The Big Issue : Edition 468
18 THEBIGISSUE26SEP–9OCT2014 My status changed from voluntary to involuntary. The private hospital found my mania and physical disabilities too much. Two ambos and two police constables. Strong-armed by one of the constables who later sang along with my euphoric performance in the ambulance. A fragile, featherweight bird handcuffed, caught in a metallic and vice-like grip. I am pressured to have electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), which I manage to escape with vehement resistance. I am terrified and want to find my mind again. I am attached to it. Four months of hospitalisation over a 12-month period. All of this uncomfortably under my belt. But I am still here, able to tell the tale. The good news is that I’m writing dramatic fiction again after years of silence. I have a performance coming up at a music venue. I have bipolar II, so I experience highs and lows beyond the norm. It’s a biological brain chemistry disorder that I have carried forever, but never knew. Cycling hypomania and depression – a bit different to bipolar I, where the highs are higher. The persistent hum of hypomania – the lower level of mania, where radical adventures like selling the house on a whim or indiscriminate sex are unlikely – still lurks. I try to manage it through meditation, exercise, adequate sleep and music. This is critical to my health. I take mood stabilisers and an anti-depressant as well as other miscellaneous pills. Eleven in total each day. They work. They keep me level. I have a new psychiatrist now, who has saved my life with his diligence and capacity to listen. I accept my diagnosis and am no longer ashamed. I still can’t work yet. Not yet. Not for money. Not with pressure. But I do some volunteer work – with an organisation helping the homeless, at St Vincent de Paul and with the Black Dog Institute through its education program. I am afraid of the future, when the pills might not be effective. The prospect of another hospitalisation terrifies me, but this is my life and I want to protect it. I will do what it takes. I REFLECT ON the fact that, were it not for the support of my family and friends and the love, staying power and economic support of my partner, I might have ended up in a very bad place. On cold nights I worry about those without a roof over their head. This is more meaningful than worrying about the next work deadline or what my boss thinks of me. I want to help anyone with a mental illness, diagnosed or not. I enjoy the beauty around me, but can now put it into perspective. You see, this is a story about hope. I am full of it. » JH Franke is a pseudonym. The Black Dog Institute offers free youth and community education sessions delivered by volunteer presenters with personal experience of a mood disorder or caring for a loved one. See blackdoginstitute.org.au.