Living with bipolar disorder
Matt Ward has bipolar disorder and agreed to share his experience with us - what were the first signs, what triggers the episodes and how it affects his everyday life.
'I am a 55-year-old man with bipolar. I’ve had a feeling all my life that I was a little different from other people. I remember talking to my family when I was growing up and admitted that I thought I might have a mental health issue. I was always a little eccentric, either very loud of very quiet. I was prone to extremes but, unfortunately, I was not officially diagnosed until 2008.
Looking back, I can now see the signs for what they were: sudden mood changes, recklessness, suicidal thoughts and fear of abandonment. I also struggled with poor concentration, low self-esteem – I always felt inferior – and body dysmorphia. I experienced a constant pressure from within to be liked by others.
Sometimes I can tell what triggers my episodes and sometimes not. Stress, trauma and poverty definitely play a part. However, my constant sense of inferiority intensifies any episode when it arises. I tried to commit suicide several times over my life. As I got older, I tended to put myself in situations that could have led to suicide – I would make up elaborate stories that would hurt those around me and so the only option would be for me to kill myself. For example, I would go off and spend money I didn’t have, disappear and consequently end up planning my own death, usually at the seaside. I would then back out at the last minute and have to face the destruction I had left behind.
My mental health didn't affect my work when I was young, but as I grew older the cracks in the mask I wore began to show. There are times now when I cannot bear to be touched in any way and human contact is very difficult for me to deal with. Everything becomes a constant battle for me. Although I have learnt to fight this with age, in my profession as an actor it often makes me appear aloof and arrogant. On the flip side, I can be the life and soul of the party.
I am lucky enough to have been loved by some wonderful people, all of whom I have loved back. However, they all have been victims of my damaging behaviours: lying, cheating, stealing and generally wounding through my insensitivity. I have caused them a great deal of stress and worry through my actions. On a positive note, I can make them laugh and I have a generous heart. I am learning to temper my behaviour by finding ways to cope with my mental health illness. I am much more aware now than I was when growing up of the early warning signs which can lead to episodes.
I loathe the language used in reference to mental health issues and those who are suffering. The only way we can improve our understanding of mental health illness is to remove the stigma surrounding it and treat sufferers as human beings. Having a mental health illness does not mean that you can’t live a normal life. My family and friends have always been very supportive. They have tried to understand what must often seems incomprehensible. The sad, honest truth is that they are powerless: ultimately, those suffering with a mental health issue must learn to help themselves and the very nature of the illness makes that painfully difficult.
Things that do not help include being patronised and told that medication is the only answer. Although most medical professionals do a wonderful job, mental health services are not given the funding they desperately need. As a result, there are not the resources to treat patients as individuals and attend to their specific and often complex requirements on a case-by-case basis.
The service is failing the young more than anyone and it breaks my heart that we have 8- to 10-year-olds with suicidal thoughts. If mental health illnesses are to decline, we must start by nurturing our children and giving them the support they need before the illness is allowed to develop. I hope with all my heart never to see another child have to endure and struggle through what I have suffered.'
Help us end the stigma around the mental health issues.
Come and see
A BENCH AT THE EDGE
by Luigi Jannuzzi
26th - 30th November 2019
(Tues - Sat at 6.15pm, matinee on Sat 30th at 1pm)
Tristan Bates Theatre, 1A Tower St., London WC2H 9NP
Tickets: £12 / £10
Online booking: www.actorscentre.co.uk/theatre/a-bench-at-the-edge
Box office: 020 3841 6611