Twenty five years

JAKEB STEVENSON has spent years negotiating the highs and lows of WA’s mental health system and now runs the advocacy podcast Our Manic Mates. He’s writing a series of articles for the Herald describing some of the issues people with mental issues face – from a unique insider’s perspective – including electro convulsive therapy and being “sectioned” to how he always sees the same people every time he goes to a mental health clinic. 

WHEN I was a kid, I always thought I felt more than everyone else. 

Emotional pain that I or somebody else experienced destroyed me; it would sit in my stomach like a rock, for days, weeks, months. 

My world showed me the extremes of emotion, and I took it all on; every tear, every scream and every depleting feeling that would follow. 

At school, up until about grade 7, I would cry when situations or ideas became too emotionally overwhelming. 

Basically, I was scared of what I was thinking and the rate at which my thoughts were coming and going. 

Even as a kid I would think about suicide romantically. 

Throughout my primary and secondary education, I found it difficult to maintain long term friendships with people. 

Usually I would informally get kicked out of the group or drift to another. 

I didn’t really fit into one of the categories that an arts college has to offer, I fit into them all, I could be it all. 

I did OK at school when doing something practical in which I could use my unusually creative brain to produce something, or writing in the humanities. Throughout all my time at high school, I had manic racing thoughts, suicidal ideation, and no respect for myself. I was unmedicated and undiagnosed, which meant I was having periods of mania where I would do dangerous things because I/my mind was completely out of control. When I had my first overdose on Valium at 17, I ended up in the emergency department and eventually admitted into a private mental health clinic. At the clinic my psychiatrist diagnosed me with depression and anxiety and put me on anti-depressants that I would stay on for a long time. Between the ages of 17-20 I stayed on the same anti-depressants with a large amount of anti-psychotics on the side. 

 I treated everyone horribly, I broke the law, I put my life at risk many times, I pushed people away and retracted from relationships with them over and over again. 

When I was 20, I was admitted into another private mental health clinic under a new psychiatrist who put me on so many different medications that I was being pulled up and down all day. 

Still, I just wasn’t getting better. Sometimes I would even become catatonic, feeling everything but being in my head rather than being present . 

At this time, I was diagnosed with chronic major treatment-resistant depression. 

I attempted to take my own life again, and again until it resulted in me eventually being ‘sectioned’ by the state government to stay in a locked ward for my own safety.

This was one of the worst experiences of my life. 

When I got back to the private mental health clinic my psychiatrist suggested that I try electro convulsive therapy (ECT), which at the time felt like the only thing that could help. 

Zapped

Every second day I’d be woken up early in the morning, sign all these papers, be put under general anaesthetic and then get ‘zapped’. 

I went through this dozens of times. 

When we were sitting in the waiting room at 4am signing papers, I was the youngest person there by about 40 years. 

I’ve always thought about that with curiosity, wondering why I was receiving a treatment that seemed like a last resort for much older people. 

I think all ECT did besides wipe my short-term memory was give me an uneasy, foggy feeling in my brain.

I attempted to take my life again when I was 23, was sectioned again and went through the public health system, when I would finally receive the diagnoses of bipolar type 2, complex PTSD and borderline personality disorder. 

Side effects

Receiving these diagnoses meant that I was treated with lithium, which I believe can be a fantastic medication, the downfall being its intense side effects. 

After a period of stability, when I was 24, I felt I was again struggling and admitted myself into a private mental health clinic and began seeing a new psychiatrist. 

The new medications they prescribed seemed to be working, but later that year I attempted suicide yet again. 

Again I was sectioned on an involuntary hold in the public system, until stable enough to transfer to my treating psychiatrist’s care in the private mental health clinic. 

There my medications were tweaked and have seemed to work since then. 

During all this time, I worked, I got promoted, I volunteered, I won awards. 

I lost my Dad. 

I tried making the best of what I had, or at least felt forced to do so many things for my community because I was a menace to it. 

A mask

But I wore/wear a mask, some say I wear it well, but sometimes you just can’t. 

If I didn’t have private health insurance, my life would be radically different so I’m thankful for my privilege of being able to afford it. 

But it shouldn’t be a privilege.

I’m sharing my journey because I want to do everything that I can to be an advocate for people living with mental health issues. 

My previous employments and volunteering reflect that this is my passion. 

I also run a bipolar advocacy podcast called Our Manic Mates. 

I’ve found in the last few years people are opening up more to the idea of mental health being a real experience people go through that needs attention. 

Also, thanks to the pandemic, talking about it and getting help has become a global advertising campaign, with amazing resources coming to light, but I think it’s important we move faster. 

People’s lives and livelihood are at risk and we need to get better. 

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