Osher Günsberg: It's Been Nearly Five Years Since I Lost My Mind
I had told people in the past that I'd lost my mind, but I didn't know what I was talking about.
For instance, I'd once danced on stage with the Flaming Lips while wearing a giant furry koala suit. I told people "It was amazing! I lost my mind!"
But I didn't know what I was talking about. I was just super-excited, quite drunk, and really high.
No, the day I lost my mind was something quite different indeed.
At the time I was living in Venice Beach, California, right after the first season of The Bachelor Australia had finished shooting and we were yet to know if the network was going to renew us. So here I was, living in a foreign country and paying rent out of my savings while I tried to figure out what I was going to do with my life.
I was already feeling extra edgy because I was in the ninth month of living life without the anti-depressants that had been reining in my anxiety disorder since 2007.
Life on the meds was good, but I'd been doing pretty well recently and was a bit fed up with the weight gain and zero sex drive -- so my doctor and I decided to try life without them.
It was nice to be skinnier and even nicer to experience sex where I actually felt something again, but to be honest I wasn't coping. I couldn't sleep, and I couldn't stop the ruminating negative thinking no matter how hard I tried. I'd usually go out for a run, and that tended to quieten everything down.
It was on one of these runs that it all became too much. Stress about lack of work, a recent breakup with someone I was really into, and news of my Dad back in Australia ending up in ICU all culminated in one horrible moment.
It was as if the final Jenga block that was holding my teetering sanity was knocked out of place, and my brain burst open into white-hot, unstoppable, irrational fear.
The part of my brain that was able to rationalise the distorted thoughts had stopped working, and now I was believing every irrational fear that came into my brain as if it were absolute fact.
I descended rapidly into paranoid delusions which had me convinced that the world was going to end that very day -- and I was the only one who knew about it.
The thoughts came thick and fast, and I found myself swatting them away like I would an attack of sandflies at sunset. The thoughts came with jolts of physical pain that would make me grunt and flinch as if I had stepped on a piece of Lego on a cold morning.
Fortunately, I realised that something was terribly wrong and I needed to get to a doctor very quickly.
When I turned around to run home again, I passed a member of the local homeless population. Unshaven, barefoot and wearing only a pair of too-big jeans, he was younger than I was and shuffling along the jogging path.
When I passed him I saw that he was also grunting and flinching, lost in a similar unseen and relentless terror. It seemed the only real difference between us was that I knew something was wrong.
That afternoon I got to my doctor and started the long road back to sanity. It got worse before it got better, and in the darkest parts included enduring many months of active and passive suicidal ideation.
My treatment included a few years of medication, including two different kinds of antipsychotic drugs, exposure therapy with a psychiatrist and talk therapy with a psychologist. But now, thanks to the very clever doctors I've since worked with, my family, my friends and my wonderfully understanding wife, I'm once again okay.
Thanks to a great amount of work from my doctors, my wife and I, as well as the healing that happened during the years of medication, at the moment I can live life without that medication.
Things aren't as bad as they used to be, and I can now manage my anxiety disorder that is accentuated by an OCD diagnosis through ongoing therapy, exercise and lifestyle, part of a self-care regimen that I take seriously and daily -- just like I took the meds.
That’s not to say I wouldn’t go back on meds again if I needed them, but at the moment I’m doing okay.
I'm telling you all of this because often when people think of mental illness they picture that homeless man on the beach. They don't think of me in a nice tailored suit counting roses and playing cupid on television.
And in writing this for you, and indeed writing my book, I’m hoping to make it more normal to hear conversations about complex mental illness, in the hope that it becomes more normal to have conversations about complex mental illness.
READ MORE: How To Talk About Mental Health
Because, just like hundreds of thousands of Australians who also have a different kind of brain, I live with a mental illness. In fact, there are more than four million people in Australia who are affected by complex mental illness including OCD, borderline personality disorder, bipolar, PTSD, eating disorders and schizophrenia.
That's a lot of people who need your understanding and compassion, instead of fear and ridicule. You never know, you could be the person that helps someone seek the right treatment that in turn helps them live a rich and fulfilling life -- just like yours.
If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about suicide prevention, depression and mental health visit R U OK?, contact beyondblue on 1300224636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.
Feature Image: Facebook