All that I am, all that I ever was…

I am more than my mental health. I am more than my homelessness. I am more than any one aspect of me. I am Addy. And this is…


31 Days of Bipolar: Day 28. I suffer from bipolar; and I am not ashamed of that!

Day 28: To what extent do you tell people that you’re bipolar, and why?


Perhaps it was down to my overly honest nature, perhaps it was down to my overly naive nature, but from the moment I was diagnosed back in 2007 it never once occurred to me that I should hide my diagnosis from people. Almost from the get go I was announcing my diagnosis to the world, I was wearing my bipolar diagnosis as a badge of honor, as a means to explain my erratic and (at times) terrifying behaviour. I was never proud to be bipolar, it was never something that I wanted to be, but the moment I was diagnosed my life made sense. All the times I had been zipping around in a manic state of hedonism and misogyny. All the times I had found myself staring into the abyss of depression. All the times my moods had changed at the blink of an eye; one minute feeling immortal, the next painfully mortal and morbidly so. Everything was explained with those three words that would, unquestionably, change my life; bipolar affective disorder.

I remember writing my initial blog post about bipolar shortly after my initial diagnosis. Back then I knew next to nothing about the illness other than the brief synopsis my psychiatrist had given. It was something that scared me, something that confused me, but never something I felt I had to run from. I wanted people to know I was bipolar. I wanted them to know there was a reason that my behaviour had been, at times, odd and disconcerting. I wanted people to understand that everything could be explained by that one, seemingly, inconsequential word. It wasn’t until much later that I would learn this was the wrong thing to do. That it would find my life eclipsed by stigma and discrimination. That forevermore I would be branded with that word as if it were a bad thing; which it isn’t, in any sense of the word.

The moment I learned this was in late 2008. A few months earlier I had been lost to the midst of a hypomanic phase. A hypomanic phase that had seen me take a job in Alice Springs and rampage around that desert town for a few weeks, before setting my eyes on one woman; Diane. It wasn’t an immediate connection, but my hypomania craved to be with her. I needed to be with her. She was, at that moment, one of the most beautiful creatures I had ever laid eyes on and my hypomanic fueled hyper-sexuality was hell-bent on conquering this ravishing challenge. When we eventually ended up in bed together – within days of actually meeting – we lay there the following morning chattering and nattering away. She told me she had problems with depression; I told her I was bipolar. Just like that. No fanfare, no build up, no long drawn out period of contemplation. I just calmly informed her I was bipolar as if telling her the weather was sunny or that I fancied scrambled eggs for breakfast. It never occurred to me that I should lie about my diagnosis. It never occurred to me that it was something I shouldn’t be telling someone straightaway. Like I said, I wanted people to know I was bipolar; it wasn’t something I was ashamed of.

Until that fateful day in late 2008. Diane and I had been ostensibly living together for three months. And one afternoon, after battling for several hours on the tracks of Mario Kart, we were nonchalantly talking on the sofa over a beverage of cold water. We talked about Alice Springs. We talked about the early days of our relationship. We talked about the moment I had lain in bed and, matter of factly, announced I was bipolar. Diane told me that afternoon she had been surprised by what I’d said; that she felt it was something I should have not said. When I questioned her as to why, she said it was something that I shouldn’t be proud of, that it was something that was, in her opinion, “frightening”. I had never looked at my diagnosis in this way before. It was always something I had thought explained my behaviour. It was always something that I had never thought to be scared of, despite the numerous instances of bad press that bipolar receives. Diane went on to tell me that most people with bipolar are vicious, violent human beings. That most people with bipolar hid their illness for good reason. That most people with bipolar weren’t so quick to readily divulge their condition.

She was quick to tell me she didn’t consider me one of the vicious, violent human beings she had mentioned. Few people who actually get to know me think of me in this way, because, quite frankly, you have a higher likelihood of being attacked by your teddy bear than me. But she was scared of who else I would tell, in case other people leapt to conclusions about who I was, in case other people branded me with the word bipolar without getting to know the me that she had gotten to know. When I asked her if I shouldn’t have told her, she said “yes, sometimes I wish you hadn’t told me.”

And those words have stayed with me. That whole conversation has stayed with me. As it made me question everything I had previously believed. That I should hide who I am – lie to people – in order to save wrongful conclusions or judgmental opinion. Even though I wasn’t ashamed to be bipolar, even though I considered it something that people should be able to talk about freely, I began withholding this information from all and sundry; all because I didn’t want them branding me with a word, and a set of behavioral issues, that didn’t necessarily apply to me.  I wanted people to see me, not the person they assumed I would be if they discovered I was bipolar.

So for years I kept it a closely guarded secret. I rarely wrote about bipolar on my blog. I never talked about it in polite company. All through the early months of my homelessness, I would even keep it hidden from support workers whose job it was to help and assist me. Surely they would have been able to do a far better job had they known I was bipolar; but I didn’t tell them because i didn’t want them drawing the wrong conclusions. I didn’t want anyone drawing the wrong conclusions. That conversation with Diane had shamed me into hating an aspect of myself that I shouldn’t be ashamed of, and one day, one nonchalant, uneventful day, I realised that.

Sitting there, in my park, I was thinking about my friend Samantha and something she used to tell me. She used to tell me that my kink was “just one small stitch in the multicoloured tapestry that was me”; it wasn’t something to be afraid of, on the contrary, it was something to celebrate. And sitting there, in my park, it suddenly dawned on me what I’d always known, that my bipolar was exactly the same. To hell with people who judged me harshly because they felt one word described my entire personality. To hell with people who wanted to brand me with the word for the rest of time. They didn’t matter, their opinion didn’t matter. All that mattered was me, and what I thought; and I didn’t care that I was bipolar, I never had. It wasn’t something I was proud of, but it was also something I wasn’t ashamed of.

So from that moment on I have told people I suffer from bipolar. I haven’t brought it up in conversation, I haven’t blurted it out to everyone who would listen, but I haven’t hidden it if it has come up. If someone asks, I tell them. If it is raised in conversation, then I openly talk about it. And to hell with what people think. Because, quite frankly, if they can’t handle it, if they decide to judge me without reason, then that’s their problem not mine.

People shouldn’t be made to feel ashamed of their illnesses, physical or mental. It is not something we chose to suffer from and it is not something that describes who we are. They are just aspects of our selves, aspects that should be talked about, that should be shared, if only to lessen the stigma and discrimination attached to them. People should be free to discuss their mental illness without fear of what other people think, and the only way we will reach a point in society when it isn’t stigmatized, when it isn’t discriminated against, is when people can say “I suffer from bipolar” or “I suffer from schizophrenia” without fear of retaliation. And the only way we will achieve this is by talking about it, openly, honestly and as loudly as humanly possible.


When Doctors Discriminate

“At least 14 studies have shown that patients with a serious mental illness receive worse medical care than “normal” people. Last year the World Health Organization called the stigma and discrimination endured by people with mental health conditions “a hidden human rights emergency.”
~ Juliann Garey, Aug 10/13 ~

Last week, Kristen from Pride in Madness wrote a post titled When Doctors Discriminate, in which she recounted some of the discrimination she has experienced from medical professionals. It was a post that grabbed me because, over the years, I have been continually shocked and dismayed by the level of discrimination that is shown by people who should know better.

It’s no secret that I’ve had “issues” with various mental health services over the years; “issues” that have caused me to foster a massive distrust of the industry and stopped me from seeking professional support.

What follows are just some of the discriminatory incidents that I’ve experienced from medical professionals:

  • On the 11th October 2007 I attempted suicide. Whilst lost in a delusional state I hiked nearly 50km without food or water from the Melbourne CBD to the Dandenong Rainforest because I believed that if I hung myself there I would save the universe from an apocalyptic event. Whilst I was doing this the police had begun to investigate me as a missing person. When they eventually located me they took me to a major Melbourne hospital in the back of a divvy van and refused to leave me on my own until the hospital staff had taken charge. Fully expecting to be hospitalized – given my mental state and obvious signs of bruising on my neck – I was stunned when the psychiatrist gave me three anti-depressants (no blister pack, just three white pills) and told me to go home because, in his words, “I would be fine”. I wasn’t.
  • Not long after this suicide attempt, I presented to the same hospital after a vicious act of self-harm. Whilst cleaning my wounds they treated me like I was a “naughty little boy” (I was 28) who should “know better”. I was then sent home with no follow-up from a psychiatrist.
  • In January 2008, whilst living homeless in Melbourne, I managed to get myself to a local Mental Health Service after a nasty period of self-harm. In floods of tears I was begging them to hospitalize me as I was terrified I would shortly attempt to take my own life. They refused to help me, informing me that they could only help people who were “a danger to other people, not themselves”, so sent me back to the park in which I was living. Less than twenty-four hours later I attempted suicide.
  • Whilst I was homeless, I was refused help from an NGO because I would not admit to being a drug addict. I wasn’t a drug addict, but they believed because I was homeless, and suffering from mental illness, I had to be a drug addict. Needless to say I was turned away and told to come back when I was willing to admit to my (non-existent) problems.
  • In late 2011 I went to see a psychiatrist to have my recently prescribed levels of lithium checked. I had been taking the drug for a couple of months after it had been prescribed by a different psychiatrist within the same organisation. In less than one hour, this new “psychiatrist” informed me that as a twelve-year old boy “I should have understand the complexities of my sister’s mental illness” and that “it was my fault I had allowed her illness to affect me the way it had”. He told me that “I did not deserve to have children”, that “there was no such thing as multiple diagnosis of mental illness”, that “there was no medication that could help me” and that “I was playacting mental illness in order to escape homelessness”. He immediately stopped my lithium dosage and, after reducing me to a trembling, shaking, crying mess, sent me on my way. I’ve refused to have any contact with psychiatrists or mental health services since this incident.

I strongly urge all of you to read Kristen’s original post and share your own stories of discrimination from medical professionals as, like her, I believe these are stories that need to be told.

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Day 18: What do you wish people would understand in regards to mental illness?

The 30 Days of Mental Illness Awareness Challenge continues, with
Day 18:  What do you wish people would understand in regards to mental illness?

For many years I was too scared to speak out of my mental illness. I hid it from family, from friends and from partners. I believed people would treat me differently; that they would label me ‘crazy’, ‘a nutcase’ or worse. I believed people would be scared of me; that they would only see the darkness lurking inside me; that they would not see the hidden strengths I knew were there.

When the full extent of my mental illness was revealed – without my consent – people were scared; they didn’t know how to act around me, they didn’t understand what was happening to me, and they did treat me differently; I was no longer ‘Andrew’, I was ‘the weak guy who’d had a breakdown’.

I was defined by my mental illness in the same way that some people are defined by their sexuality, skin colour or gender.

By the time I came to understand what was happening to me, it was too late to do anything. All I knew was that my illnesses – my breakdown – were not the sum total of who I was; I was so much more.

The one thing I wish people would understand in regards to mental illness is the same as one of my primary reasons for establishing this blog nearly six years ago: a mental illness does not define who a person is, they are so much more than the labels that have been applied to them.


Day 14: Have you ever experienced stigma?

Day fourteen of the 30 Days of Mental Illness Awareness Challenge asks:
Have you ever experienced stigma?

Time to Change image

“Mental illness is a figment of your imagination. It doesn’t exist.
You’re just being lazy, selfish and not working hard enough,”

~ My abuser, 2007 ~

This quote has reverberated around my mind since it was first spoken to me during a phone conversation six and a half years ago. Her words caused me to bottle up my emotions and hide my experiences for fear of other people judging me in the same light.

This is what stigma does; it forces someone into hiding, it forces them to question who they are and, ultimately, isolates them from a society that could (and should) help them.

Being someone with mental health problems…

Several months after I began writing this blog, in mid-2008, I began noticing that people were finding my blog by typing variations of my name into search engines. At the time I found it odd that people were doing this, especially as they were typing in my middle name (or middle initial), which very few people know. It didn’t take long for me to work out (with the added benefit of being able to see the ISP location of the people searching) that these searches were being conducted by people I had recently interviewed for a job with. Needless to say, I never heard from these people again.

Granted, I have no firm evidence for the above, but the coincidences involved are too great for me to ignore. Just as my friends fleeing as fast as they could shortly after my breakdown, never to be heard from again, is too coincidental for me to chalk up to chance.

However much I dislike being the recipient of this sort of stigma, when it comes to mental health, the one aspect I cannot abide is when mental health services discriminate against someone with mental health problems. To be told that I should have understood the complexities of my sister’s mental health problems (when I was twelve) and that it was my fault that I allowed it affect me the way I did; to be told that there was nothing wrong with me; to be told that I was fabricating everything that ever happened to me; to be told I was play-acting mental illness in order to escape homelessness; to be told that I didn’t deserve to have children; all of which made me feel far more alone and isolated than my abuser’s comment ever did.

Being someone who was homeless…

During my time on the streets I was refused service from several shops and food outlets who informed me they didn’t serve “people like me”, I was continually judged as being an alcoholic, a drug user and a criminal, simply because I didn’t have anywhere to live and people would spit on me, pour coffee over me or attack me whenever they felt, as if me being homeless gave them the license to treat a human being in such a despicable manner.

And, much like with the mental health services outlined above, there were even homeless services – organisations whose sole aim was to help those less fortunate – who discriminated against me; refusing me assistance because I didn’t share the same religious values that they did or because I wouldn’t admit to my (non-existant) drug problem.

Being someone who was a victim of abuse…

As a male victim of abuse, the level of victim blame mentality I’ve received over the years is epic; friends who informed me I deserved to be treated the way my abuser treated me, housemates who told me I deserved to be beaten for being the victim of an abusive relationship and more individuals than I can count (both personal and professional) who will not believe I was sexually assaulted, simply because I am a male victim of multiple forms of abuse.

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Stigmatising yourself is just as bad as stigmatising others


The weekend before last I published a series of posts written by each of my voices to celebrate World Hearing Voices Day. This act of celebration has led to some rather animated conversations between my people and I surrounding my two blogs All that I am, All that I ever was and Imaginary Menagerie, the latter being a blog my people and I set up specific to my journey with hearing voices.

When we set this blog up earlier this year I did so for a number of reasons, primarily:

1. I wanted a place where my voices felt safe to write posts should they wish to do so, and
2. I was hesitant about discussing this part of my life on my central blog.

It is the second reason that my people and I have been discussing of late. Audrey, in all her wisdom, pointed out that this could be interpreted as ‘self-stigmatising’ behavior, and no matter how fervently I tried to debate with her, I couldn’t come up with a reason to counter her claim.

I don’t have specific blogs for other parts of me (e.g. my bipolar, anxiety, homelessness) so why do I have a separate blog for posts that talk of my voice hearing experiences? Am I not making it harder for myself by writing two blogs rather than one? And why do I feel the need to keep these parts separate from the rest of me anyway? Does it benefit me to keep this stuff hidden? Or am I more afraid of other people and what they may/may not think?

When Audrey asked these questions I had no answer, but sitting here, Meadhbh doing Yoshi impressions in one ear and Vanessa crooning in the other, I realize the only reason I decided to separate my hearing voices posts was because I was too scared to write freely of this part of me due to how other people may react.

And no matter how much I don’t want it to be true; this is self-stigmatising behavior, which goes against everything I’ve been trying to do with this blog over the last six-years.

Thus – even though it makes me feel bad that I started and ended a blog so soon – I’ve decided to cease writing Imaginary Menagerie and instead feature my voice hearing posts on this blog in a bid to eliminate the stigma that I, and other voice hearers, experience as a result of something that is no more than a simple (yet beautiful) human characteristic.

Of course, this covers the second reason why I began Imaginary Menagerie, but what of the first?

After publishing their posts my people were all incredibly excited about the various ‘likes’ and ‘comments’ their contributions received. Such feedback made them feel welcome, accepted and all warm’n’fuzzy inside. In fact, for a few days after her post was published, Vanessa was actually a pleasure to communicate with – which was a first for the period that I’ve been hearing her! As such, I’ve decided to allow them to write posts on this blog, should they wish to do so.

Hopefully you will allow them the opportunity to write on this blog from time to time, and understand the reasoning behind my decision to write freely about my voice hearing experiences on this blog.

The stigma against mental health is still alive and kicking, and anything that can be done to counteract it, should be done. Only then will we stand a chance of eliminating the stigma against mental illness completely.

You can find my people’s posts via the links below (or in the sidebar to your right):


Blog for Mental Health 2013

Since falling into the depressive episode that sapped every last ounce of inspiration, energy and hope from my soul, I’ve had some catching up to do.

Although I have yet to break back into the world of Twitter (what? it’s scary!), get myself up to date with some of the blogs I follow (I’m working as hard as I can!) and my horrific record of email replying earned me a good talking to (and then some!) in my dreams last night, I’ve been fortunate to regain some focus in regards to my little blog.

Because of this, I can finally (and officially) take the pledge to Blog for Mental Health in 2013, an initiative of the brilliant Canvas of the Minds.


1.) Take the pledge by copying and pasting the following into a post featuring “Blog for Mental Health 2013″.

“I pledge my commitment to the Blog For Mental Health 2013 Project.  I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others.  By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health.  I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.”

2.) Link back to the person who pledged you.

It was the inspirational Anthony on bipolarbeach who honored me with his pledge. If you’re not familiar with it, Anthony’s blog is a beautifully written account of living with bipolar disorder.

3.) Write a short biography of your mental health, and what this means to you.

Given my propensity toward rambling I’ve never been good at writing short biographies, but I will give it a whirl:

Mental illness has been part of my life for almost as long as I can remember. When my sister was twelve she was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa and OCD, shortly after, both my mother and I fell into depression. At the age of thirteen I began self-harming, hearing voices and showing symptoms of social anxiety disorder. By my late teens I had begun to show symptoms of bipolar affective disorder. However, these conditions went undiagnosed until the early 2000s when a doctor started me on a course of antidepressants to assist what he believed was a major depressive disorder.

Although I continued being symptomatic for several years, my life was relatively stable until I found myself in an emotionally abusive relationship, a relationship that has since been described as “the final nail in your coffin” (by a psychologist in 2009) and seen by many to be the major contributing factor for the breakdown that decimated my life in 2007.

Later that year I was diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder, a diagnosis that was re-confirmed in early 2008, and I began taking a combination of antidepressants, mood stabilizers and antipsychotics. Around the same time I was also told I was suffering from PTSD as a result of the abusive relationship and a serious sexual assault that had occurred in mid 2007.

Since then my life of (ex) homelessness and social isolation has been underscored by my daily war with bipolar, social anxiety and PTSD. A war that I am currently losing but continuing to fight as best I can.

After over a decade of keeping my mental illness as hidden from the world as possible, I decided to begin writing a blog revealing my battles to the world. For over five years I’ve shared my story as honestly as I can, hoping beyond hope that people who read it will realise they are not alone, that there is hope and that mental illness is not something to be afraid or ashamed of.

The only way to eliminate the stigma of mental illness is to speak out. To raise awareness of mental health and the discrimination that those living with it have to face on a daily basis. We are not our illnesses and our illnesses are not us. We are so very much more.

4.) Pledge five others, and be sure to let them know!

Given I am late in making this pledge, almost every mental health blog I follow has already taken it, so it seems silly for me to suggest they do so when they have already done so.

However, it would be remiss of me not to mention a few of my favourite mental health blogs:

Please don’t feel obligated to do anything other than give yourself a big hug for being on this list. I name you purely because you are all an inspiration to me. Thank you :)