Who are you and what do you do?

My name’s Ginge and I’m the frontman in a glam, punk and rock ‘n’ roll band from South Wales called The Sick Livers.

What is going on with you?

After years and years of being told I was suffering with depression and generalised anxiety, I received a bipolar disorder diagnosis in late 2014. Mental health problems were prevalent since my early teens but cleverly (or not) I hid them away, like so many people do. From my teens in the 90s onwards, stigma was still very much rife. That’s not to say that stigma isn’t present today, but there have been some good inroads over recent years. Whether that’s down to the advent of social media, more public figures speaking out or better coverage of mental illness in the press, it seems like it’s now it’s more socially acceptable. There’s a still an awful long way to go, but I feel as though knowledge and understanding is improving.

Why did you publicly announce your diagnosis on your and the bands social media?

I guess I’d had enough of hiding it away. Secondly, a few tours had to be cancelled as I received treatment, and I felt as though an explanation was needed. People would always associate me as this larger than life party animal who would drink and abuse drugs to the hilt. Underneath and behind closed doors, there was something deeper going on. On receiving the bipolar diagnosis, it came as something of a liberation. After 20+ years of trying to work out what was going on in my brain, I finally had an answer of sorts. For some people a label can be stifling and detrimental, for me I saw it as a way to move forward and fight. That’s something I hadn’t had the strength to do previously, and self harm or suicide attempts would be testimony to that.

Initially, I was dubious about announcing things within my circle of friends of Facebook. I didn’t want anyone to take pity on me or to think I was glorifying a mental health condition. Then, I thought to hell with it. This is who am I, this is the condition I have and I should wear my heart on my sleeve with regards to it.

What has been the reaction?

The response I received was overwhelming in terms of support and praise for my honesty. Just to make it clear, that was not what I was looking for. Words like brave and strong were banded about; a lot of it I didn’t fully understand. Many said they found it insightful and received a better understanding. Four or five of my Facebook friends said they had a diagnosis too. Something which startled me, having people in such close quarters who I could relate to. One of which I shared a house with for two years in the late 90s. Again, I had no idea, and probably likewise.

I suppose you’ve got to be somewhere near balanced when talking openly about these things. In writing this, I’m in a relatively good place. Two weeks ago, writing this would not have been possible due to the nature of bipolar.

Family and close friends have always been supportive. I feel now as though I’m not treading on eggshells so much. I just hope they feel that way too. After the initial Facebook post, I started posting more about it on Twitter when I was in a good place. A lot of it may be tongue-in-cheek and come across as wry, but sometimes saying things in that way, with humour, helps me in being more accepting of things. By no means do I mean to belittle or ridicule the illness or it’s sufferers, but some self-deprecation helps me along the way. In turn, more recently I’ve taken to writing more seriously about my condition for future mental health projects.

How does your illness affect you?

Over the last 18 months it’s been trial and error with different antipsychotics and mood stabilisers, in conjunction with antidepressants and anti anxiety medications like benzodiazepines. The balance is a hard thing to find. I’m hoping that a sweet spot can be found very soon, and at time of writing I’m feeling positive that this can be achieved. Medication is only one side of things though. There’s plenty of personal work that needs to be done to prevent a relapse or crisis.

The illness has affected my daily life for over 20 years. The erratic nature of bipolar can be destructive not just for myself, but for those around me, loved ones especially. During periods of mania (or more specifically for myself, hypomania), I would make a million plans, overspend, drink to excess, take every illegal drug available, work all the hours God sent. Day or night I’d be constantly hatching and planning the next outrageous adventure. The inevitable crash would then come. A lot of plans would never see fruition, people would be let down as I spiralled into a deep depression. All those hours of working day and night would now turn into a sick note as I struggled to get past the front door.

To list every trait here would almost seem like an impossible task. With the good times, come the bad. At present I have to focus on the former rather than the latter.

How do you feel about your illness?

Frustration is the main thing for me. How can  I be the life and soul of the party one minute, and then in the depths of a deep depression the next? I don’t fully understand how I manage to get up on stage and act the clown when there’s so many other things going on mentally. To someone on the outside looking in, there may appear nothing too much happening. You sort of become the master of disguise at these things, unless in crisis point and then your behaviour does overspill into the public eye.

I guess as silly as it may sound, I feel proud of my illness. After all, it can’t be changed. This is something that I’m going to have to live with for the rest of my life. I feel as though embracing it gives me more understanding of how to go about controlling things. Again, it’s a case of wearing my heart on my sleeve.

What would you say to someone struggling with their diagnosis?

I can’t really speak as an ambassador of mental illness and can only relay things from my experiences alone. Although some similarities will inevitably occur and paths will cross, every case is different. With cliches included, I’d say to be strong. Admittedly, not the most helpful of responses when you’re at rock bottom. Things can and do change, and often for the better.

There is help out there. I’m a great admirer of the NHS, but unfortunately the service is stretched to it’s limits. My experience of mental health teams within the NHS has been very positive. It’s just a shame that they are under-resourced and people aren’t getting the help and support they need quickly enough. There are some great mental health charities about who can also be very helpful. Seeking that courage to make the first port of call to a GP can be a daunting one. Although easier said than done, I’d urge people not to be ashamed or embarrassed. Just like a physical ailment, you have the right to be taken seriously with a mental one.

What advice would you give to people who know people a mental health problem?

That’s a difficult one. I guess everyone has the right to be treated equally and fairly, with a mental health issue or not. I think with more understanding of mental health problems, people will know how to go about these things. Often the focus is led solely to the sufferer, the one with the condition; but the sufferer can also be close friends and family who have to sit, watch and support someone whilst feeling helpless themselves. For me, the bottom line is for everyone to keep talking. Without communication, I feel all is lost. Keep those channels open for all involved and hopefully things will change for the better.