I grew up on a little farm back in the sixties, and am very grateful for it. My father was an airforce instructor during World War 2, and was a very hard man, but a good man. However, the closest you got to him was a handshake, typical of that generation. At age 10, I was sent off to boarding school in Hamilton in preparation for secondary school at Kings College in Auckland. Initially I was very homesick as it was a big shock for me going from a country primary school to a boarding school. However, I enjoyed my time at both schools and took every opportunity that was presented to me, and of course made many lifelong mates!
After school, due to being good at accounting I tried to get a degree. Well, I tried three times to get one - in Auckland twice and then at Otago. I felt as if I had to get a degree as a lawyer, engineer, dentist etc in order to succeed. At school trades weren’t even mentioned. Also because my mum and dad has sacrificed so much to send my brother and I to boarding school, I felt the pressure to get a degree as I didn’t want to let anyone down. This was pressure I put on myself. I started drinking, often. I didn’t like myself etc, and we all know what too much alcohol does to our mental wellbeing! When I ran out of money after almost two years at Otago University, I experienced my first bad bout of deep depression and was considering suicide.
I went back to Auckland and began working as a builder’s labourer. Of course, I carried on with the binge drinking but when my boss bought me a digger, I felt I was finally doing what I wanted to do having been born and bred in the countryside.
The little digger business was going really well when I had a major car accident in 1986 up north, resulting in breaking my neck, and pretty serious concussion! I got out of the Otara Spinal Unit two months later, very lucky to walk again, as the initial diagnosis had not been good. They thought I would be a tetraplegic. Instead of rehabilitating, I got straight back into the digger business as though nothing had happened. I worked really hard, drank really hard, thinking I was bulletproof as all of us young men did in those days! A couple of months into the business, I wasn’t coping at all well, so decided to get out. This was the beginning of me spiralling downhill fast!! I was drinking pretty much every day from lunch time ‘til I dropped!! My close friends were telling me I was losing it, getting more aggressive, that I had become arrogant and was not my old self! Just about a year later, I suffered a major nervous breakdown caused by stress, heavy alcohol consumption and head injury-concussion. I ended up being committed to Porirua Psychiatric Hospital where I was locked away in a secure cell for a couple of weeks while I dried out and detoxed. After that I was moved into a semi-secure dormitory type place to rehabilitate and recover.
I quite often wrote suicide notes, feeling such a burden to everyone and feeling no use to anyone!! I still hadn’t really been diagnosed with depression let alone bipolar disorder. I was told by medical professionals that I needed a structured, low stress job.
I started walking which led to running and I completed six half marathons. During that period I wouldn’t take or accept medication or go to counselling etc, so it took me a really long time to climb out of the depths of depression. I managed to get a good job working for City Council Parks and Reserves. While this lasted nine years, was a means to an end and got me back on my feet again, I became bored. The country boy in me yearned to drive big trucks so I put my resume out there amongst trucking firms and my present day employer took me on 22 years ago. I have really enjoyed this job driving a big rig, seeing our beautiful country and getting paid for it. However, I became deeply depressed again about 16 years ago. I think I was burnt out from working 70 plus hours a week, plus having other issues to deal with (like we all have) including relationship problems and family issues. My only brother, whom I was very close to, got cancer along with my beautiful mother. I hit the bed again and I spiralled down hill. I was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder and administered medication. I went through three counsellors before I gelled with the right one and that was a big help in terms of giving me coping skills to get out of the awful deep rut I was in.
Due to working in the trucking business I was away from home for long periods of time but I enjoyed the job as it was challenging both mentally and physically.
Sadly my only brother (my rock) passed away with cancer, 13 years ago, and that was tough for us all, especially my dear ole Mum who had supported me when I was down in the dumps on several occasions!!
I had to be strong for the family through these years. My mum was starting to suffer from dementia, so it was all on my shoulders to make major life decisions on her behalf. Loving her dearly, I wanted to do everything possible I could for her. I seemed to sail through those difficult times, managing to work long, very hard hours. But the drinking continued. Eighteen months ago this erratic lifestyle caught up with me and hit me on the back of the head like a sledgehammer! I didn’t see it coming, that’s for sure, and I remember driving home from work one Friday night, and having a massive anxiety attack which was scary because I thought I was having a heart attack! That weekend I was angry and just wanted to hit the booze big time! I didn’t sleep well and struggled to do my chores etc with weird funny symptoms going on! Come Monday morning I couldn’t get out of bed and rang into work sick which was very unusual as I am reliable. I hid away from everyone, stayed in bed beating myself up and in the depths of despair.
I attempted to take my life once things became too much. People who survive a suicide attempt often regret their actions, as it was with me!
I was admitted to the Psychiatric Ward for continual observation by the staff. I had a constant flow of close friends and family come through the days I was there! Initially I got very emotional when the first guys came in, cause I was so glad to see them, and appreciated how very lucky I was, having that love shown. I almost felt guilty as the other patients had no one coming to visit. It was a reminder of how much support I had around me. After a few days on the ward, my good mate volunteered to come and live with me after I was discharged as obviously they weren’t going to let me live at home by myself because I was at risk of suicide. The consultation went well and I was discharged! Yay! Harry took me home and my lovely family had cleaned my house up, as when you’re depressed nothing gets done!! Of course I loved being at home with my good mate watching over me making sure I didn’t go sky high or do anything stupid! I was still on the same meds I had been on for some 15 odd years with slight adjustments. I managed to go walking most days and clear all my outstanding bills etc. I was visited daily by the Outpatients Team - nice guys who slowly felt I was getting better and who gave me my pills daily. I also visited an Outpatients Clinic weekly and a psychiatrist in Otahuhu. A couple of weeks went by and I was encouraged to see a private psychiatrist at Bexley Clinic in Greenlane. Firstly a lady and then a guy who I have been working with ever since.
We are slowly getting there and I have also more support systems in place. I see a counsellor who helps me turn negatives into positives and this is helping me change my whole outlook on life. I have little goals and am learning how to get the most out of life and how to enjoy it. I’m also attending a little local church where the vicar is my ole chaplain at Kings College of some 28 years ago. He has been a great support to me. He’s a really nice guy and a real character, too! Like I said before, I am so very lucky to have such unconditional support from family, friends and my boss at work even though they admit don’t “get it’. Through my journey many of them have thanked me as it has given them more of an insight into what was goes on when I’m battling this illness! I have a quote hanging in my living room. It says “When I’m down I’ve got to batten down the hatches, weather the storm and TOLERATE it”. This came from my psychiatrist. Another quote says “I want to get well again!” and this came from my boss. He has tried to encourage me to go for a walk, or a coffee or just go into work to be around the people I know well. There many great people at work who I’ve known for a 22 years, who have all tried to support me in their own ways.
Forever grateful for that.