Up until July, 2013, the only experience I ever had with mental illness was studying it in my psychology degree.
To be honest, I think I was pretty smug about my mental health because I was a very stable person with a good life. Surely I could never be subject to any sort of mental illness?
Then, after the birth of my daughter, my first baby, I became severely manic followed by intense periods of depression, which were cyclical.
I was diagnosed with postpartum bipolar disorder. It was a nightmare.
Not only was my mental state incredibly compromised, we also had a brand new baby and no family support close by.
I had never heard of postpartum bipolar and even my midwife was unfamiliar with it. Thankfully, I had a wonderful obstetrician who recognised the signs of mania, but I wonder how long it would have taken to diagnose if she had not intervened.
In Auckland, at the time, there wasn't a Mother and Baby Unit as there is now. So, there were only two options; be treated at home or be admitted to the psychiatric ward and be separated from my baby.
Although I was desperately unwell, I was never considered a risk to my baby so the decision was made to treat me at home.
I had carers around the clock. They were there at night to help me get to sleep and there during the day to make sure I was safe.
My mania caused me to stay up all night with no sign of tiredness, have never-ending thoughts racing around my head (sadly none of which involved my new baby), and extreme self-confidence, about both my appearance and my abilities.
I talked non-stop and flew into a rage if anyone questioned me about my excessive phone calls, or my lack of attention to my baby. I also went on excessive spending sprees and had poor judgement.
It took at least six weeks for the mania to subside, only to be followed very quickly by unbelievable depression.
Depression was extremely different to how I had perceived it before I was unwell. It wasn't sadness, it was panic and absolute distress. I had a feeling that something was terribly wrong and I couldn't find joy in anything - even colours looked muted to me.
I couldn't escape it, it followed me everywhere.
From the moment I woke up to the moment I finally fell into a drug-induced sleep, it was pure hell. I had three periods of this depression but learned some tools and techniques to help me cope, including mindfulness, and I had some wonderful carers.
My husband and my family were so supportive but they were so scared too. Overall, it was an extraordinarily terrible experience.
The journey through the mental health system was often fraught with issues. Understaffing and underfunding seemed to be a huge problem and some of the facilities I visited were dire.