Dale Skinner talks about cycling into the headwind of Bipolar ll.
I came across Dale Skinner’s story on Facebook. He very recently cycled 550 kilometres from Albury to Sydney in 6 days to raise both cash and awareness for Mental Health issues under the auspices of the Black Dog Institute.
I emailed him directly as I hoped that he, as a male, would be willing to share his story, his ideas and experiences on what it’s like to be a man with depression, or in his case, Bipolar ll. He responded quickly and positively, for which I am very grateful.
Dale is a very open and sharing Aussie bloke – it’s so refreshing to get an insight into how this condition is from a man’s perspective. I hope you enjoy his story. May it be of help to all who have questions about this condition.
Walksit: (Ws) You were finally correctly diagnosed with Bipolar 2 when you were 28 – was it a shock for you?
Dale: It still concerns me that there was such a gap between an initial diagnoses of depression and correct diagnoses of bipolar II in my case. When I was first diagnosed with depression at the age of 18 I reacted like a lot of people do and ignored the doctor’s advice, thinking “I am not depressed. I will get through it.”
After 6 months, and an attempt on my own life, I went back to the doc and followed his treatment plan. I took the medication and tried to live a much healthier life. But after trying different medications and lot of different forms of therapy I did not seem to be improving.
For a lot of the time I thought I was getting worse. This exacerbated my depression and I began isolating myself a great deal. This led to another two attempts to end my life to take away the pain I was feeling. After my second attempt it was recommended that I be placed in a psychiatric ward.
I was not very keen on this idea so I started to do some research myself and located a doctor who was extremely well regarded when it came to the diagnoses of mental illness. I requested a referral from my GP. The wait list to see this specialist was 2 months
The 4 hour drive to Melbourne had me asking, “What if what I have is a lot worse? What if this is just the way I am going to be? What if they want to put me in hospital permanently?”
The doctor made me feel comfortable right away. This was a huge relief because I really felt that he knew what I was feeling. He then explained to me that he believed I had Bipolar II. I had not heard much about it, so it was great that the doctor explained it to me in a way I could understand and be able to explain to others.
It was also a massive relief that the way I had been for so many years was not how I had to spend the rest of my life.
Unlike when I was initially diagnosed with depression this diagnosis gave me the confidence to talk to people because I understood it. I was anxious about the medication but after 6 to 8 months I started to feel much more in control. Most importantly I wasn’t a zombie. I could still feel and express normal human emotion.
Ws: In talking to young people as a Volunteer Presenter, what has struck you about the younger generations and mental health, especially boys?
I think that there is still a lot of stigma for young males when it comes to mental illness (or any non-visible illness) in society.
Being a male and someone who was and still is involved in local sports clubs, I found that the male students could relate to me a lot more easily than they might with a female or a much older male.
There is this perception, especially in sport, that males have to be tough and hard and that mental illness can be a weakness.
It was something that I experienced when I was younger but it was something that I said to myself. It was probably influenced by the media but I don’t recall anyone actually saying anything to me directly.
I think the media sends out the message that men should be tough and not show signs of weakness. However I think very slowly mental illness is not being seen as something that weakens a person.
Sharing my story, I feel, helps to give people a real sense of what it is actually like living with a mental illness. I have found that this can be very empowering for some people who may be struggling, even for those who may have lost someone to suicide.
Ws: What was your experience as a teenage boy with depression?
DS: In my early teens I knew that there was something a little different about me, in my extreme mood changes (for no reason) and the way I dealt with things. Not knowing why it was happening I did not really talk to my parents about it. At times it made the relationship with my parents and my brother very difficult.
If I had my time again I would have probably tried to talk to them about it. Not sure how much it would of helped as back then there was not a lot of awareness about it so they may have just put it down to “just being a teenager”.
Ws: What do you recommend for husbands as a checking-for-signs process in themselves? How would you advise wives of men who may show signs of B2?
I don’t necessarily think there is a different way of dealing it when it comes to men and women. The difference is with the individual and how likely they are to be open to discussing their moods.
I think it is best to be patient, where men are concerned.
We can be more stubborn sometimes but that doesn’t mean we need to be pushed harder to seek some help. Gently letting your man know that you have noticed some changes in the way they are dealing with things and why you are concerned should be the first step.
This may need to happen several times. Give them the space they need – do not force the issue. When they are ready to talk, validate what they are saying.
So many times when someone says something like “I just feel as though I am doing everything wrong” we respond with “that is rubbish”. Instead, we should be asking them why they feel that way and get them talking about things. This can then lead into them agreeing to see somebody.
I remember one lady I spoke to after a presentation. She was explaining to me how she believed her husband had depression and that it was putting a real strain on their relationship. It was affecting her that much that she was having more sick days from work and was in danger of losing her job.
When I asked her if she had spoken to her husband about how it was affecting her she said no, because she thought it would make him worse.
I explained how important it was that she manage her wellbeing and still allow herself time to focus on her. By doing this she would be in a much better position to deal with the difficulties of living with someone with a mental illness (if indeed he had depression).
I also asked her how her husband could know that it was having such an effect on her if she did not speak to him.
I saw her a couple months later and she said that she told her husband about how his moods were affecting her. At first he seemed to get worse but then a week or so later he told her that he had been to the doctor. Although he still has his moments things are a lot better, she said.
Ws: In your first marriage, how did you cope with depression?
When my first wife and I met, I was in the trial and error process of getting the right medication. I didn’t tell her for 6 months that I had depression. I was just hoping I would get through it and she would not need to know. I suppose I was worried about how she would react.
She grew up in a farming community and her family did not believe there was such a thing as depression so because of this we never spoke about it with her family.
Because I had not been correctly diagnosed it put a lot of strain on our relationship. At one point I was forced to leave work due to being so ill and her parents’ attitude towards me changed.
Because they were not aware of my mental illness they just thought I was being lazy and did not want to work. When we had our first child after being together for 8 years and married for 5 years, everything changed.
I had been back at work for a little over 2 years and was doing a lot better, despite not receiving a correct diagnosis. Although I was doing better I was still not the type of person who was smiling all the time. I was happy but you just couldn’t see it on the outside.
Eight months after our daughter was born and after many conversations where I tried to explain to her that I was happy she told me that we were going to marriage counselling, which didn’t help, and that was the end of our marriage.
Ws: You put yourself on the emotional line by being so open about mental health and your own diagnosis – has it in any way affected you detrimentally?
If I had my time again I would have probably been open about it a lot earlier. I think I have become more aware of comments people make about mental illness and, more often than not, I have to bite my tongue as you cannot change some people’s minds.
Ws: Has it been a blessing in disguise with the opportunities it has offered you – through Black Dog?
I have no doubt at all that being a volunteer presenter with the Black Dog Institute has been of huge benefit to me. Their support has enabled me to channel my passion of educating the community on mental health in a structured and concise way.
The opportunities I have had to travel and meet people have been so good for me in many ways. My role has also embedded a sense of purpose in me. I regularly tell myself that if I do not manage my own wellbeing then I will not be able to continue to educate others and make more people aware of what the Institute does.
Ws: How was the ride and your sense of achievement?
For as long as I can remember I have always wanted to take on a journey such as the ride I have just recently completed.
It wasn’t until around 6 months after becoming a volunteer with the Institute that I realised I now had the cause for my journey. I would cycle from Albury to Sydney. Not being someone who has done a lot of riding in the past I was not exactly clear on what it was going to entail.
I set a date and gave myself 8 months to train. I wasted at least a month thinking I had plenty of time. I sought a lot advice about what sort of and how much training I should do but I never felt I had done enough.
From what everyone was telling me I knew there would be a lot of hills, and boy, were there hills!!! Out of the 632kms I rode I think at least 3 quarters of it was uphill, and long steep hills at that.
I had been telling myself and everyone else that it would be more of a mental/emotional battle rather than a physical battle. It wasn’t until day 3 of 6 that the mental challenge really began.
Massive headwinds made me feel like I was just not getting anywhere and I started to wonder if I would actually make it. These negative thoughts made it really hard to keep pushing up the up to 5km hills.
Thinking about time in my past were I was struggling but got through helped me keep pushing. I remember being told I was 20 km from my day 3 destination, Yass. What a long 20kms.
Just when I thought I was close to the town I would see a sign saying Yass 15km or 10km. Finally, I got to the 5km sign and then the “Welcome to Yass” sign. I knew the motel was on the edge of town I was coming in from. After riding for 7 hours the 3kms from the welcome sign to the motel seemed to go on for ever.
I kept saying to myself that towns are always at the bottom of a hill, which helped me push up them. But this day there seemed to always be one more. Finally just over the top of a hill was the motel. Getting through this day helped me get through the rest.
There was brief moments were I struggled but thinking of experiences that others had shared with me pushed me along, particularly the family whose daughter had committed suicide. The pain I was feeling was nothing to what they felt.
Ws: Do you think that the body and the mind are connected?
I am a big believer in managing my physical health to help my mental health. I am not a very good sleeper so for me it is even more important.
I find that when I exercise regularly I am able to deal with things a lot better and make better decisions. If I go any more than a week without exercise I become really sluggish, I struggle emotionally and become depressed.
I also find that when I am feeling down, exercise is something that can often help lift me out of it. Exercise keeps me involved and mentally active.
Two things from that challenging Yass day occurred to me, later that night:
There is always one more hill but sometimes what we are looking for is at the top of the hill.
Don’t be scared to climb every hill.
Many thanks to Dale for sharing his experiences with Bipolar 11. For further information on Bipolar 11 and the Black Dog Institute see the links below.
The link below is non-affiliated – no money in it for me – it’s not free but it is devoted to your happiness quotient – for a monthly fee – I’ve been doing it for a few weeks now and am learning how to change my negative thinking patterns, slowly slowly. I recommend you give it a try. 😀
Please raise questions or comments in the box below – the more the better in bringing mental health issues to the forefront.