It goes back to when I was about 11 years old when my mum said to me, “I think you might have bipolar”. She tried to explain it to me, but I refused to believe her and didn’t listen. Just the idea that I might have a mental illness – any mental illness – was just not spoken about in my family or in the area where I grew up.

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From quite a young age Mum tried to push me to see counselors or a GP, and every single time they would come back with depression or something along those lines. I would ignore it and not engage with the process at all. I was not interested. She found it very difficult because Mum knew I needed help, but she couldn’t tell me what to do.

When I was younger, I couldn’t figure out why I was so depressed. What was so wrong and so upsetting at the age of 12? Was this just a normal part of growing up? When I hit about 15 or 16, I started to think, “What if I am this miserable for the rest of my life. That is not a life I want to live.” I almost didn’t get myself out of that one, I almost didn’t get better. I could feel a darkness and an emptiness inside of me which I felt that I had to face alone, because no one else could see or feel ‘that’.

You don’t have words for it. It isn’t like a broken arm, it is inside of you. There are no words and you can’t comprehend what is happening and you feel very, very alone.

Sometimes the depression would go away or be replaced by an incomprehensible mania. I would not sleep for days, I wouldn’t even get tired. I’d start projects like sewing or writing and get mad because the machine was going slower than my hands. My mind was just racing for weeks on end and I couldn’t shut it off. This wasn’t happiness; just constant and uncontrollable energy.

I wasn’t as scared as my parents were, I mean I was nervous as it is pretty scary going to a GP to put into words of what is going on, but I wasn’t as scared as my Dad. When hearing the diagnosis of bipolar and that there is treatment, that part was really relieving for me. Unfortunately I did not get a great start to my recovery. First I met with a private mental health clinician– the words that came out immediately afterwards were, “I’m sorry. You’re going to have a grieving period. You’re going to have to mourn the life that you could have had, and there are things you can not do now you have a mental illness. You are not going to be capable of doing stuff like other people because you have a mental illness.”

That was my first experience around mental illness – I hadn’t even been to the guidance counselor at school. From there, it got even worse and I had lost hope. I thought; why finish school and go to design school? I had a few dead end jobs, but ended up quitting those as I didn’t see a career progression and I thought “I have a mental illness why bother.”

I moved out of home about age 17, so by the time I was 18 I was barely talking to my parents. I had very little contact with them and since they were the ones paying for the psychiatrist I stopped going. At 18 I got into supported accommodation for young people, where I had an apartment to myself and I was only paying a small amount of rent because I was on the dole and wasn’t working. I began to develop a dependency on alcohol because I wasn’t doing anything with my life. I woke up every day, had a shower, had breakfast and went to the pub and stayed there until 2 am and then went home. And I did it all again the next day. Seeing my friends was all I had in my life. I didn’t have anything I was working towards and I didn’t have anything but drinking to occupy my time.

I got to 21, somehow, and I was sitting at the pub with a friend and she was talking about what was going on with her as she was unhappy and she was experiencing depression. She told me that she had gone to a Headspace and it was the first time she had been to a service where she felt like she wasn’t being judged. The way that she recounted it really made me think, that this sounds different to the mental health services I have been to before, so why not give it a shot? A few days later I wandered into my local Headspace and said, “Hi my friend said I should come and talk to you guys.” If my friend hadn’t spoken so highly of it I would never have gone to that service.

As soon as I walked in we did the usual talk about my problems and I let it all out, everything that’s been going on for me. I talked about how much I drink and they made me realize how much I had been drinking. I talked about my symptoms and started to realize how bad they were. And they knew what to do, they had a plan for me, well not prepared, but they had options and ideas. They really wanted to work with me, to give me a life that I could look forward to and I immediately saw that from my first meeting with someone. Finally I was told that I had a choice, and that I could build a life I wanted to live.

I don’t drink now and I never want to go back to it because that experience with such an eye-opener to me about my quality of life. From there, I really started working on myself and I was feeling really hopeful, really positive. I wasn’t manic and over-the-top excited, I was content with myself and I was in a good place finally. I got to the six month mark, I can’t remember why it happened but I remember sitting in my house and turning to one of my flatmates and saying “is this what self-worth feels like?”

I was feeling empowerment and really proud of myself and I had never ever felt that way before. This was a good emotion I have never ever had and I keep getting my momentum, it was positively pushing me to want to work for my own future.

I am very proud of myself. There has been a lot of hard work on this and a lot of finding myself, one of the things I found a really important was to sit down and work out what my values are. Every day I try to be someone I am proud of, it is really hard and I do not always succeed and I am aware of that but I also know that I am working towards the person I want to be.

Rachel Laidler, 24
Sydney

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