Shatter the Stigma Mend The Mind


Apr 11 2013

Picture in your mind, if you will, you’re travelling down the highway when all of a sudden, without warning, a fear of dread suddenly wells up inside of you and tears come to your eyes. You have to pull off to the side of the road.

Slowly you get enough of your equilibrium back that you can continue on to the next rest stop where you pull into a far corner and cry uncontrollably for half an hour. That experience, for me, was the final straw in a series of events that was thought to be “stress”.

This collapse on the side of the highway however prompted my doctor to put me in touch with my first psychiatrist. After about six months of therapy, he diagnosed me with Bipolar affective disorder. There are several flavours, if you will, of Bipolar. Mine unfortunately, is rapid cycling which can be harder to control than other types of Bipolar.

For me, it’s like being in a high powered sports car travelling down the highway at breakneck speed. The wind is whipping in your hair there’s nothing like the high you get. It’s better than any drug. But there’s a downside. Suddenly without warning you pull off to the side of the road and jump into a pit up to your neck in mud and just wallow in it until you think you can’t take it any more- only to see the cycle start over again.

It’s like being in a snow globe. Simultaneously, you are holding the snow globe and are inside it. Intellectually you realize it is you who is shaking the globe creating the storm that you are in, yet you are powerless to stop it. When I’m high no one can do things fast enough or good enough for me. I do half a dozen jobs all at once and don’t get any of them finished. I spend money like water. When I’m low all I want to do is roll up into a ball and die. I don’t want people around me.

Now as you can see I’m quite open about my illness. Still, there are times when I get surprising reactions.

On one occasion I was at a Sunday School convention, when during a break I was speaking with a group of people - most of whom I knew. The topic of mental illness came up and I gave my story. As we were returning to the auditorium a woman came up to me and said, “mental illness is not real and those who suffer from it need to just pick themselves up and get on with life.”

On another occasion I was attending a large church. By design, the topic of mental illness came up. I, being the only one with first hand knowledge of the subject, gave my story. At the break, a man came up to me and told me that I should step down from my position because mental illness was demon possession and that I should have the pastor pray for me.

Is it any wonder with attitudes like that, that many people with Bipolar disorder and other mental illness tend to stay in the closet or worse - get no treatment at all? I was fortunate. The things that those people said could have triggered an episode for me. However, the people I was with assured me that what I was fine.

I have been blessed with a good support network around me. The psychiatrist I currently see is excellent and I have an amazing support group around me that includes: my wife, my adult children, my church, pastor and others. On top of which, I am currently volunteer speaker with the Canadian Mental Health Association, telling my story with the hope of dispelling stigma and encouraging others to come forward and admit they have a mental health problem and get help.

Neal is a 59 year old professional clown, very active in his church, married for 33 years, father of two. Neal lives with Bipolar disorder.