In recent years the stigma regarding mental health has decreased as we more openly discuss things such as depression and anxiety. However, when it comes to more severe conditions, I feel like there needs to be more exploration.

What’s it like to have a war with the mind?

I had the unfortunate experience of finding out. In 2015 I went through an episode of mania, and with this elevated mood, I was operating on nearly zero sleep, but I experienced this overwhelming surge in energy. As a prototypical shy introvert, this sudden confidence and self-belief felt like I was finally coming out of my shell. This increase in mood initially improved my performance at work, and this transferred to other social situations. However, as time continued to pass my behaviour became more erratic, and my decision-making became skewed.

Psychosis involves one’s relationship with reality changing, and this is something that I experienced in the summer of 2015. On one occasion, I found myself in Dalston with a suitcase full of electronics, and I planned on trading them in. Still, being in this impulsive state of mind, I decided to start giving away these belongings – from the SmartWatch to the laptop and other things in between. All of the actions that I was involved in made sense in my head. With no inhibitions, my risk-taking behaviour inevitably led to a debt-fuelled spending spree – my credit score is still in recovery.

As events unfolded; it became apparent to my colleagues at work and also to my family that something was off. And at the same time, I was embracing this newfound energy, and there was a ramping tension between myself and my family. Their attempts to help felt like suffocation and restriction on my part. The more they pushed, the more I pulled away. The back and forth continued for weeks and ultimately culminated in my detention under section 2 of the Mental Health Act. The intersection between the mental health system and the police is something that distinguishes mental health from physical health ailments. During my manic episode, there was frequent contact between myself and the police. The most vivid and dramatic aspect of the whole event was my temporary imprisonment while a bed was being made available at the hospital. The government has now decided to reduce the use of prison cells during times of mental health crisis, but that’s something that I, unfortunately, had to deal with after being sectioned.

I was in the mental health hospital for four weeks; spending most of my time in the psychiatric intensive care unit. Young black men are much more likely to be diagnosed with a severe mental health condition, and in conjunction, they are more likely to enter the mental health system at the point of crisis or emergency. Once inside the hospital ward, you are more likely to be administered medication as a form of treatment. These were all things that I experienced, and it was after 3-weeks that I had any meaningful contact with the psychiatrist. The forced medication was something that I struggled to come to terms with.

Ultimately I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and I now had to pick up the pieces as my life trajectory had veered extremely off course. The road to recovery was tumultuous and a real roller coaster ride. I had to contend with feelings of denial, the prospect of relapsing and a full-blown existential crisis. Trying to reintegrate into society was my goal, but in truth, I was stagnant and feared that I would never reach the heights that I had envisioned for myself. It was difficult to accept the diagnosis, and that was one of the fiercest battles that I had to face. I describe the bipolar disorder as a symbiote which had merged itself with my personality, and I couldn’t figure out where the illness finished and where began. Was I still a shy reserved introvert or the gregarious extrovert that mania turned me into? My identity struggle has been a recurring theme since 2015 – with me only gaining closure in 2020.

We all go through ups and downs in life, but the mood fluctuations that happen with bipolar disorder are a whole different ball game. Depression, as we know, is exceptionally debilitating. Still, this feeling of despair compounded because I was comparing my depressed mood to the highs of mania, longing for that surge of energy, self-confidence and creativity to re-emerge.

As the years passed, my perspective shifted, and I began to gain more clarity and understanding about the events that ensued. In 2017 I began running this event called “Mental Health and the Black Community: Prison By Another Name?” During the introductory session, I shared my story in a public setting for the first time. In subsequent workshops, we gave people space to converse and connect with changemakers in the community. We also brainstormed things we could do with the resources we have. It was this event that gave me the impetus to continue sharing my story as it became apparent how difficult it was for some people to share theirs. I thought my experience was wholly unique, but many could relate to things that I had gone through. Since being sectioned, I have worked with the mental health charity ‘Mind’, shared my story on the BBC and met some fantastic people with a real passion for bringing about change. And so I desire to continue to spread awareness and give people a greater understanding of bipolar disorder. In doing so hopefully, knowledge will develop, and the narrative can be changed.

On May 22nd 2020, my debut book titled “My Polar Opposites: The War of the Mind” is being released. This memoir captures and explores my journey into the system and the struggle for reintegration. If you’re interested in finding out more about my story, check out the link below.

Eche Egbuonu

If you want to get in touch:

Twitter & Instagram: @echeinlife



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