Alan (Galway)

I had a very happy childhood. I went to a rural all boys National School and was in a small class of 8 boys. My memories of that time are mostly of playing lots of sports and having the craic with my fellow students, I do not remember studying or learning anything in particular. There was no bullying whatsoever, indeed bullying was something I didn’t know existed until I went to secondary school.

From my first year in secondary school I was quite successful academically. Even though I was quite happy at school I found the weekends and holidays from school difficult. I would never see my classmates at the weekends or at Christmas, Easter or summer holidays. This was the start of the first time I ever felt feelings of depression. This was before the time of email or mobile phones or social media, these times were times of complete and utter isolation from my friends. In these dismal days I used to study hard, write melancholic poetry and just postpone my happiness to when I would be finished my leaving cert and be able to escape to a distant University.

When I was awarded a place in Engineering in Trinity I moved to Dublin. I was unhappy with my Engineering course and after a few weeks stopped attending and instead just led a party life drinking for the first time. I started to feel very isolated and depressed but I didn’t tell my family or friends the true extent of my feelings.  At that end of term I formally withdrew from the Engineering course and returned to home in Galway.

That Christmas my health deteriorated and I acquired Glandular Fever. After a short hospital stay I returned home to suffer months of crippling fatigue. I have battled with severe fatigue ever since.  I was ill for most of that year and was idle until I won a place in Information Technology in the University in Galway. Even though I was living at home I was very happy to attend this course. I found this University more relaxed and got on very well with my classmates.

For some reason I suffered a breakdown during my final term of my degree. I didn’t tell friends or family but had meetings with some of the lecturers to see could I postpone my final exams. Even though the lecturers were sympathetic they said under science faculty rules if I deferred my final exams I would only get a Pass grade in my Degree. I was sure I would fail my exams and was unable to study in the months before the exams. When I started sitting the exams, something in me helped me to keep turning up to attempt exam after exam even though I thought I was failing them.

In the end it turned out I did well enough that some of the lecturers wanted me to apply for a PhD studentship position. I was accepted into this position and it meant my PhD fees were covered and I also earned quite a good weekly wage. Compared to the previous term and my poor mood this position energised me. Instead of working on my PhD I began to get involved in many of the extra-curricular activities in the University such as the Students Union and the various societies. I found my mind was racing and I felt I needed very little sleep. I also used alcohol to help me relax and unwind from the racing thoughts. Since my father was Bipolar my parents recognised these symptoms and persuaded me to see a G.P. to deal with them. After a short meeting with my family G.P. he recognised the classic symptoms of mania and set up an appointment to see a Psychiatrist. That psychiatrist whom I saw for 13 years admitted me to hospital.

I suffer from Bipolar I, meaning I suffer very high highs or mania, and very suicidal lows. When I get my highs medication seems to have very little effect on me. Instead it is a case of spending months in the safe confines of a hospital until the mania subsides. When I have my lows I get very suicidal and on two separate admissions for depression I have had to resort to Electroconvulsive Therapy or ECT to treat my severe depression. There is quite a lot of controversy over ECT. I believe that it is a useful treatment of last resort. When a patient is in hospital and has been suicidal and catatonic with depression for many weeks with various medications being tried to no avail then I think ECT should be considered. In the past 13 years since my first hospital admission I have had perhaps 4 or 5 admissions for mania and 2 or 3 for depression. Thankfully I have managed to avoid admission to hospital for the past 5 years.

Many of us have lost loved ones to suicide. The loss is devastating. I lost my father and oldest female friend to suicide. You try to recall happy memories but all you can focus on is the finality of what happened. When you are feeling bad it is not too difficult to let someone else know this, however when you have lost all hope and a torrent of negative thoughts is leading you to actively plan your demise then the real insidious nature of suicide rears its head and the last thing you will consider doing is letting someone know just how lost you feel.

I joined GROW in April 2013. My CBT nurse had recommended it and felt the structured approach to problem-solving would suit me. I have been a very regular attendee at meetings and have led the meetings a number of times. I also enjoyed attending the weekly coffee meetings and the regional conference. I was thrilled to be asked to present a leadership paper at the National Conference. My confidence in my abilities has increased and I gladly took on the role of Group Recorder when the position arose. Because of GROW I gained enough confidence to apply for a volunteering position with Age Action to teach IT to the over 55s. I am now the organiser of my weekly GROW group and look forward to our forthcoming regional and national conferences. I enjoy the added challenge of being a GROW group organiser, I find that I’m thinking more about what would benefit my group and spend more time considering the selection of readings from the GROW literature.

Alan – Galway,  October 2014.