Rollercoaster hell of conflicting emotions

2011-05-21 16:04

Andrew* would sometimes feel so depressed that he would contemplate ramming his car into the roadside barrier to end his troubles.

He suffered constant bouts of depression, during which he would just lie in bed eating and reading, with no energy to get up and face the world.

At other times, he would feel so full of energy that he would go for days without sleep, bingeing on fast food.

“At times I would go out and buy 10 burgers.I would just stay in bed and eat.

“If reading wasn’t working, I would get behind the wheel and drive around aimlessly, sometimes even going as far away (from Johannesburg) as Mozambique, Cape Town or Durban for no reason.”

Andrew is one of more than 450 000 people in South Africa who suffer from bipolar disorder, a mental illness marked by extreme changes in mood, energy, thinking and behaviour.

It is caused by a combination of biochemical, genetic and psychological factors, and is not restricted to class, race or sex.

According to the SA Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag), bipolar disorder is the sixth leading cause of disability in the world.

Typically, it begins in adolescence or early adulthood and continues throughout life.

Sadag’s Dessy Tzoneva says the good news is that there seems to be an increase in awareness around the condition, despite the stigma attached to mental illness.

Andrew has been admitted to mental health hospitals several times since he was diagnosed with the condition in his final year of university.

He suffered two nervous breakdowns and often entertained the thought of taking his own life.

He says that added to the pressure of living with the condition is the difficulty of living in a society that still stigmatises people who suffer from mental illness.“

I had no idea what bipolar was until I was diagnosed.

My family and friends didn’t know, and it was hard to explain.

“It’s not like a broken leg that you can see getting healed,” he says.

But Andrew is back on his feet, working and living a normal life, thanks to therapy and prescription drugs that help control the illness.

“I am not afraid to ask for help. What also helped me was the curiosity to understand what it actually is and trying to manage it.

“I’ve been on the other side but now I know my triggers and what to look out for.”

* Not his real name

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