By Helen Victoria
It was my third hospitalisation and my most difficult. My husband came to visit me with my three year old daughter who was sitting on his knee smiling. She had a beautiful smile, but when I looked at my husband, I had no memories of our twelve years together. I felt numb and when that subsided, I felt guilty, ashamed and unworthy. The worst part was that I was missing for three days and I had little recollection of where I went, who I saw and what I did. I had a handful of memories which were horrible, funny and unnerving. That night, I wanted to die and so I repeated the mantra, “I pray, I pray with all of my might that I might die tonight.” I cried until I fell asleep.
The irony that I used the word “might” had gravitas. I stopped crying and made the commitment to live a life I would be proud of. My daughter, however, thought I was a loser but I knew that although I was unable to verbalise where I was headed, I was making the right choices.
My recovery journey began in 2005 with painting which saved my soul. It was two years after my first diagnosis and five years after the birth of my daughter. Painting gave me an outlet for the fervour of mania. At the time, I was already studying fashion design at TAFE which furnished me with my best tool to date – trusting my intuition. I graduated in November 2009 and will never forget the pride I felt when I created a stellar clothing line for the mature woman. I did everything myself from the design to the sewing but exhausted, the day after graduation, I was in hospital again. The following year I did a Government subsidised programme to begin my own business, but again I had another episode and closed my business in its infancy. I was up to episode number nine but every step of the way, I practised gratitude. When I had terrible days or when I was in hospital again and could think of nothing, I would say, “I am grateful that I have two eyes because I love colour, I am grateful I have two hands because I love to paint and I am grateful I have two feet, because I love to walk.” I decided to be grateful for something no matter what.
The following year, I tried my luck at cleaning houses but after another episode in hospital I decided against it and I then joined a women’s charity organisation. This gave me the confidence to further my education and I thought that my lived experience might benefit others, so In 2013, I enrolled in a Peer Work course. I met my best friend there but at the end of the course, I had
another episode and decided against it. The following year, I enrolled into university and found joy in a Creative Writing and English degree. During my studies, I was hospitalised a further six times, a total of sixteen times to date. In addition, my seventeen year old daughter was diagnosed with Drug Induced Psychosis. I was heart-broken but her experience gifted her with empathy and we are now very close. I now also involve my close friends and family in my recovery journey.
I also now know that self awareness is the trump card. There is no doctor or friend who can help you as much as you can help yourself. I am a powerhouse of imagination and creativity and I now know that it is not the vocation that makes me manic, but the unrelenting excitement and passion I have for knowledge. Another element of mania and side effect from the medications are that after I have finished an assignment, I have no recollection of what I wrote or of how to construct the next essay. It is like learning a new language every single time. Nevertheless, my assignments are excellent, and I am in the top five percent of my degree and yes, I have been diagnosed with Bipolar and Schizoaffective Disorder but I have never stopped fighting to make each day better than the last. My journey began with splashes of colour and although I love writing more, art will always hold a special place in my heart because it gave me a home where I always felt welcome.