How Augusto manages his Bipolar Disorder
Digital team's blog
Augusto has managed Bipolar Disorder for over twenty years. Having experienced depression for as long as he can remember, he has gone through a number of particularly difficult periods, and has suffered from suicide ideation and delusions. After hospitalisation and a period of self-reflection, he is now enjoying every day to its fullest potential.
I did not have a bad childhood growing up in Brazil. The only “problem” was that my younger brother was physically disabled. While I know my parents didn’t love me any less than him, his illness meant that their attention was more often on him than not. I was once sent to live with my grandparents for a year without any real explanation. It meant that I went from having almost no attention my parents to none at all. It led to my developing a profound sense of depression, and I became a very difficult child.
I remember having my first suicidal thoughts at about 10 or 11. I was suffering from an emotional pain that I did not understand. As time went on my thoughts began to turn into actions. I would place a knife against my wrist and just hold it there, in the knowledge that I could harm myself if I wanted to. When I did things like this, my thoughts were not based on ending my life, I was just searching for a level of risk that came with putting myself in harm’s way. I was scared but I was empowered.
The need to put myself in harm’s way only increased with time, as did my need to challenge my notions of power and self-control. I remember being at the beach one day and standing on the very edge of the cliffs. I stood there until the fear went away, and I began to push my luck further. I’d run along the edge, faster and faster in an attempt to scare myself more and more, to really expose myself to the fear of death. Again, this wasn’t because I wanted my life to end, I just wanted the suffering to end.
I had begun to go to school around the same time. I can remember being extremely shy, and that I was bullied for it. When I told my mother, she said that I should just ignore them. This was terrible advice. I was already introspective, and ignoring them meant that I was internalising all of my anger, turning it in on myself until I became resentful.
By the age of 17 I’d be bullied throughout my entire teenage life. A friend asked me why I never reacted in a more physical way. Whilst I was shy, I was quite big. My friend said he’d give me a dollar if I fought back. When I did, my size helped, but I also unleashed all the anger that had built up over the years. I got the dollar.
University offered me the opportunity for a fresh start. I told myself that I didn’t want my life to be like it had been anymore. No one knew who I was; I could be whoever I wanted to be. So I changed myself. I dressed colourfully. I bought a very nice pair of glasses with red frames, and I took on a purposefully eccentric persona. When I did, I found that people liked me for it. There is a lot to be said for smiling and nodding as a way of making friends. But the difference between who I was externally and the man I was inside was huge. The pain that I’d always felt was still there, but I was putting on a brave face.
A while after finishing university I found that I technically had a great life. I was working in advertising, which is great if all you want is a materialistic life. My ultimate goal was to learn English so that I could move to New York City, but that meant that I had to choose. Do I continue to box up my feelings, or do I face my emotions and get better?
In the end, I came to London to be closer to my girlfriend whilst she was studying in Europe. The distance put a strain on our relationship, but we were still seeing each other on a semi-regular basis. But when she chose to go to Mozambique to do charity work, and I chose not to follow her, our relationship ended.
What followed for me was an episode of profound depression. I didn’t know what was going on, but I’d spend days in bed in bed. I tried to approach my GP a few times but I found that I had no idea how to start the conversation.
As time went on, my depression steadily became worse. I began struggling to sleep, and before long I’d developed night terrors. This perfect storm of circumstances left me unable to work.
One day I woke up and felt nothing. After weeks of sadness, this was very different, it was complete emptiness. That was the morning that I told myself that I was going to take my own life.
At the time, I spent a long while deliberating whether or not to take my passport with me. I couldn’t decide whether or not I want to be identified. Eventually I landed on the side of identification.
With my mind made up, I was all set to go to the train station. But then something unexpected happened. My mother rang me.
“If you’re about to do what I think you’re going to do, don’t. Come home to Brazil instead” she said.
Whilst my mother was fully aware of my struggles with depression, and would regularly call me during the evenings, I’d never received a call from her this early in the day before. We had not planned to speak, so I was surprised to receive the call when I did. I’m thankful she did though. The one good thing about being in that empty state is that it made no difference to me whether I died or went to Brazil, so I was easily convinced. I was in brazil a couple of days after the phone call. When I got there, I collapsed into my mother’s arms.
It took me a year to recover and get back to my old self. The progress was slow, but I got there. During that time, I was lucky enough to meet another woman who I grew very close to. After a year, we decided to move to London. We got married not long after that, but I quickly felt that same pang of pain that I had lived with all of my life. I began to punish myself for being happy because I felt that I didn’t deserve it. As with all of my former relationships I began to sabotage it. I’m sorry to say that I became quite challenging as a husband.
One day I went for a walk to clear my head. As I was walking along, a man coming from the opposite direction approached me. He was dressed in clothing that made him look like a Muslim, but in my head I knew he was a Christian. He asked me if I’d like to go for a beer with him, to which I agreed. We headed to a five star hotel and took our seat at the bar. Everywhere I looked I was surrounded by light and decadent decoration. Naturally I assumed that my companion had taken me to heaven. In my head, everything began to click into place. My location, the man I was with, it all made sense. I was having a beer with God.
After some conversation, I came clean to him and said that I’d been struggling with my health. We spoke some more before parting ways. Leaving the hotel, I picked up that things outside were less well decorated, and that there were fewer bright lights. I’d returned from heaven and was back on earth.
I rushed home excitedly to tell my wife what had happened, and about who I’d met. This must have been the last straw for her, because she did not share my enthusiasm. Instead she took me to the hospital that very day. It was the start of a very long clinical journey.
During my first stay in hospital, I remained completely ignorant of what was happening, and I didn’t know how to deal with it. I was experiencing regular manic and psychotic episodes. I was so lost. Lost at sea in a tempest and struggling not to drown.
Over the coming months I experienced a number of different things. Early on during my stay at the hospital, I was walking past the nurses’ station when I overheard two nurses discussing “that man who thought he’d had a beer with God” and laughing about it. I have an immense amount of respect for nurses, but this hurt me. It hurt that the people supposedly caring for me should poke fun at me in such a way.
After I received my formal diagnosis, a nurse took my wife to one side. She said that Bipolar Disorder is very difficult to deal with, and that my wife should “consider her relationship” with me. This was a terrible thing to say. Were it not for my wife and my daughter, I do not think I’d ever have recovered.
My recovery took time and was by no means easy. One of the most positive things was working with Mind in a local prints department. For £5 a day I was paid to provide printing support, in an environment where I could feel supported but where I could feel as though I had genuine responsibility. Each day I’d earn enough to go over the road to the local university’s café and feel “normal”, as though everything was as it once was.
Working in the prints department also gave me access to their buddy system. Every week for four years I was able to talk on a one to one level with someone that wanted to listen and hear about my recovery. It was an invaluable resource that helped me a lot.
I stayed at Mind for as long as I could, but eventually I had to leave. I was nervous, I wasn’t sure what the future would hold, but I was also hopeful. I’d been in recovery for four years and I was in a better position than I was at the start of my journey.
I’d seen an advert for a support group with Rethink Mental Illness and chose to give it a try. My first time there I felt immediately uncomfortable. There I was, surrounded by people openly discussing their mental illnesses, and I was suddenly confronted by the fact that I was one of them. Throughout my life up to this point I’d had a deep and personalised stigma against mental illness. Whilst I’d been hospitalised, I never considered myself as ill. This stigma was not something I’d had to face until now, but there I was. I almost didn’t return to the group.
I struggled through, and after a brief period I settled in. I got to the point where I really enjoyed myself. For the first time in my life I was able to step back and put some real though into my experiences, and I began to learn more about myself than I ever had before. This was very important. I had to know myself in order to care for myself. Finally, I became strong enough to share my story in the hope that it would have a positive effect on others.
I’ve come to view my illness as a wild horse. Everyone has a wild horse that needs to be tamed, and some are more successful at it than others. My horse cannot be tamed; I know that it will kick off again in the future. But that’s not a bad thing. Instead, it has only served to change my outlook on life. It is a gift that I never asked for.
It is easy for people to take reality for granted. I know what it means not to be sane, and knowing this makes me want to totally engage with life. I want to have a great life, but that is up to me.
If you or someone you know is living with bipolar disorder and you're not sure how to manage it then get in touch with us here.