“I am married with have two boys, 12 and 10 years old. We are a normal family. I have been in recovery from drugs and alcohol for 17 years. Four years after I went into recovery, I got diagnosed with a mental illness. My doctor says I’m bipolar; I think I have ADHD – but these things are a continuum so we have agreed to disagree as long as the medication is working.
“I realised I needed to seek help when I noticed I was not able to do normal things, even when my life depended on it. For example, I would show up for job interviews late.
I simply was not able to sit down and put my mind to paper. There was just a general disconnect with life. There were times I was so depressed; I can only describe it like standing in a desert with carcasses and vultures everywhere.
Nothing was giving me pleasure. Yet I was sober, I was doing all the right things, I had a family, a child, there was nothing wrong with my life… so why was I feeling like that?
“I happened to pick up a magazine that had an article on adult ADHD and connected with the woman who was being interviewed. It also just so happened that the following day, Karen Hospital was running a test on ADHD, for which I tested positive.
They wanted to start treating me but being in recovery, I was cautious about medication; some stimulants that are used to treat ADHD are not good for people with addictive personalities. I told them if I couldn’t get mediation to treat the ADHD without it threatening my sobriety, then I’d rather not take it.
“I ended up going to four psychiatrists before I could find one who was willing to try out options. We found a combination of non-stimulant meds that worked. And that’s when my thinking became clear.
“The thing with mental illness is that you will never operate at a 100 per cent. But on the flip side, you tend to have some other abilities that other people don’t (like most of us are very creative). You learn to work with the strengths and mitigate the weaknesses. For me the weakness is that I am not systematic.
There are days I have no energy at all, some days I’ll come to the office in the morning, others I’ll come at noon.
Some days I’ll help my children with homework, some days I cannot. I still suffer from exaggerated emotions, especially anger, so I need to be aware of that. I have accepted that this is the way I operate. I concentrate on my strengths and get people around me who help with where I am weak.
“My doctor has always maintained that I am bipolar and it could be true, but like I said, these things merge into each other. I have periods of mania followed by periods of depression. When I am in a manic phase I get a lot of energy; I can do in five hours something that others do in 10 days. But then when I get into my depressive state I will do nothing the whole day. When it is particularly bad I’ll do things like taking a bath for an hour and then lying in bed for another hour because I am too exhausted from taking that bath. The lethargy feels like being stuck in a tank of black tar. But at the same time, depression is not a sad woman; I could be going through it but still be chatting and laughing with you.
“There are days I allow myself not to fight it; I just go home, get a blanket and watch Netflix. But I will also make sure that within that day I get out of my shell, go somewhere and see people. Otherwise I will get more depressed. I don’t let this phase to last too long; I have to drag myself out of it. Exercise helps with that. You have to go through the motions of life because if you don’t this disease will swallow you.
I TAKE MY MEDS
“I take my meds whether I like it or not. I have been prescribed drugs that have turned me into a zombie and others that gave me bad panic attacks. If there is no medication looking after me properly then I’d rather stay mad. So the minute that a drug starts making me feel funny, I stop taking it.
“The first time I wrote my blog, people called to ask me whether I was serious or I was joking – mainly because of what they understand mental illness to look like and the disconnect with what I look like. The face of mental illness is someone is who is suffering, unkempt – the dregs of society.
Many are so impressed with my business-lady side that when I mention the mental illness it becomes more of a curiosity – like how can you be like this and yet you are like this?
In sharing my story, I thought it was about time that someone who was relatively successful, relatively normal, said this is what the new normal looks like. Let’s deal with it at that level so that people are not scared of looking for help.”