Voices of Courage: bipolar warrior Shaun Everett courageously shares his incredibly powerful story
Today’s post is especially important because it highlights a huge number of the problems and issues that us patients are coming up against in our battles to survive and recover from these devastating episodes of mental illness.
It also holds particular significance with me personally, because today’s ‘voice of courage’ comes from the first bipolar disorder sufferer to reach out to me through this new blog and the story resonates with me so intensely.
When I first spoke to Shaun Everett, back in February, he had just come out of a very disruptive episode of mania which was instigated by some very unsettling personal events and was heightened by the side effects of an antidepressant medication. He was upset by the experience, and was struggling to come to terms with this ‘manufactured’ diagnosis of bipolar disorder.
Shaun and I have since spoken at length and, (as I do with all my bipolar warrior friends), I regularly check in with him to make sure that things are as stable as they possibly can be; I feel especially protective of Shaun because he’s that bit younger than me and our stories parallel each other on so many levels, so I want him to avoid some of the mayhem that I’ve been subjected to and benefit from my experience!
Learning from those who’ve ‘been there’
I know how vitally important it is to have someone else who’s been through a similar experience of bipolar disorder in your corner, to provide you with some guidance and more importantly, a feeling of support and HOPE – this is something I never really had as I was growing up with this illness, and is the reason for my devotion to writing, sharing, and supporting the many people who reach out to me through this blog and website.
Shaun has very kindly, courageously, and gallantly, agreed to share his story with us today, for the benefit of future patients, and the following is a condensed version of events that have occurred in his life over the course of his illness.
We have worked on this together to provide as much information and insight into as many different aspects of this experience as we possibly can.
It is a particularly involved and distressing account (as is the reality of this brutal illness), so please read cautiously if you feel that the subject matter is too ‘close to home’ or is likely to rake up any unwanted memories.
This is Shaun’s story of survival, hope, resilience, tenacity, strength, and courage.
My name is Shaun Everett and I suffer from bipolar type 1 disorder. I was finally diagnosed with this illness in August of last year, after experiencing a full-blown manic episode which lasted for several months and caused a huge amount of distress and disruption to my life.
Prior to this episode I had struggled with depression and fluctuations in my mood including a depression which lasted for over a year, with an especially deep and suicidal depression which lasted for one and a half months.
I was initially diagnosed as having cyclothymia because my mood was so prone to fluctuations; with hindsight I can now recognise that my relationship at the time, was triggering the ups and downs.
Eventually, the upset of my relationship and the distress that this all caused me, became a perfect storm of emotion, and it prompted the onset of a full-blown manic episode. During this time, I was going through a divorce with my now ex-husband, so it was an especially unsettling and traumatic period of my life; It was a very tricky time, to say the least, and, looking back, my behaviour was reckless and totally out of control.
Mania overwhelmed me to the point that I was spending large amounts of money, drinking, smoking heavily, not eating or sleeping, exercising madly, and generally living life at 100 miles an hour, but without realising that anything was significantly wrong because at the same time, I felt so invincible and empowered.
During this time, I moved out of my house and was living in my caravan; having parties and living on cloud nine, feeling amazing, sexy, blessed, and gifted; everything looked so incredibly beautiful, but at the same time I was also taking risks and exposing myself to danger.
In other times I experienced uncontrollable rage and anger which isn’t consistent with my character, but sometimes I found myself causing arguments, throwing items around, and then having to tell myself that ‘I am normal’ in the mirror.
How I wasn’t hospitalised at this juncture is anyone’s guess but even though my condition was out of control, it wasn’t identified as severe enough to warrant any kind of intervention – looking back, I find this quite surprising.
As the weeks went on, I dropped into a massive depression. I couldn’t understand what was happening and I started drinking alcohol to blog out the pain and as a way of self-medicating.
This low mood escalated into severe depression, but I was pushing myself to continue even though I felt so lonely and afraid. I began to start hating myself and my life around me, and I started to have dark thoughts of death and suicide. As the weeks went by, I eventually made the decision that I was going to take my own life.
I drove to the Orwell River in Suffolk and started running up the bridge. I thought that ending it was the only option, and I was blinded by panic and fear.
Fortunately, at that critical moment, my Mum rang my phone and I decided to pick up. At the same moment, a driver who has seen me on the edge of the bridge, had also called the police, concerned that I was about to jump.
The police arrived and intervened and I was then taken to the hospital where I was eventually seen by the crisis team. What happened next, baffles, and upsets me still to this day.
I was referred to the Suffolk Mental Health Service, which I hate to say this, but it was absolutely dreadful.
“I should have been sectioned immediately, because I was crying out for help.”
I was terrified and frightened and was left on my own until my partner came, sat with me, and comforted me. I was then discharged to my home – a decision which I still cannot believe, and one that could easily have resulted in my death.
I then waited for a referral to see a psychiatrist for several weeks – even though I’d just been rescued from a bridge when obviously considering suicide and extremely vulnerable.
I was put on the antidepressant ‘venlafaxine’ at quite a high dose as well as the antipsychotic ‘quetiapine’. This combination didn’t do much to ease my depression but made me feel like a zombie and not like myself at all.
Eventually, after several weeks, my appointment came but it wasn’t with a psychiatrist - it was with a GP who then cancelled at the last minute because of contracting Covid, and the follow-up call that I was meant to receive never came either!
A month later, I moved in with my partner and, after discussing the matter together, we decided that I needed urgent help, so we booked an appointment to see a private psychiatrist.
I was immediately diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was given Depakote (sodium valproate) which is a mood stabiliser, in combination with venlafaxine.
The result of this was that I was slowly going back into a mania again with the classic symptoms of excessive spending and living at high-speed all returning once again.
I quit my job, was drinking heavily, not eating, speaking rapidly, and having bright and fanciful ideas such as buying holidays, new cars, feeling sexy and amazing continuously, but most worryingly of all I was now hallucinating, having night terrors and sweats from the side effects of the medications.
A combination of these effects, as well as having a hard time learning to accept a diagnosis of bipolar, left me spiralling into upset and confusion. In running away from myself, I drove my car into a tree flipping it over and actively wanting to die.
I now recognise that I was in what they term a ‘mixed state’ where I was experiencing symptoms of mania and depression simultaneously. I had no idea what I was doing.
I was taken to hospital and was told that it was a miracle I survived because, in reality I had flipped the car over several times. I was taken to A&E and then visited by the crisis team. I was now propelled into a terrible state of confusion from the illness and felt anger at being let down by the doctors and medications.
I proceeded to be very argumentative in this mixed state which was making me highly irritable and touchy with everything and everyone around me. Trying to explain to crisis team who wouldn’t listen was frustrating to say the least!
“I had tried to take own life and felt that they did nothing to help afterwards. It made me feel as though my condition wasn’t being taken seriously and that my life wasn’t important to any of them.”
This is impossible to believe, but even after all of this trauma, and obviously being terribly vulnerable at this stage – I still wasn’t admitted to hospital for any kind of assessment or treatment.
What happened as a result was truly horrifying.
There had been NO review of my medications, and I had been waiting for weeks to hear back from a doctor, and I was clearly in crisis and not coping at all.
The mixed state morphed into full-blown mania over the next few days, and in my euphoric, but also confused state, I tried to walk to work in the middle of night, which is over 25 miles away from where I live - terrified for my safety, my partner phoned the police, and I was taken to A&E again.
Even though I agree that I needed to be restrained, the process was absolutely horrifying, and I was bouncing off the walls, trying to run in fear and desperation. It was the most traumatic and petrifying experience of my life.
In A&E, I was shoved into a room where two psychiatrists asked me if I wanted to go to hospital or (because of Covid) be treated from home. I decided to be sectioned but remain in my own house. I was seen regularly by doctors and nurses at home over the next few weeks and was prescribed Lithium and olanzapine.
This combination made me feel wrung-out and ‘spaced out’ and I slept constantly to blot out the pain. This continued all through Christmas and the New Year until about the middle of March this year.
I don’t know how I got through that time, because it was a particularly dark and desperate period of my life.
"If it hadn’t been for the love and support of my mum, dad, my partner, and my step-mum, there is no way I would still be here."
I was off work for nearly 4 months and was left struggling to get my head around my diagnosis and the destruction created by all of this trauma.
This year has been somewhat ‘up and down’, but somehow, I seem to be managing to function and I am back to work and happy in my relationship.
I am still cycling between episodes but not to such a great degree. I am beginning to learn about my moods and my disorder and am coming to terms with having this diagnosis now. It has helped to know that I am not alone, by hearing Tom’s and other people’s experiences of bipolar disorder.
I really hope that my experience can be learnt from and that this story somehow provides hope for anyone else who is out there and struggling with this illness.
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A huge thanks to Shaun for so courageously sharing his story with us this morning and I wish him so much luck as he goes forward from here. I have such enormous admiration for anyone who survives and continues to live with this difficult disorder I really do!
It is estimated that 1 in 23 patients goes manic on an antidepressant and then ‘becomes’ bipolar. This is something that I regularly mention (it’s not easy to discuss because it is such a contentious area), but the reality is that the psychiatric drugs that are purporting to help us, are in fact, feeding, creating, and generating, these epidemics of mental illness –
- both Shaun’s and my own experiences are both obvious (and concerning) examples of this!
Shaun’s story makes me even more determined to get the incredibly successful treatment I have received privately (with no side effects), rolled out onto the NHS as soon as possible (click here). So, if you could all please share this site to others, then that would be an enormous help towards creating some traction and achieving this essential goal.
Bipolar disorder claims 1 out of every 5 of those living with the illness and the importance of all of this cannot be overstated.
With a following and a collaborative effort, I will hopefully be able to instigate change for the future treatment of this crippling and life-threatening illness, and save many, many lives.
Thanks for reading,
Speak to you soon,