Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Spotlight on Mental Health - Ben's Story

Hello again and welcome to another episode of Spotlight on Mental Health. I have had some wonderful feedback on the series to date, and it has been touching to have so many people come forward and tell me that they have loved hearing the stories of other sufferers to match their own. So without further ado, I bring on the banner.

So today my guest is the vivacious and frantic Ben of Ben's Bouncing Brain. He is the amateur theater extraordinaire of Melbourne who happens to also be my baby brother. 

Okay, SO I'm Ben and I am a 23 year old theater tragic! That really does sum me up in a "Nut shell" (Pun intended) Musical Theater has been the main focus of my life for the better part of 16 years and I would not have it any other way.

I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder when I was 16 years old. At this time I was not put on any medication as my doctor felt that I was still a bit too young and he wanted to try "self-management" techniques before pumping my body with unnecessary and dangerous drugs. This was a really rough time as the reason I went to the doctor in the first place was my mother told me that she was scared that I would physically hurt her or my two younger sisters in one of my "episodes". This was possibly the hardest things to hear BUT also the best as it was definitely a wake up call. So in the two years following my diagnosis I had many ups and downs and struggled with my mood swings and emotional roller coaster. Once 18 I went back to my doctor and we immediately developed a mental health plan. This took a few months to perfect and we tried many different medications (Antidepressants, mood stabilizers and anti-psychotics). Eventually my doctor prescribed Lithium. This seemed to be the answer and I was "Stable" for a while. Slowly after a few months I was slipping again and went back to my Dr. He upped the dosage and this again fixed the issue. This process continued over months and at one point I was taking 16 lithium tablets (8 twice a day) and 4 antidepressants (2 twice a day). While this was working for me and I was "Stable" I did NOT like the fact that I was on such a high dosage, I also did not like the constant blood tests that came with it. SO I went to the Dr once again and we made a "Mental Health Plan" that was medication free, this involved medication, therapy sessions (which I only attended maybe three times). This worked out well for me for quite some time, sadly it soon came to an end and I found myself not coping. BACK to the DR and BACK on the medication. This was fine and I wasn't happy about it but being on the medication and being able to cope with everything is better than crashing in a heap. When re-commencing the medication though I had a "blond moment" and resumed my 8 tablets twice a day... Those of you playing at home this is NOT what you are meant to do. You need to slowly increase the dosage and monitor the Lithium Serum levels in the blood. So by starting back on such a high dose was not appreciated by my body and I OD'ed. Lucky I didn't have any major problems... I passed out at one point, called my mother and then Doctor on call and I was reassured that I would be fine and to see my Dr when I can and explain what happened and get checked out, stupid mistake but one I will NEVER make again. So in that time to now I have been on and off the medication a few times... Currently I am back on them and this time (sadly) it is for good... I have tried managing without them and I am okay for a few months but it is never a long term thing so it is better for my body if I just stick with it rather than keep going on and off.

The hardest thing about suffering with a mental illness is the social stigma attached... While I am not ashamed that I have a mental illness, it really isn't something I can control unfortunately, and it is still something that is shied away from in general society and I feel this is really due to ignorance... The famous saying "People fear what they don't understand" is SO TRUE! I have so many friends that once they find out that I have a mental illness they are so fascinated and ask SO many questions... ALL of which I am more than happy to answer. But yeah... like I said I am not ashamed to admit I have a mental illness but on the same hand, when I am in the midst of an "episode" be it mania or depression it does affect my day to day life so I need to explain to my boss or co-workers or whomever that I am unable to cope with the stress at the moment and why this is so... THAT is when I feel my worst because I feel like I am being a drama queen and I am hiding behind it. When I am lucid/rational/"normal" I know this is silly and is part of the illness but obviously when I am lucid/rational/"normal" I don't NEED to explain to people that I can't cope... Vicious circle.

When it comes to controlling my emotions or recognizing that I am in the middle of an "episode" (again manic or depressive) the one guarantee to bring me out of it is Musical Theater  I am aware of how silly this sounds but it really is my life force. Put on a Broadway Cast Recording and you have me in a good mood. Now I know this is my personal "fix it" and honestly it doesn't always work but there really isn't any set way to deal or cope with it. Everyone is different and no two people will react the same way to the same triggers. The best way to help is to be able to recognize your triggers. You HAVE to get to know yourself so well that you can feel when you are beginning to slip and pull yourself aside and clam yourself down. Meditation really helps.

Something everyone needs to know about Bipolar and any mental illness really... EVERY ONE IS DIFFERENT, really the best thing you can do is research and get to know the general outline of the illness so you are aware of the general signs and what not.... BUT the rest you need to talk to your friend/family/sufferer and ask them about their personal situation... By that I mean what sets them off, what calms them down, how they manage/cope with things. The number ONE rule I find though is NEVER ASSUME, you can do a lot of damage by assuming or making generalizations about people with mental illness.
Thanks for reading guys and please if you have any questions for me I would be more than happy to answer them.

So a huge thank you to Ben for sharing this story with us. As Natalie said last week in her story, Ben seems to be the person in our family who suffers the most from his mental illness. He is also the only one in my immediate family with Bi-Polar and Borderline Personality Disorder. The rest of us seem to have been lucky to have been diagnosed with simple depression compared with Ben, and I shall remember that and the fact that I don't have to take 20 pills a day the next time I'm having a hard time. To actually know Ben is to know a concentrated ball of energy in human form. I have never seen anyone who has as hard a time sitting still as Ben does, and it can be quite exhausting spending a lot of time with him. Luckily he has the most wicked sense of humor, so it can also be quite fun to watch him bounce off the walls while telling filthy jokes.

Well that's all for this week, next week's special guest is a wonderful lady with a very interesting story to tell, so please join us next week to read Jamie from Being Positive with a Depressive Soul's story. And once again I will put a call out to all of you, if any of you have a story to tell on your time dealing with mental illness, please contact me as I would love to share it with the rest of my readers.
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