I am Steph and I was recently diagnosed with bipolar type 2. This meant the end of years of suffering and not knowing why, years of blaming and berating myself when I couldn’t manage my life, and years of treatment- resistant depression and anxiety for which there was no correct medication. I am not alone. Bipolar 2 is misdiagnosed as major depression all the time.

I keep active with art, music and staying well. If I am too inactive, I become mentally ill very quickly, and am unable to pull myself out of it. Suicidal ideation creeps in very quickly, and I don’t want to be its victim.

Bipolar has short circuited most of my attempts to form a career and hold onto a job. My brain is simply not wired to cope with things others take for granted. I walk dogs on a casual basis, where I am not required to do too much executive functioning. I just need to have a whole lot of love, and I love dogs a lot.

I care about contributing in my own way towards making the world a better, safer and fairer place. I see too much injustice and destruction of Mother Earth and all her creatures, and this upsets me greatly.

Exercise helps me a lot. I was fortunate enough to discover a group called Mood Active shortly after I was diagnosed, and it has well exceeded my expectations of what a mental health support and exercise group should be. I can’t speak highly enough of this group. It is my lifeline out of years of isolation, transient friendships, and constantly feeling like I didn’t belong anywhere. Tennis, yoga and gym have been good for me, and I really like the people in this social and welcoming group.

I am lucky to have close ties with my family, a loving and supportive partner and good friends. This makes such a difference to my mental health, as a support network is everything.

Looking back, I can see how much bipolar has shaped my life, causing me to abuse drugs and alcohol at a very young age. I have been in addiction recovery for years, and this has helped me a lot. Living with bipolar is like having a powerful, cyclonic force inside myself that hurls me up, down and anywhere it pleases, dragging me along with it. My darkest days were the heavily addicted, suicidal ones. I was sick and delusional, overdosing on one occasion, and nearly throwing myself off

the Sydney Harbour Bridge on another. Thankfully, my will to live has pulled me through my darkest times. I have had numerous mental breakdowns even with years of addiction recovery under my belt. There were times I needed to be hospitalised and didn’t get the help I needed.

The road back from the brink has been a long one, but here I am. Maintaining stability is a daily thing which depends on getting enough sleep, eating well and keeping stressful situations out of my life as much as I can. Overcommitment is a problem for me, especially during hypomanic episodes when I think I am superhuman.

In spite of constant and distracting sounds, noise and music in my head, I am getting well. I still get moods, but nothing like before.

Having a pet is wonderful for me. Cuddling and playing with my dog brings me such joy. Having her warm little body cuddling next to me is precious. This, creativity, good people, healthy living and laughter have all contributed to me learning to live with mental illness.