Craig Hamilton's story

Hi, I'm Craig Hamilton. I'm a sports broadcaster with ABC Radio and in the year 2000 I was diagnosed with Bipolar 1 disorder. Well, the most severe depression happened in 2000, the year 2000. I just started to shut down for no apparent reason. At the time, I became withdrawn, I went off my food, my appetite decreased. I stopped socialising, I stopped picking the phone up. I found I had trouble at work, I couldn't concentrate. I lost weight, sex drive lowered significantly, just general zest for life. I had all those symptoms. I had my suspicions that it was depression but I thought I would be the last person ever who could experience depression. I just didn't think it could happen. I can remember at the time thinking, when I went to the doctor, "Give me something other than depression". I mean make it something exotic to explain more why I feel like I do. Like a brain tumour would be good or a chronic heart disease would be okay, even a well-developed cancer.

Those illnesses are more socially acceptable and they are still to a degree, more socially acceptable. You tell someone you have heart disease, you tell someone you have cancer, you tell someone you have a tumour, they go, "Oh, you've got every right to feel lousy." You tell someone you have depression... Certainly eight years ago, there was, "What's that? Get over it". The doctor suggested that I take anti-depressant medication straightaway. Three days after I started taking it, I felt worse. Six days after I started taking it, I felt worse again. And nine days after the commencement of the medication regime, I was suicidal. So, that was the scariest time of my life. I thought this wonder medication had failed and there was no hope, that I was sliding on a downhill slope that there was no coming out of. Day 10, I felt slightly better, just marginally. And I thought maybe we've got some hope here.

Hello, great to have with us today. ABC local radio, Craig Hamilton with you...

After Day 10, things started to improve and by the four-week period on the medication, I was feeling fine. I was feeling absolutely okay. I was back to my normal self. I had all my energy back and I thought that is the end of that nasty chapter in my life. That's the end of the depression. Let's get on with life. But round the corner, lurking was this thing called bipolar disorder, which I didn't know I had at the time. And bipolar disorder, there's this two distinct phases of that illness. One is a hugely depressed state which I'd just experienced and the other is the manic stage which is a big high. Now, that was just about to happen and that probably within the next four weeks my mood just continued to escalate and rise, elevated mood. The signs of elevated mood are again lack of sleep, but you don't need sleep. You have huge amounts of energy, you have a stack of ideas, you have... You're able to multi-task. It's just... It's a high beyond all highs. Everyone around me at the time could pass off this behaviour as, '"Well, why wouldn't he be excited? He's going to the Olympic games as a broadcaster. I mean this is a dream come true for a sports fanatic."

I began behaving in a very bizarre fashion on the railway station in Newcastle at Broadmeadow on the way. Before I caught the train to Sydney, I started screaming. I started yelling. I started abusing people around me. And so therefore I was out of control. I was psychotic at that time and the police were called. I was taken forcibly to hospital in the back of a police paddy wagon and within the first 20 minutes of being there, the word "bipolar disorder" was used. The words "bipolar disorder" were used for the first time. Because as soon as they put the history, my history over the past 12 months together, this acute clinical depression treatment with anti-depressant medication and then a big high ending in a psychotic episode on a train station, that's bipolar disorder. Massive low, massive high. Anyone with an illness like bipolar disorder has to look at the big picture and take a holistic view to staying well and not simply rely totally on medication. Medication is a part of the jigsaw puzzle, it certainly is for me. And it's an important part of the jigsaw puzzle, but it is not the only piece.

I make sure I get plenty of sleep, that's critically important. Monitoring your own stress levels and being honest about how you are feeling. Exercise, also important, to have a regular exercise regime. Physical fitness, your body feels good, it helps your mind feel good. Relaxation techniques, I do things today like yoga. I do meditation, and these are all things that I would never have dreamed of doing before the events of 2000.

Alcohol has been clearly a drug of choice for me through my late teenage years through my 20s and through my 30s, and I can now identify the drinking, the binge drinking, as a way of self-medicating this illness. I can look back now with the benefit of 20/20 vision and look at the previous 10 years, and the previous 15 years, and the previous 20 years and know that these mood swings, these severe mood swings were there.

And when I was high I'd want to drink and party all night and could. But these days, very moderate. A very moderate social drinker. I still have a drink. I'm not totally teetotaler, but it's moderate and I don't miss those days. I don't miss the hangovers, don't miss the headaches, and I feel better for it.

You're listening to ABC local radio this morning, Craig Hamilton with you...

The stigma around the issue of depression prevented me from getting the help that I needed for six months or more, and we've all got to get over it. It's held us back as a community for too long and I know that in 15 years' time, maybe 10 years' time, we'll all look back as a community and we'll say, "Boy, we were slow on that. We needed to get out of the blocks and be far more proactive in reducing stigma." It's happening at the moment but it needs to continue to happen.