There it is. After 10 years, I’ve finally put it out there in a public place. It’s the right time to talk about this.
You might know it as ‘manic depression’, but my official diagnosis is bipolar disorder.
Bipolar disorders, also known as manic-depressive illness, are a group of brain disorders that cause unusual shifts in mood, energy and ability to function. The symptoms of bipolar disorder are severe. They can result in damaged relationships, poor job or school performance, even suicide.
I was diagnosed with it 10 years ago at university. I had to take a whole year out of university to deal with it (telling my friends I was doing work experience). I’ve been hospitalised with it on 3 separate occasions, and I’ve spent more time in more mental health wards than you can imagine.
OK. Is anyone still reading this? I imagine a lot of people will have thought ‘so what’ and gone to read something more interesting by now! That’s great. I know mental health doesn’t carry the stigma that it used to, plus we all have our own highs and lows to deal with.
Yet, poor mental health is affecting millions of people every day. Plus, for those experiencing it, the stigma is still damaging.
If you’re still here, I’d like to tell you a little bit about what it’s like, as well as why I’ve decided to talk about my mental health today.
What it’s like to be bipolar
I’m not going to go into what happened 10 years ago in this article. Suffice it to say, there are a lot of stories. I’ll tell them soon.
The people who know me see me as an energetic, driven, gregarious, fun, ambitious guy. A pretty normal bloke (most of the time). I hope so anyway. That’s how I see myself too.
Beneath the surface, I’m very conscious of my mental state, my thoughts and behaviours, their effect on myself and others. I regularly ‘check in with myself’ so I can see any relapse coming, hopefully before it happens.
I will go into detail about exactly what it’s like for me living with bipolar disorder another time. What I can say, is that I’ve been the extreme end of depression and mania for prolonged periods of time over the last 10 years. I take medication. Most of the time I’m stable and well, especially in recent times.
I used to regularly think back to the times when I’ve been really ill. I think of the stress I’ve put on my friends and family. I think of the facts that, according to experts, I now have a shorter life expectancy, that I would have less chance of finding employment, that I would have this illness for the rest of my life. It’s upsetting to think about that.
Now, I’m over all that, in the sense that however hard or bad it gets I’ll always find a way out. I don’t consider myself abnormal. I’m just James. Being bipolar doesn’t define me. Whether I’m up or down, I work, eat and love my family just like everyone else. I’m still the same person that checked into the hospital 10 years ago, just stronger, wiser and more stable (most of the time). This is why I am ready to talk about this today.
It's actually quite funny as I read all that back to myself. I’m very conscious of the language I’m using. In the dictionary, ‘abnormal’ means something that deviates from what is normal or usual, but typically it’s used in a way to signify something that’s undesirable or worrying. That’s not how I consider myself at all. However, if ‘abnormal’ can mean rare, or bizarre, or eccentric, I’m perfectly OK about that. I don’t mind being different, and standing out from the crowd in a good way has never been a problem for me. The language around this subject is quite difficult, and personal to whoever is using it. I don’t want to offend anyone with the language that I’m using, but I guess sometimes I will.
Why I’m opening up today
Over the last year or so, since starting Sales Confidence, I’ve been lucky enough to build up a following of people who are interested in what I have to say. Sure, it’s usually about SaaS sales, but I’ve written some articles about mental health which have received some attention too. I don’t think you can really be the founder of something called Sales Confidence if you’re hiding something which is a big part of you. Additionally, my primary mission for Sales Confidence is to help people achieve their goals. If writing about having bipolar disorder can help anyone who might be worried about their own mental health, well, I’ve done my job.
Plus, I realise now that I have nothing to worry about. There is a stigma around mental health in society, but a lot of that stigma I believe we put on ourselves. I know I haven’t made it easy for myself at times with the pressure I’ve put on myself. It’s time to stop imposing those beliefs on myself. In the last 10 years, I’ve had a pretty successful career in business which no one can take away from me. I’ve got 3 wonderful children and a loving partner. I’ve got friends who are there for me no matter what. Whatever strains they’re under, I’m lucky to have the NHS there for me. In a word, I feel ‘protected’.
Am I looking for attention? Well, yes, I’m publishing this online so the answer is pretty obvious!
However, I’m not looking for attention simply for being bipolar. I want people to pay attention so they know that you can still achieve in business, in your relationships and in your goals no matter what’s happened in your life.
I want attention from people who are helping others. This really matters to me. In the last 2 years, the story about mental health in society and in the workplace has totally changed. I wrote about it here. Campaigns such as Heads Together, backed by Prince William, Prince Harry and the Duchess of Cambridge, have made a huge difference. Jonny Benjamin MBE and Neil Laybourn are massive inspirations to me. The work by Minds@Work and Head Talks are especially helpful.
I also see incredible initiatives being developed to help mental health in the workplace. Unmind, set up by friends of mine, provides a positive, proactive mental health platform, delivering clinically-backed tools and training for healthier, happier, more human organisations. As well as talking to anyone about my experience via my public speaking, I’m also happy to speak to anyone about Unmind. Just ask.
I also want attention for Sales Confidence, a growing community where we try to empower SaaS founders and sales leaders to achieve their goals through sharing ideas and continuous learning.
Society is moving away from the stigma around mental health, but people who have mental health issues still put a lot of pressure on themselves, and lots of negativity at times. That’s what I want to move away from. It’s time to stop thinking you’re not OK. Mental health is part of your life which you need to learn to manage, but only you can make that decision. I know there are various degrees of severity and our minds affect everyone differently, but if we can, we should all try to make the best of our minds.
So, there it is. It’s all out there now. Usually, at the end of my articles, I ask a question. I’m not going to do that today, but if you would like to leave a comment about anything at all, I’d love to read it.
Thank you for staying to the end!
About the Author
James Ski works for LinkedIn and advises companies on hiring, employer branding and recruitment. He is the Founder of Sales Confidence and a speaker and mental health champion.
Crisis / Risk Management Plan:
If you’re having a crisis, here are some ideas:
Contact your GP
Out of hours contacts – NHS 111
Go to A&E
City residents only – 24-hour Mental Health Crisis Helpline 0208 432 8020
Maytree – A sanctuary for the suicidal 0207 263 7070
Other helpful numbers:
NHS Direct: 0845 46 47
Saneline 0845 767 8000
Samaritans 116 123
FRANK (Drugs) Helpline 0800 77 66 00
Substance Misuse Helpline 0800 066 55 25
Drinkline 0800 917 82 82
CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) 0808 802 5858 (5pm to midnight)
Other useful Links:
https://www.bipolaradvantage.com/ - Highly recommend to anyone specifically with Bipolar