I grew up loving the game of cricket.
As a kid in the 1970’s in Australia getting outdoors and playing the game with your friends before, during and after school was the norm. I wasn’t naturally gifted as a cricketer and worked very hard to become a good player.
By the time I retired from first grade cricket at the age of 31, I’d represented my city (Newcastle, NSW ) ,played against Steve and Mark Waugh, Mark Taylor, Geoff Lawson and Michael Whitney and played a number of matches for the NSW Country team, with the highlight being a game against the 1990-91 touring Sri Lankan team captained by Arjuna Ranatunga.
I was usually a first change bowler with an outswinger to a right hander as my stock standard delivery. I was fit, trained hard and apart from the occasional heavy drinking session , generally looked after myself pretty well. The last thing I thought could ever affect me was mental illness.
In September of 2000 I was hospitalized for two weeks after suffering a psychotic episode at Broadmeadow Railway Station in Newcastle. I was just about to catch a train to work as a broadcaster for ABC Radio on the Olympic Games in Sydney.
The diagnosis from the team at the James Fletcher Psychiatric Hospital was Bipolar 1 Disorder. Since that time I have had time to reflect on the illness and the best way to manage it and stay well.
Bipolar Disorder, like so many other mental illnesses has a stigma associated with it that makes management of the condition even more difficult than it should be. For many people with Bipolar Disorder, managing the illness and coming to terms with the sometimes severe mood swings is something managed in secrecy away from even close friends and family.
My experience with the illness in 2000 was so traumatic and debilitating that after my recovery I felt almost duty bound to speak up about Bipolar Disorder and attempt to decrease the level of stigma around this illness.
Since 2000 my health has still fluctuated on occasions when I have been higher (manic) than I would like to be and also depressed and much lower in mood than I’d like to be as well.
In short Bipolar Disorder still challenges me and those closest to me.
Today I still work for ABC Radio in Newcastle, my employers in 2000 when my world was turned upside down. You can’t be complacent about this illness because it can be devastating when out of control, so I am constantly aware of the way I live my life.
Stress levels, sleep patterns, medication, relaxation, diet and exercise are all part of a management strategy that I have put in place to make sure that the lessons learnt in 2000 are adhered to. This illness effects more people in Australia and around the world than many people realize.
The suicide rate in Australia indicates that there is still so much more to do and by simply ignoring the issue or making out that it is someone else’s problem isn’t going to get people who are suffering from a mental illness that can be treated the help they need.
In 2004, Random House published my first book about my brush with mental illness ( Broken Open ) and in 2012 Allen and Unwin published my second book ( A Better Life ) which focuses largely on recovery and making good lifestyle choices. Recovery was a slow and steady process and it was not until a few years ago that I realised how important physical fitness is in staying mentally well.
I went back to my old cricket club and played lower grades as a middle order batsmen and off spin bowler and loved every minute of it. The team environment and the mateship off the field were still there and this time without the week to week pressure to perform. Most of that pressure I admit was pressure I put on myself.
I’m 51 years old now and I feel better mentally and physically that I did when I was 35. Playing sport and staying physically fit has been a huge part of my recovery and remains a huge part of my stay well program.
In 2005 I published my first book titled “Broken Open” with writer Neil Jameson.
The story is a very personal account of my life and experience with Bipolar Disorder and more than anything a plea to society to drop the stigma associated with mental illness to hopefully it easier for those that need help, to be able to reach out and get it.
I believe there are a three groups in Australia.
Those that believe they will never be affected by mental illness. Those that are aware enough to know that you can’t take your mental health for granted and those that have a mental illness and struggle to manage it
I can speak on behalf of all three groups because I have been in all three groups.
If you had asked me prior to 2000,who would be the LAST person who could be so badly depressed that getting out of bed in the morning was impossible and that level of depression would lead to thoughts of suicide, I would have said me.
Yet there I was, in the deepest, blackest, darkest place I have ever been in my life with basically no real hope of getting out of there.
I now know so much more about depression, mania , chemical imbalances in the brain and some of the strategies to not only cope and recover but to thrive after recovery.
Knowledge really is power.
So many people are suffering with a variety of mental illnesses in our community unnecessarily.
Those without great friends, family and work support networks often fall through the cracks and end up living on the street.
I manage Bipolar Disorder with an holistic approach to staying fit and healthy.
My self-awareness is simply more tuned in to my stress levels and when I need to pull back, slow down and rest,on most occasions I do.
My second book “ A Better Life “ was published by Allen and Unwin in 2012 picks up the story where we left it in 2005.
There have been many challenges since and many lessons learned.
I am ready for the next challenge.
Craig is on twitter @Hammo46 and his website is www.craig-hamilton.com, where his books and dvd can be purchased.
I grew up loving the game of cricket.