The Curious Case of Bipolar
Editor's note: Trigger warnings for mentions of substance abuse and depression. Josh, thank you for bravely sharing your journey with Bipolar Disorder.
Life is complicated. But people want to make excuses so it seems like it’s not. Life isn’t black and white, that’s something people need to understand. Some think they have it all figured out, but nobody does, except maybe Tom Hanks, what a Boy Scout. But nobody has life figured out, we’re all still going through the motions. The stigma behind men’s mental health is evident of that. The stigma isn’t exactly what most people believe it is. Most people believe that the problem with the way men’s mental health is perceived is for the most part a problem in relation to toxic masculinity and men being told to “man up”. Although that was the issue in the past, it’s simply not the entire truth anymore. The problem now lies in the people that understand. The people that understand for a limited amount of time. Mental illness isn’t just something you can turn off and on, it’s not a choice and if it was a simple option between happiness or sadness, isn’t it obvious we would all pick happiness and that nobody actually wants to play the part of one sad? A few months ago I found out I suffer from Bipolar Disorder and a few weeks ago I was diagnosed with Bipolar Type 2 and since then, it has probably been the happiest I’ve ever been. Odd that finding out you have a mental disorder can cause you to finally be yourself and become truly happy, but that was the case for me. I had finally found out that something was wrong and that I wasn’t a sad person, but that isn’t to say that it hasn’t been incredibly hard as well. In the time that I’ve begun to start speaking up, I feel as if I’ve been built up as someone that I’m not. I’ve been labelled ‘manipulative’ and ‘guilt tripping’, from people that haven’t even given the real version of me a chance. I’ve been kicked while I’m down, I’ve been shut out and ignored, I’ve had more people than I can count give up on me because my mental health issues became too overbearing or have disappeared now that I’m no longer engaging in the destructive habits or environments that I previously did. My mental disorders attempts on my life haven’t been treated with the respect they demand, I’ve lost so much of myself and I’ve even had my mother tell me she was having trouble accepting me due to a “rapid change” at one point. But those aren’t excuses, they are motivation. Since I have started this journey of mental health awakening, I have decided to no longer take a backseat and to use my voice now, no longer will I be shut off.
I grew up in a home of nine children, seven girls and two boys -myself being the oldest. I was a very quiet child whose only prominent personality traits were that I loved sports, and that I legitimately believed I was Spider-Man to the point where I jumped off my bunk bed in hopes my web slinging abilities would kick in. Unfortunately they didn’t and I broke my foot, but I’m sure one of these days I’ll realize my true “spidey” potential. From a very young age I had a lot of responsibility put on my shoulders to be a strong male figure for my brother and sisters and never really got the full experience of being a kid. From the early years of my childhood I can remember very graphic violent occurrences that took place. I remember being woken up to screams in the middle of the night from my mother after my drunken mentally ill father pulled a knife on her and having to go sleep at the next door neighbours home because my mother feared what my father would do next. I remember my father hitting my mother and being an 8 year old boy standing in front of my mother and telling my father “no more” and then getting caught in the firing lines, receiving a black eye as consequence of standing up. I remember coming home from school at 6 years old and having my mother turn the television up to the maximum point then walking back to her bedroom and hearing the shouting match that turned into screams of violence and pleads of mercy whilst trying to comfort my 5 year old brother because I didn’t want his innocence to also be tainted. I remember these things vividly because I still see them when I close my eyes.
My father started to become less a part of my life in my teenage years, he was in and out of my life due to breaking up and getting back with my mother multiple times, and then completely walked out because he and my mother were toxic for each other. During this time, I had to stand up and be a stable rock for my mother and a father figure for my seven sisters. I had no idea how to take on the role of a strong father type because I had never had one myself. I was a teenager that should have been worried about parties or homework, but instead I had to take on the adult worries of a parent and had to stress how my sisters and mother were going to cope if I wasn’t going to be able to provide them with the support that was necessary for a functioning large family. When my father walked out, it became very hard for my mother. She didn’t love my father and even despised him, but she was scared of taking care of so many children without the support of the other parent, which is why I had to step in. My mother became very depressed during this time and took on some very extreme anger issues that stemmed from deep rooted long-term problems that only came out in full effect when my father was gone. Those anger issues came out primarily on me. I can remember days living in a house fuelled by vicious screaming and constant mental hardship for telling her to calm down or to not take her anger out on me and then crying in a cupboard in the dark by myself because I didn’t want my sisters to see me in an emotional state. I thought they needed someone strong and emotionless so they didn’t think anything was wrong, but unfortunately that’s the mask of mental illness, it can be deceiving. My mother was sick and suffering from mental health issues and I was one that had to suffer as a result. I don’t make excuses for any of the things that happened to me, they were awful, but I don’t blame my mother for anything anymore either, she was under immense pressure while trying to juggle life as a mother and simultaneously living life as a person suffering the excruciating pain of mental illness, I know she did the best she could, but nonetheless growing up was a very hard and demanding task for me.
When I turned 18 I fell hard into a world possessed by false confidence, nightclubs, abusing party drugs, alcohol and constant partying. I looked at those things as an easy way to bury how bad my mental health really was, and for a long time it worked. The weekends would come around and I’d start drinking on a Friday and wouldn’t sleep until I got home on a Sunday night. I’d come home to being yelled at for spending my entire weekend out or coming home at a late hour, but I’d ignore it. I was an adult now and wanted to live my life, but little did I know that I was still letting trauma of the past control who I was portraying myself to be.
At one point when I was 18, my father decided to come back home and to take the role of father once again. We clashed heads quite often. I was full of pent up rage and anger that had not been properly released, barring a few regrettable fights in nightclubs or bars. The way I thought back then was influenced by the fact I had to pick up the slack and now my father gets to willingly walk in and out at his convenience, and I was supposed to just take a back seat? I remember one day it became too much, and he began to start shouting at me. I had had enough and I just snapped and hit him. Then I hit him again and then I kept hitting him until I saw my sisters surrounding me and I stopped. I couldn’t believe what I had done. My father was on the ground crying and all my sisters were witnessing me laying into him pleading with me to stop, the same thing I saw as a child too many times, I was now making my sisters become victims to. In this time he wasn’t the mentally ill man that put me through pain as a child, he wasn’t the man I wanted to pay back for hitting me and my brother for so long, he wasn’t that man anymore. I was taking my frustrations out on a broken sad old man. He was my sisters “Daddy” and I was the person hurting him. I was turning into the thing I promised myself I wouldn’t turn into. That day, my mother made the right decision and sided with my father, I was kicked out of home at 18. While I was waiting for my cousin to come pick me up to move in with him in another town, I saw the curtains being pulled back behind the locked glass front door, and it was my youngest sister at 2 years old, crying and trying to get outside because she wanted her big brother and didn’t understand why he was leaving. It killed me. I ended up moving back home after a few months away because I felt that I let down my sisters and I thought things may have changed, but they hadn’t.
When I was 19, I left home at the soonest possible point that I could. A friend had a vacant room open for me, and I took it straight away without thinking. This was when my problems with partying and substance abuse got to their worst point. I began to go out any night that a nightclub was open: Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Any time I could go out, I would. When the highs would start to fall down they’d turn into gut wrenching lows. When I’d become sober, I started to realize how depressed I really was. I’d lie to myself and remind myself that nothing was actually wrong and that everyone just felt this way, except I knew there was something larger at play. There were days I had spent entirely just lying in bed, not moving, not talking to anyone, just lying in bed while staring at the blank white ceiling wondering what was wrong with me, praying everyone would leave me alone so I could protect them from seeing the sad person I actually was. I’d call into work lying with a different excuse as to why I couldn’t come in that day, which eventually turned into not telling anyone I wasn’t coming in and just not showing for rostered shifts. Eventually I lost my job a few days after I moved into a new house, and I was struggling. I didn’t have any money saved up and I didn’t have a job, how was I going to afford rent and other expenses? I took the earliest available job which was as a stable hand at a nearby thoroughbred racing stable, an industry everyone in my family worked in that I never wanted to work in, but I took the job because I needed the money.
Then, last July I started dating an amazing person. I’d never met anyone like her before, and I’d never experienced the feelings that I felt when around her. Things were great; I couldn’t believe how well I connected to this person and because of that I didn’t think I deserved her. When you come from a broken home that’s possessed by both physical and mental abuse, alcohol, marijuana, constant screaming and neglected mental illness you begin to think when good things start to happen that you don’t deserve them, and as a result, self-destructing tendencies take over. Fast forward a few months later, I had found out my father had apparently hit his new partner’s children. I was so upset that I tried to hide it behind a wall of rejection. When my partner came home she told me she was going out for dinner with a friend two days before she left for a four day music festival, and I used that as an excuse to be upset with something so I wouldn’t have to open up about my father’s actions, when really I just wanted to not be left alone. I later apologized and then informed her of what my father had done and that was the real reason as to why I was upset, I then did something I had never done, for so long I was shut off to the world, I tried to close out how much I was really hurting all the time so everyone would believe the happy perception I tried to fool them with, but for the first time ever, I opened up to someone about the things that had happened to me as a child. For as long as I could remember whenever I got close to a girl to the point that if a relationship started to form, I’d immediately sabotage it if I could. I could not handle that kind of pressure and I couldn’t let someone see me to the core because that would mean being vulnerable to someone hurting me again, but somehow, this one girl changed my views on not only a relationship but also on opening up. A very hard and demanding task, but somehow she pulled it off. You constantly hear that things get better when you open up, but what you don’t hear is that things usually get worse before they get better. I had built up a wall of PTSR (Post Traumatic Stress Reasoning) in previous years as an arrogant party boy that would abuse drugs, alcohol and strip down to the bare nude just for a cheap laugh, and within seconds that image I had was smashed down because I had finally told someone about the trauma that was contained within my childhood. The best way I can describe how I felt in that time is it was as if there was a cupboard with plates pushed up against the door and the door had been opened and all of these plates had smashed out everywhere. The false facade of a character I used to protect myself had been smashed and was no longer. I didn’t know who to be anymore. After that my mental health became even worse and as my mental state worsened, the weight of how much it was impacting my partner also worsened. One night she went to a party and I stayed home, her father then came in to her room and offered to talk to me because my partner informed her parents of the secrets I had only ever told her and I crumbled. I couldn’t handle anyone else knowing, I was embarrassed and already drained because it took so long for me to tell one person, now two more also knew and it wasn’t even my decision. I called her and she came home, that turned into an argument over why she told them. I can look back now and realize it wasn’t her fault, it was something that took not only a toll on me but I had opened up and it now took a toll on her also, she needed to talk about it but I was so accustomed to not opening up that I couldn’t understand and I only saw it as something that hurt me. I had become so scared of everything after this. I had become scared of seeing my friends because they noticed something was wrong. I had become scared of my partner’s parents reaching out to me because I was starting to see the healthy mother and father figures that I always wanted in them. I had become scared of her family because I didn’t think I deserved to be part of a healthy family even though I wanted to. I had become scared of myself when alone because foreign urges of suicide were beginning to creep up on me. I had become scared of the old ways I used to have fun because they weren’t making me have fun anymore. I had become scared of life because it felt too long and too hard and I had even become scared of eating. This was the time where I lost my smile, even if it was a fabricated smile, it was still something that made me feel safe.
Then, back in February, I began to start therapy. I was petrified to go because at this point, the only person I had still opened up to was my partner because I didn’t trust anyone else. The first session I went to, she held my hand the entire time and instead of words, the first thing that came out of me were tears. After the session, we went back home and she hugged me and told me how proud of me she was, and in that moment I looked at therapy as my last chance to get better because I didn’t want her hope in me to be lost. The next session I went to, things only got worse. My entire life I had only ever opened up to one person because I was so hurt that I couldn’t ever open up to anyone else, and now I had to unload everything on a complete stranger. That session I told my therapist about the sufferance held within my childhood, and I told her of a recurring nightmare from when I was 6 years old that I’ve had for a long time, and I left that session telling my partner how good I was feeling. I lied. I felt more scared than I had ever felt before. I had that nightmare 6 nights in a row after my latest therapy visit, and as a result I forced myself to not sleep because I didn’t want to hear the screams held within dreams any longer. When you lack sleep, you don’t think rationally at all and due to the combination of fear, depression, lack of sleep and the fact that I just didn’t want my mental health to continue to take a toll on the most kind, purest woman I know, I wrote a note in regards to taking my life. I walked into my partner’s room and saw her lying in bed and the love I have for her was enough to save me that time. I sat down on the bed and began to profusely cry and shake worse than I had ever before. I swallowed my guilt and told her what I had done, she read the note and began to cry as well. She wouldn’t let go of me and she made sure she instilled in me how much she loved me, her mother even came in the room and advised me that she would hope that I let her help me, and that night I was ready to finally accept their help. The next day, I was dropped off at my mother’s door and my partner told me she didn’t know if she could “do it” anymore and I was destroyed, but I understood. My mental health had finally taken everything. It had taken my will to live, it had taken the character that I used to protect myself, it had taken my relationship with friends and it had taken the woman that I loved. I was now exposed and that was the second last time I saw her. But I don’t blame her for anything, I was someone that was scared and lonely but my happiness was never her responsibility and because I was blinded by my own sadness, I put too much expectation and responsibility on her to save me and for that, I’ll never forgive myself.
I immediately picked myself up, I didn’t go through the stages that most do. Somehow after everything went down, I instantly found me, I found the person that I was. I didn’t lie down and cry. I didn’t feel sorry for myself. I didn’t refuse people’s help. I got up and I started changing my life because I realized that we only ever get one chance at this game and even if it gets hard, we have to take full advantage of it or else we’re never going to be satisfied. I did try to take my life again a few weeks after the initial attempt due to a fear of falling back into the depressive hole that I was in because it was so easy for others to make me feel sad but one of my little sister’s found me crying, ready to stop hurting and she had to be the one to comfort and hug her 21 year old brother. I put that burden on a 13 year old child. A 13 year old child. For that, I can never be forgiven. So from that day on, I vowed I’d turn around every single thing in my life so my sisters would realize that someone at the bottom can get to the top and that life is always worth living. I’ve learned to not be sad over the people who aren’t there for you, but to be grateful for the ones who are, and now my mother and father are both there for me along with a good group of friends who don’t see me as a burden set on by an illness. My mental disorder is now under control and doesn’t dictate me anymore. Life will go on being lived and I will never give up.
It was a few weeks after mental illness tried to take my life that I found out that I suffer from Bipolar and since then I haven’t looked back, there’s been bumps but I’ve kept picking myself up. I’ve completely changed my life and started living it the way I want. I’ve become a big advocate for yoga, I meditate every day, I’ve begun learning how to play guitar, I’ve begun writing and performing poetry, I’ve cut out toxic people, I start professional wrestling training at the end of the year, I’ve become a mentor for children that have grown up in unideal circumstances with the Smith Family charity, I start up a podcast on mental health, film and global issues in July with two friends, I moved to a new city, I’m studying at university so I can take the first steps to becoming a filmmaker and I’m even writing this article. The thing about Bipolar and depression that most people don’t seem to understand or want to understand is that it isn’t just constant mood swings, that’s not it at all. I had a depressive episode caused by Bipolar Disorder for months and it consumed the majority of the length of my relationship.
It’s the insane random fits of crying that cause you to think “Oh no am I going on another episode of depression? How long is this one going to last now?” that trick you into thinking mental illness may steal your life. It’s the sporadic paranoia that can ruin your day if someone looks at you funny or says something to you that wouldn’t usually affect someone else. It’s the hurtful things it causes you to say to people you love that you don’t mean. It’s the manipulation certain environments and people can be guilty of that can cause you to feel so small. It’s the acting out that you wish would turn into a sense of calm. It’s the guilt, it’s the hopelessness, it’s the sleepless nights spent looking at the dark ceiling, it’s the mornings spent in bed, that turn into afternoons spent in bed, that turn into evenings spent in bed and it’s the sadness that nobody should ever be a victim to. But because mental illness isn’t a physical illness that people can see, it doesn’t get treated with the respect it demands. A lot of people forgot about me, they got to pretend I didn’t exist. Because it was easier if it was my fault, I know that because I blamed myself for a long time as well. But I didn’t get to forget, I didn’t get to pretend. An illness almost took my life on two occasions and I got pushed away.
I now know who I am and nothing will take that away, not even Bipolar. Mental Illness is a disease and diseases don’t get to win.
More about Josh:
My name is Josh Thompson. I grew up in a family of 9 children, 2 boys and 7 girls, me being the oldest.
I’m a big AFL fan and love MMA. I also write and perform my own poetry. My favourite musicians are Kanye West and Elton John, and I’m planning on starting a podcast to talk film and to use as a source of activism for feminism, children’s rights and mental health. I love film and hope to become a screenwriter and director one day. My two favourite films being La La Land and Dead Poets Society and I hope to have at least one MMA fight and release my own clothing line.
If there’s any term I identify myself with, it isn’t a job title or anything, I’ve started to label myself as “Big Dawg”. It started as a joke but I have moulded my current mentality since I’ve started my journey of getting better as “The Big Dawg Mentality” because I believe when you go through a lot of hardship and come out the other end with a smile on you face, you’re living The Big Dawg Mentality.
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