times out. I cherish life and have a deep desire to be a grumpy old man one day, and all the experiences in between are something I look forward to as I have a lot to live for. I cannot live my life worrying about my future health, I can only accept the feeling of wellness and take all the steps I need to, to prevent serious reoccurrences. I have to plan for success and not place my life on hold, or restrict myself in fear of what might happen if I get sick again.
I also believe that my personality has changed a little since being on Lithium. I have quietened down and have lost the edge to my often loud & overt sense of humor. I’ll never know how much of my raucous laughter was driven by early level mania, and how much of it was my natural jovial sense of humor. I still laugh, I am quick with a joke and definitely enjoy my silly banter, but it has had the edge taken off it. I’m happy to loose some small components to my joviality as a trade off for stabilizing the devastation of Bipolar. It’s an easy trade, as I come out of it as the winner, the investment in taking stabilizing drugs pays a generous dividend. This story is only a brief overview of my experience with mental illness. There are so many anecdotes and experiences I have not included here.
There are many gaps in my story, but to include them would go well beyond the scope of transcending my experience to paper. I’m sometimes asked by people around me what they can do to support me when I’m unwell. The answer is simple, I need them to be educated about my illness. I don’t seek sympathy or attention, but I do seek empathy and understanding, those virtues are a vital part of being a good support person. Mental illness is not a taboo subject for me, I’m not sensitive about discussing it.
I don’t wish to throw it in people’s faces, but for those that wish to support me, all I ask is that the talk to me about it, preferably with some background knowledge. The most supportive people in my life are those that can “shoot the breeze” with me about it and ask me how I’m travelling. We pretend that the stigma has gone, but as a community, we are largely ignorant about mental illness, so therefore the words of mass destigmatisation are empty rhetoric without a solid understanding of the illness by individuals, and as a broader community.
Thank you for taking the time to read my story, it has often been a difficult task to recount those times when I was so unwell, and in particular, the times I came close to death. It’s been a painful reflection and a stark reminder of how far I’ve come to manage my condition. If you are a sufferer of mental illness or a person who supports someone, I hope you find the courage to see your way through.
I’m alive today for a number of reasons. One of those is the help I got from the staff at the Swanston Centre in Geelong. I have been in a position on 2 occasions where I needed their help in a crisis situation. I could use so many words here to portray the professionalism and dedication of these people, but my descriptive skills would fall well short of capturing the true essence of their compassion and commitment. The same applies to my Psychiatrist. Over the time I have been consulting him, we have built a Doctor patient comprehension second to none. He has been a wonderful teacher and as such, has helped me to accept my illness for what it is, and aided me to apply strategies to manage it, by understanding it.
There are some very special people in my life who have taken centre stage at various times and have been instrumental in helping me to get better. One of them is my wife. Her support and understanding has never wavered or faltered, it has remained rock solid regardless of the circumstances. She has endured my behavior and rode the rough times. She has suffered alongside me, but she has never complained, and it has never been too much for her. When I have been unwell, she just takes care of business in her typical no fuss, no nonsense manner.
She looks after the nuts and bolts of running our home in the face of my sometimes horrendous state of mental health, and then she looks after me too. She has bared a heavy load through my illness, but rarely shows it outwardly. She epitomizes the ultimate support person and is the prime example to those that care for someone like me. She should step up and take a bow, for this woman has been a star performer.