Mental illness is the most challenging thing I’ve faced in my life. Here’s why.

In recent times depression and mental illness have been in the news again after the tragic death of high profile former AFL player and Television personality Danny Frawley .

Danny had spoken publicly about his battle with the “black dog” and many around him had assumed that he had recovered and his mental health had returned and he was in a good place.

He was a member of the hugely successful AFL program “Bounce” on Fox Footy and was for all intents and purposes the life of the party.

We now know Danny Frawley finally succumbed to depression and his death rocked the Australian sporting community, in particular his many fans in the AFL.  

It took me a couple of years before I even contemplated the idea of speaking publicly and telling my story publicly about my battles with mental illness.

My experience with mental illness was raw, confronting and traumatic. It’s the most challenging thing I’ve faced in my life.

Even after I was asked to write a book, (three years after my initial breakdown ) it took at least a year to come around to the idea.

There’s still such a stigma around any type of mental health issue.

It still exists today, but it’s not as bad.

I eventually felt that if I wasn’t going to be part of the solution, I was going to be part of the problem.

One of the reasons is very altruistic, I do want to make a difference, I do want to help the next family, the next person because there’s no real tool-book with this stuff.

But having thought about it a bit more in the last decade, the real reason both books were written were for me.

As selfish as that might sound, it was extremely cathartic to get it onto paper and was definitely part of the healing process.

You can move through it and move past it and look back at the experience very much from a perspective that this doesn’t touch me anymore.

It was important to deal with my own issues before trying to help others.

You can’t help someone else with something unless you’ve sorted it yourself.

Particularly with bipolar disorder and the massive highs and lows that go with it, it’s a management thing, you’ve got to manage it.

It’s a tricky customer managing big mood swings.

Some of the strategies that I’ve found helpful are getting plenty of sleep, minimizing alcohol consumption, eating well and alternative therapies such as reiki, massage and acupuncture.

It took time to recognise the warning signs of the illness.

It’s taken a good while for that insight to come and you get to know yourself better.

The trick is the high, because in the early stages of becoming elevated in your mood you feel great, and you don’t sense there’s a problem and you don’t see yourself winding up and getting towards the stage where you may become manic.

Believe me, no-one goes and sees a doctor when they’re high.

You feel better than good, but the price you pay during and on the other side of that is not worth it.

After highs, the depression that follows is truly awful so I recognized (after a good while I might add) that when you sense the signs of that manic state approaching you can “nip it in the bud” by slowing down, meditating, avoiding stimulants like caffeine, and doing yoga or literally taking your shoes off, walking on the grass to ground yourself.

However, the very nature of Bipolar disorder means there are still no guarantees that a manic episode can be prevented.

Manic episodes and the crippling depression that usually follows can we so hard to manage it can leave you significantly debilitated.

It’s not until you experience these episodes that you truly get an understanding of how hard the road can be.

I still believe there is so much more to learn about how our brains process things and the impact trauma, both emotional and physical, can impact on our mental health.

This is a whole of community issue.

It’s important for individuals, families, friends, workplaces and sporting clubs.

It’s not just Danny Frawley that’s inspired me to write this today, although the outpouring of public emotion after his death was certainly at the forefront of my mind.

It was the eight other Australians who will take their lives today, the eight others who will do the same tomorrow, the many more who will try and survive and those that consider taking their lives and not go any further.

There’s always a road back.

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