Greenkeeping and mental health: Living with Bipolar Disorder.

As this article is pretty long, it as has been cut in multiple part, so you can read it in multiple session.

I am Erwan and I have bipolar disorder type II.

I am writing this piece for many reasons, the first is probably to help me loosen some pressure, to educate as many people as I can to what bipolar disorder really is, but also with the hope that will it help some other souls out there, to prove it’s ok not to be ok, and to talk about it.

So what is bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a non-curable illness that cause dramatic shift in mood, behavior, energy level and judgment. Being bipolar mean living between manic and depressive episodes.

Bipolar 1, Bipolar 2?

There are two main categories that fall under the name of bipolar disorder, the type 1 and type 2. Bipolar 1 is characterized by the high of the manic episode, where bipolar 2 is characterized by the depth of the depressive episode, called major depressive episode.

In short, bipolar 1 go really high, bipolar 2 go really low.

• What is mania / hypomania:

Mania is specific to bipolar 1, where hypomania is mainly used by bipolar 2. Both are episode of “high”, where the person will feel wired and having an unlimited energy. People in manic episode will have inflated self-esteem, racing thoughts, pressurized speech or reduced need for sleep. They will also have a tendency for risking behavior such as spending spree, unprotected sex or life-threatening activities.

To me, mania is like being on drug! I can stay up and functioning for up to 5days at the time or for months with very little sleep (1hour or less!).

So, mania sound great isn’t it? … Well… To me, the hypomania inevitably leads to a major depressive episode.

What are major depressive episodes ?

Depressive episodes are characterized by low mood, constant need for sleep, self-harm thoughts and suicidal ideations. At time, it is difficult or impossible to make the part between our thoughts and the reality around us.

To me depressive episodes are like being drained to the soul, having my brain stuffed in gelatin. I can fall asleep at any time, anywhere (happen more than once in a middle of a music festival..), I can stay in bed for days, and contemplating suicide on a daily basis. I can also experience psychosis.

What is psychosis?

Not all bipolar will experience psychosis, but I do.

Psychosis is the inability to recognize what is real in the world around us. It is characterised by hallucination, paranoia and delusions.

Bp 1, Bp 2 .. and more?

On top of the two possible diagnosis, some bipolar can also have the trait “mix episode”, which mean experiencing both extreme at the same time. I am one of them.

So… what is living with bipolar?

First, it’s important to understand there is two faces of the bipolar disorder, the before and the after diagnosis.

I was only diagnosed a little less than a year ago, which mean I lived the most of my life without knowing I had bipolar, without understanding what was happening to me.

It all started when I was at the turf school, where two Erwan would switch back and forth. There was week where I was so high that it would be impossible for me to stay on my chair more than 5minutes and would often get kicked out of class for that, but there was also week where I would sleep through the entire day, in class. Luckily, I loved what I was learning and majored with honours. At the time episode were too mild to be detected as bipolar.

Once I completed turf school, I joined a very exclusive golf course in France, where I was promoted as assistant course manager. We were all working an insane number of hours, but thanks to hypomania, I was rocking it! Nothing could stop me; beast mode was ON! For once it was beneficial to me, my capacity to always be on the go and to be tireless really made great impression to my super and more tasks and responsibilities were given to me. But after 3 years, depression caught me back.

I couldn’t get myself out of bed and each morning were harder than the previous. I would not have enough fingers to count how many mornings my team members had to wait in the cold for me to open the shed, often an hour late! It was time for a change..

I then took off to work in Belgium as a self-employed greenkeeper, teaching the resident team to attain better quality. Despite achieving the objectives I had set, this place wasn’t for me, my contract was ending and I was looking for a new place.

I Then got offered a position in Germany, a country where I know nothing about it, don’t speak the languages and is seventeen hundred kilometres away from home. Manic me couldn’t let this opportunity go away! So I jumped on it.

I ended up at WINSTONgolf, Germany’s best golf course. New experience, new job, and new manic episode, it was show time! The better part of me rocked it for the first year, passing from seasonal to greenkeeper then head-greenkeeper but that’s where the problems started. The manic me had set up the standard, even to my nickname; “The Erwanator!”. The man who can stay up day and night to always achieve more. Sleeping less than an hour a night for months, working for days at the time. It even started to worry people around me, wondering what drug I was on, or when I would burn out.

And they were right.. sort of.. meanwhile I was living the dream in my manic episode, traveling the world to more workshop, seminar, venue, my little world was falling apart. My 8years long relationship with the women of my life went to an end, my bank account went deeper than the Marianne trench and my body gave up, I started to have incredibly strong migraine, that would knock me down.

Being manic is like working on shoot of adrenaline, you always need more, more, MORE, but there is a moment you can’t satisfy this addiction anymore, and I slowly drowned into a bored-out. I would work harder than ever, longer than ever but I couldn’t meet my needs anymore.

Inevitably depression took over. Over-working was one of my coping mechanisms, “You can’t be depressed if you don’t have time to think” I was telling myself.

Luckily for me, I have the best super, who worried for me, who took care of me. We had those discussions about my behaviour, my over-working coping mechanism. “It’s fine, I get it” was always my answer… But one day, it wasn’t my response anymore, one day it was… “I need help.

I – need – help. Threes words, but the hardest to tell. I need help!

Depression had taken control of my mind. I would find myself wrapping traffic ropes and wondering if I could hang myself with them, then I would be thinking to where I would commit suicide and all I needed was a date.  Oh shoot… I had a date. 22nd of December… Brought back to reason with my ex-girlfriend, I decided not to do anything stupid that day, but depression was still here. With the help of my super I went to a psychiatrist who sent me immediately to the closest psychiatric clinic where I was referred to second psychiatric clinic closer to my home, where a team of doctors would take care of me the next day. Then began the process of the diagnosis. “Sir, you have bipolar disorder. It’s ok, we will get thru it together.” That when the second part of my journey started, the post diagnosis.

I told my super about it, and that I would need his help… but I never thoughts I would need THAT much of his help. When we began the process to find the right medication, everything went ten times harder! We were trying dozens of different combinations and I had to deal with horrible side effects. I would turn into a complete veggie on med and I would not even be able to wake to go to work, but all that at to be kept secret, I was afraid.. maybe ashamed, to say I was bipolar. I kept it silent for a long time.

Then one day, after sharing a post on twitter about men and suicide, I couldn’t keep it any longer, I opened for the first time about my new diagnosis on twitter and the very next second, I entered a different world! I was now at peace with my soul, I was who I really am. And the support… Holy moly! Dozens, if hundreds of other greenkeepers around the worlds offered their support and prayers. I wasn’t alone anymore! At least.. on the internet.

Weirdly enough… Maybe by fear to be judged and definitely because of a language barrier, I hadn’t told my co-workers yet that I suffered from bipolar disorder. It was hard to keep it  longer, under meds I wasn’t anymore the Erwan they knew. Supported by my super, one day I decided to take the plunge and to tell my colleagues I was bipolar. After this day, I promised myself I would never shut about it again.

I am still in this long journey to find the correct medicine, , I am still grieving the old Erwan, to let place of the new Erwan, trying to find the right balance between manic me and depressive me, but now, I am not alone anymore!

I would like to thank Jordan for his indiscontinued support, but also thank to Shane Buckley, Dr John and Mary Dempsey, Dr Deborah Cox, Miranda Robinson, Craig Haldane, C Joy and everyone else who offered their support during this journey. I wouldn’t be there without you. THANK YOU.

Moving forward, if you suspect you have bipolar disorder, or know someone with bipolar disorder, be brave, reach out, speak about it, get educated! And never forget, it’s ok not to be ok!

Some numbers and facts:

Bipolar disorder affects 4% of the population world-wide and of for thus diagnosed with bipolar, 1 out of 5 will complete suicide each year, and this only account for those who has been diagnosed.

The original thread where I opened up about bipolar: (click to open)

Recommended links:

1 Video “Bipolar disorder (depression & mania) – causes, symptoms, treatment & pathology” by Osmose: (6mn30sec)

Video “What is bipolar disorder” by MoreThanMyDiagnosis: (4mn)

Video: “My bipolar life”: (9mn) <- HIGHLY RECOMMEND.

TedTalk: “Take off the mask of bipolar” (10m30sec)

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