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Living well With bipolar

Living Well With Bipolar

World Bipolar Day is celebrated each year on March 30. The international celebration aims to bring awareness to bipolar and improve sensitivity towards the illness.

Whilst we all experience mood changes, people with bipolar can have extreme moods of feeling really high and euphoric or feeling very low.

Bipolar is a chronic mental health condition affecting one in 50 Australians each year.

Chris Chalubek, Sonder’s Executive Manager, Mental Health & AOD shares his own lived experience with bipolar in the hope of both educating the community and celebrating recovery so that anyone can reach out for support without fear and stigma.

Chris’ first experienced anxiety in his early teens and by his late teens he was enduring regular bouts of depression.

The dark pressure Chris felt enveloping his mind was offset by a bright, euphoric ‘light’ that sent his thoughts racing and caused his muscles to twitch.

For many years Chris managed the highs and lows: manic flashes of energy and grandiose ideals preluding extreme mood slumps and low self-esteem.

“I was either flicking through a rolodex of ideas thinking I could take on the world at a hundred miles an hour, or working against a bullying darkness,” Chris says.

“It was exhausting. In my toughest moments, it felt like I was pushing against water; there was nothing I could do to stop it, it was really hard to be hopeful.”

Chris’ breakthrough came when he was diagnosed with bipolar.

For the first time, Chris was able to properly make sense of his symptoms and the challenges they pose each day.

“Up until then I had managed as best I could, doing whatever it took to keep it all under wraps. The diagnosis gave me a foothold; it was a huge relief,” Chris says.

When Chris was diagnosed with bipolar, his first instinct was to find others who had the same experience. He felt as though he needed to find his people and in doing so, found Carrie Fisher.

With that discovery came insight and understanding around how Chris could live well with bipolar and manage his recovery.

Chris explains that a large part of that recovery was focused around shaking off the fear to reach out for help.

“It takes a lot of strength to ask for help when there is still so much stigma around mental illness, especially bipolar. Stigma denies people the thing they need most, compassion,” Chris says.

“As a society we are compassionate in so many ways to so many people experiencing illness and hard times acknowledging the ‘fight’, the ‘battle’, ‘survival’ but the stigma of mental illness encourages our community to withdraw and judge.”

Carrie Fisher who lived with bipolar said “At times, being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so if you’re living with this illness and functioning at all, it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of.”

Chris explains “Part of moving forward is realizing there is more to me than bipolar, but if the perceived messages around that are negative, then it’s hard not to withdraw and be scared.”

“I have always been open about it with my wife and family but I didn’t feel like I could speak about it to my broader community and social circle because I thought they wouldn’t understand.”

Chris draws strength and confidence from others living with bipolar and has now reached a point where he feels though asking for help or sharing his experience isn’t a big deal.

“I actually feel stronger for it and realise the importance of being open to and accepting help.”

In working with Peer Workers for many years, Chris has seen the opportunity and hope that honesty can bring.

“When you are in the midst of being unwell, you can lose your old self. Positive role models and people with lived experience can become really important factors in helping you to work through that identity crisis.”

“Core to recovery is a healthy identity, finding a self that you can live with and have respect for. Finding the self that is still there and reconciling who you always wanted to be with who you really are. Stigma makes this very difficult.”

Chris explains feeling “reframed” by his lived experience.

“I am a better person for it and because of it. I now try to use it as a positive to help others live their life forward.”

Chris shares his lived experience today on World Bipolar day to help others answer the question `what’s next?’ instead of `why me?’

Get support from Sonder

If you’ve been feeling more anxious, stressed or overwhelmed lately, get in touch with Sonder and find out how we can help.

Sonder offers a range of mental health support. Our friendly and professional team will work with you to learn new skills to manage your mental health concerns so you can get back to doing the things you enjoy.

To access our mental health services, you’ll first need to visit your GP and request a Mental Health Treatment Plan. To learn more about accessing a Mental Health Treatment Plan, click here

For more information, call us on (08) 8209 0700 or email info@sonder.net.au