John’s story

I am now in my 50’s and have bipolar disorder. I am fortunate that my depression periods are mild, although prolonged. But my highs are high! I now believe that my symptoms began in my mid 20’s and I have been undiagnosed most of my adult life.

I abandoned university at 20 and traveled to South Africa where I worked for 18 months and I also journeyed up through Africa for a year. It’s still my favourite part of the world and I had many adventures and experiences there. I then moved to England where I stayed and worked in London. I married an English girl during my stay there and we returned to Australia after three years.

I established a building business in Melbourne and after some years became relatively well off and had two children. I then kept expanding the business and took financial risks. This led to a massive crash to my little empire. I started from scratch again with a new shopfitting business and after some years had recovered my losses. I took in a partner along the way and this turned out to be a horror story. I diversified and was soon running three businesses and I also started property developments as well. I then begun borrowing millions of dollars for property and business growth. In the late 1980s there was an economic crash and my highly geared companies were forced into liquidation and and I even lost our family home.

After this I started drinking and womanizing and this led to divorce from my wife, the last straw being me bringing home an STD. One of the women I was carrying on with was attractive but loopy. I caught her using heroin after we were together about three weeks and this caused me to leave. Five years later I got a phone call from Julie announcing that I was the father of her five year old son. After meeting her I asked for a DNA test which proved 99.93% positive. She lived in the country but I re-entered her life to help bring up our son who I could see wasn’t being looked after very well. When I told my two nearly adult children about their new sibling they replied “Don’t worry dad, we’ll look after him when you are old!”. My family took a similar attitude  and he is now considered part of the family. Some years later Julie died from anorexia. It is so sad watching someone not listening to any advice and withering away.

Around that time I suddenly decided China was my new horizon, so I jumped on a plane to Shanghai and basically just disappeared from everyone. After a few early adventures I ended up in Nanjing which is in the middle of China. I spent 10 months there and made a lot of Chinese friends and even established a coffee shop business near the centre of Nanjing which proved very successful. I was often “out and about with my in-crowd” Chinese friends, then met and dated a local woman for 4 weeks – and then got married! (I now know I was high the whole time in China).

Later I got excited about another business, so I sold my coffee shop business for a healthy profit and started setting up a pole dancing nightclub with a Chinese friend and partner. After setting up the nightclub we got a visit from the local Chinese triad heavyweights who told us that they would be doing the security and would guard the takings as well. It wasn’t a difficult decision to abandon ship and I then had the sense to return home. A year later I later continued my business ties with China and have returned there many times on business trips. One early trip was to find my Chinese wife and get a divorce!

Looking back, I often reflect “Why did I do that?”. I have heard many bipolars state the same thing. I self diagnosed some years ago when I was interstate and happened to stay with a bipolar person who developed psychosis. I had never encountered anything like this before and in order to understand more, I purchased a bipolar book in an airport bookshop to read on the plane.  When I started reading this book, I realised, “My God! – this is me!”  I ticked almost every box in the questionnaire, so I immediately consulted the doctors. When I calmed down I was actually pleased with the bipolar diagnosis as it explained my roller coaster life.

My treatment journey has been complicated. I have been hospitalised in a psychiatric ward twice. I’ve been toxic on lithium, had adverse drug reactions where my limbs became swollen and I’ve also changed doctors more than a few times. I now have some insight in what has happened to me. Because of my early drug issues I have studied a lot in this area, so I can talk detail with my doctors now.

With the help of a psychologist I have constructed a crisis plan and have formed a support team. These days I run my business ideas and plans past my conservative brother and take his advice seriously, so no more rushing into things. I have also been taught to recognise my early high symptoms and enact a crisis plan involving additional drugs and to give a priority to sleep. My highs now only last a couple of days rather than weeks or months.

I now believe I am in control of my bipolar disorder and offer the following advice:-

  • Change doctors if you are not 100% comfortable.
  • Psychological treatment is important too.
  • Educate yourself thoroughly on your medications.

I like to think my story is a positive one. Bipolar has sent me on travels, given me lots of adventures, made me self employed almost all of my working life, made me two fortunes and given me lots of friends.

I’ve had my train train wrecks too (I’ve gone from rich to absolutely penniless twice), but I’ve had many adventures due to bipolar, but all in all I consider myself lucky and if given the choice I definitely wouldn’t give up my bipolar, otherwise I might have been a boring accountant or doctor!

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