My name is Richard and my encounter with mental health is twofold.
Firstly, I was the carer for my wife for over twelve years. She has bipolar disorder that only became apparent when we were on honeymoon. At first, it started as obsessive and strange behaviour and odd conversations that seemed destined to go to strange places, but when we returned early, she resigned abruptly from her job and began to stay in bed for longer and longer periods of time. In the end, with exemplary help from our family doctor, she was seen by a specialist who diagnosed bipolar, a diagnosis that has subsequently been supported by several other psychiatrists.
The past few years have seen stability, but also suicide attempts, horrifically scary highs and apocalyptic lows and obsessive thoughts that no amount of carefully constructed arguments or, to my shame, shouting, could fix. And that’s where the second part of this duopoly comes in.
What I didn’t realise was the toll it was taking of my own mental health. I had panic attacks when I went to work using the London Underground so used the buses instead. I avoided the company of my friends and finally separated from her as I became steadily more ill and confused. Finally, I crawled back to the flat we shared and where she looked after me. That was two and a half years ago. We’re still separated, but she’s been caring for me ever since as I try and get my shattered mind back into one piece and work out what the way ahead might possibly be.
My sense is that stigma has a massive, massive role in all this. My own family reacted with horror to my illness, a reaction that they still haven’t fully recovered from, leaving the burden on my more understanding in-laws, who saved me from suicide more times than I care to mention. People react with a kind of clenched horror when mental health is discussed and their reactions vary from indifference to saying witless, unhelpful things.
I’d welcome any chance to tell my story, as I think it’s important people speak out and are honest about what happened. I may never be free of mental health problems, but I can help others live free of the stigma.
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I’ve worked as a journalist, writer and copywriter since graduating from the University of London in 1997. I worked for a soccer magazine for three years, went freelance and then, foolishly, accepted a writing position with the British Army which I came to recognise as being the least ethical thing I could ever do. Around the time of my breakdown I resigned and am now freelance again.
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