Not Quite Whole


Content warning: personal experiences with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and suicidal thoughts.

I have always been not quite whole.  

At fourteen years old I called my father at work, posing a serious question, “Dad, do you think I’m a waste of space?” I had exhausted the afternoon googling ways to end my life. I then spent the next six months in what was my first serious depression, punctuated by panic attacks and anxiety. My mother said I used to get paranoid even as an eleven year old boy in the street, convinced that groups of strangers passing by were talking about me.

Bipolar disorder often starts out in life as misdiagnosed anxiety and depression. So for a decade, I was treading water, waiting for the right diagnosis. A fate which is shared by so many others who have the illness. It took years of intrusive thoughts, high functioning depression and a delusional fear of flying, to tease out a final rough diagnosis of bipolar disorder from my old psychologist. It took a few more manic episodes and a more serious bout of depression in my early twenties to solidify the notion in my mind, that I had bipolar, and to actively seek better treatment.

My journey has been long and arduous, and I know it’s not over yet. I want to emphasise to anyone reading this, who has been diagnosed with bipolar or any other mental illness, that this is a journey. You are a human being, not your disease, and you have a story, not just a diagnosis. It’s okay to be not quite whole. Use your diagnosis as a tool to understand yourself, but don’t let it define you, and don’t give up hope.

Bipolar Disorder can have its advantages. To think and feel everything so intensely can be a beautiful thing. It gives you an excess of creativity, and an ability to find meaning in life. In a manic episode, to see meaning everywhere and how we’re all connected is almost worth the painful cost of depression that will inevitably follow a high. However, the advantages of bipolar have to be controlled if they are to be harnessed effectively. I haven’t quite learned that yet.

The extreme actions that result from bipolar disorder can be incredibly detrimental to interpersonal relationships. I faked a concussion while on holiday with my ex-girlfriend to get out of flying because I believed that any plane with me on it was doomed to crash. This is what psychologists call magical or delusional thinking. This action subsequently ruined our relationship. More recently I had a manic episode and wrote an entire album of music in three days for a girl I met in a psychiatric hospital. This extreme action amongst many others subsequently ruined our friendship. It is completely heartbreaking to experience this, but it just reminds me that this is a force that needs to be controlled, and that my journey in understanding how to manage this illness is not over yet.

Please, if you have bipolar, know that these extreme actions aren’t entirely your fault. They are the product of the intensity of emotion that comes with your illness. They aren’t “you”. What goes up must come down, and I am currently dealing with a third period of hospitalization following suicidal self-harm and depression. It looks like I will be headed to Boston, where I will undergo more extensive treatment for my illness. Once more, I just want to emphasise, that these journeys can be two steps forwards, one step back, but you owe it to yourself to keep going. I’ve watched a friend recently battle with unipolar depression, and her courage gives me immeasurable hope.

Finally, I just want to readdress the concerns of those who might be struggling with the stigma of diagnosis. Don’t worry. It’s natural to battle with this, I did for years even when my diagnosis was loose. Please try to remember, you are so much more than your diagnosis, and what a few misguided people in society say about you. People still use the term “bipolar” colloquially around me, and have to apologise. That term, and the word “skizo” are used mutually exclusively and it’s not right, but times are changing, and people are becoming more aware about mental health issues.

I think it’s also natural to feel a little funny about telling those around you that you’re a transitioning outpatient, or to feel apprehensive about becoming an inpatient. But you don’t have to. I know I felt like a ghost after my first admission, but the reality of modern psychiatric hospitals, especially in the private system, which I’ve been so lucky to be in, is very different from the imagined reality projected by popular culture. American Horror Story’s Asylum couldn’t be further from the truth. What is the truth is a dedicated and caring team of nurses and doctors who try to involve you in active decisions in your own care, every step of the way. So if you feel like you need to become an inpatient, please do not hesitate to do so.

Wishing you wellness and good health, every step of the way,

And Remember, it’s okay to feel not quite whole, but there’s help available, seek it out.   

Written by: Andrew Culhane

Edited by: Carly Zinga & Samantha Callender

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Any information on this blog is not a substitute for professional advice. It is written from personal experience and research only. If you are in crisis, go to your nearest emergency room, call lifeline on 13 11 14 or dial 000.

Leanne Westlake