Voices of Mental Illness: Breaking the Silence of Stigma

Graham Shiels is the author of The Bipolar Place, and a partner in the stigma-fighting campaign, Faces of Mental Illness.  He is a husband, a mail carrier, lives in Livepool, England, and he is a Voice of Mental Illness.

BSS: How long have you known that you are living with a mental illness?

GS:  For me it’s not a simple, x amount of years, answer. I was first diagnosed with a mental illness when I was 22. That would be 13 years ago. However, I think I have had a mental illness as early as the age of 12 or 13. I remember crying myself to sleep nearly every night for what seemed like a year, but I didn’t know what I was crying about. I wasn’t aware back then I had a mental illness, but I also had the feeling that not everyone felt this way.

BSS:  Can you share with us your diagnosis/diagnoses?
GS: Depression & then later Bipolar Type 2.
BSS: When were you diagnosed with these?

GS:  As already mentioned I was diagnosed with depression 13 years ago. I was diagnosed with bipolar just over 3 years ago.

BSS:  How were they diagnosed?  Did you have any special testing?

GS: I was diagnosed with depression after my girlfriend (now wife) basically suggested I go to see my GP. Not so much, because I wouldn’t go, but more a case of I didn’t know what the hell was going on & I needed the help/push to get me there.

I was diagnosed with Bipolar 10 years later. I saw a psychiatrist for the first time after I had thankfully failed in a suicide attempt. I’d basically decided, that if I was going to live through bouts of depression at least once a year, I’d rather not be here.

I wouldn’t say I had any special testing. I was only diagnosed with bipolar due to my history of depression & then the psychiatrist looking back through my medical details realised I more than likely had been bipolar for a long time.

BSS:  Was your illness diagnosed correctly the first time, or did it take time before the right diagnosis was arrived at?  Do you feel that you do indeed have the correct diagnosis now?

GS: I think I had been misdiagnosed with depression for a long time. Whether I ever suffered from depression or if my depression transformed into bipolar or if I suffer from both is anyones guess. I honestly think most of the diagnosis we have, linked to our brains, will at some point be re-evaluated. Simply because there is still much we need to learn about the brain. I’d be very surprised if when I’m in my fifties I’ll still be classed as having bipolar type 2.

BSS: Have you ever been hospitalized due to your illness?  How many times?  Do you think it helped?

GS: I’ve only been hospitalised when I took an overdose, but that was your standard A&E department.

BSS:  Are you on medications for your illness?  Do they help?  What about side effects?

GS: I take Sodium Valproate (mood stabiliser) & Fluoxetine (anti depressant). Yes I think they do help, but I’m a big believer in balancing it with healthy eating, drinking & exercise. I don’t suffer badly with side affects thankfully. Fluoxetine does make me sweat a little more than average, but nothing so it’s overly noticeable. Sodium Valporate can cause diarrhoea, but again I’ve not really suffered from it.

BSS: Have you ever had ECT (Electroconvulsive therapy)?  How did it affect you?  Did it help?
GS: I’ve never had ECT & until much more is understood about the brain I would refuse it. I truly believe to use ECT in a time, where there is so much we don’t know about the how the brain works, is akin to the blind leading the blind.
BSS:  What other things do you do to help with your illness?  Do you go to individual therapy?  Group? Other things?  What, if anything, seems to help?

GS: Currently, I’m working as a postman which enables me to walk & cycle on average 4 hours a day. For me, exercise is just as important, if not more so, than the medication used for treating bipolar type 2. I’ve only been a postman for less than a year. Before this I’ve mainly worked in an office environment. The lack of exercise in an office job, meant I needed to try & exercise in a gym or by running & cycling outdoors. One of the problems with this is finding the motivation to do the exercise outside of work, when all I wanted to do was relax & enjoy my ‘down time’.

Since I’ve been diagnosed with bipolar I’ve reduced the amount of alcohol I drink. I’ve cut out drinking during the week & only drink at most, one bottle of wine when I do allow myself  a tipple. Alcohol is a natural depressant & so as I suffer more from the depressive side of bipolar it seems like common sense to monitor my alcohol intake. If I’m going through an episode of hyperness or depression I cut out alcohol altogether.

One tool I’ve learned,  which surprised me how useful I found it, is my Alternative Journal. It is a CBT tool that helps change how you think about the things you see on a daily basis. I was talking to a counsellor about how, sometimes, when I’m depressed, I struggle to see the positives that are there all around me. He suggested that I begin to log the things that make me happy in a day. Whether it be a stranger smiling at you, a kind gesture or something that made you smile. So it works like this: Grade yourself out of 10, then write down as many positive things that have happened (aim for ten positives). Read through what you’ve written & then regrade yourself. Hopefully you will feel a little more positive. However, I only really felt the full impact of this exercise after doing it for six to eight months. I now automatically  see the positives around me & pause to appreciate them.

Over the last 13 years I’ve seen many counsellors. In general they’ve been very helpful, but I can’t stress enough to be careful that you’re in the right frame of mind for counselling. It’s easy to go to counselling with the aim of helping yourself, but sometimes you just need to let yourself be. After all, picking at a wound isn’t the best way to heal it.

BSS:  How has your illness impacted your life (jobs, education, relationships, children, alcohol, drug abuse….._)

GS: I honestly believe the number of redundancies I’ve had (3), have been as a result of my illness. Of course other reasons have been given. Don’t get me wrong, I understand if you’re off work a lot because of an illness, at some point a business may need to cut back. I simply find it annoying that a company won’t just come out & be honest, giving the real reason. Or heaven forbid they actually allow a form of flexible working allowing me to continue in my job.

My education was certainly affected, both in school & university. I had no idea what was wrong in school & ended up leaving two years early, to escape the bullying & isolation I felt. At university I distracted myself with clubs, drinking & trying to have fun. This worked to varying degrees, suffice to say I enjoyed my time at uni, my grades did not 🙂

Relationships have been fine for me.  I’m lucky I have a great wife who has been with me for 14 years. My family is, well, complicated, but those I care about have been great.

I’ve never had problems with addictions to drugs. That’s not to say I haven’t dabbled in the lesser recreational stuff…but errrr… we’ll leave that there 😉

BSS:  Have you ever felt discriminated against because of your illness, or had to deal with disparaging comments, denied a job or other opportunities?

GS: Other than losing jobs, I feel were linked to my illness, I can’t say I’ve had any problems. Mainly because, only until recently, I’ve been open about having bipolar. I’m sure if I was open about my illness from day 1 I would have come across some discrimination. Currently I wouldn’t let anyone get away with disparaging comments, as I feel much more confident as a person & would be only too happy to point out the error of their ways 🙂

BSS:  If you could give advice to someone else struggling with mental illness, what would it be?

GS: Don’t struggle in silence. Be open with those you trust. If people would rather not be around you after you open up to them, as hard as that is, are they worth your friendship?

BSS: Anything else you’d like to add?

GS:  Don’t give up. The down cycles of mental illness, truly horrible as they can be, are temporary. You can get through them & enjoy your life. That may sound cliched, but I’ve found from my own experience, it to be true.

You can find Graham at his blog, The Bipolar Place, as well as at the helm of the Faces of Mental Illness project, currently found on Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter.

Next Post
Leave a comment

15 Comments

  1. Howisbradley

     /  September 4, 2013

    Thank you for your interview with Graham, Your blog and his are two of my favorite blogs to read. It’s nice getting to know him better.

    Reply
  2. bpshielsy

     /  September 4, 2013

    Reblogged this on The Bipolar Place and commented:
    I had to reblog this…for a few reasons. Firstly, it’s a great blog so get over there & start following. Secondly, my last post was about doing a post on Wednesday, so here it is. (Yeah yeah, a reblog is cheating, but it’s my blog so hush). Thirdly this reblog is all about meeeeeeee 🙂

    Reply
  3. I’m so proud of you, Graham. You’re an extraordinary person and I’m honored to call you my friend.

    Reply
  4. Hello and what a great way to do a post. I like the whole Q & A thing.
    Just about the ECT’S….I had 15 of them and if it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be here now. I know this to be true. Everyday I wanted to commit suicide and they had to watch me. ECT didn’t take away my pain, but it gave me time to breathe and reevaluate everything. They say the memory loss is temporary…but unfortunately i still suffer with that from time to time.
    Memory loss or death? I chose memory loss. Great post and Graham is one funny man who I love in this blogging family/community! Hugs Paula xxxx

    Reply
  5. I love this and cannot believe I haven’t read it until today! I was definitely missing out. I was kind of on a blog reading/writing break for a while and am still catching up. Love both of your blogs, you’re both amazing people, and this is such a great interview! 🙂

    Reply

What's your take?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: