• "I know how to look after myself now and I'm probably more stable than a lot of my friends who don't have bipolar," says Nic Newling. (Supplied)
A mental illness diagnosis does not have to put your life on hold, says Nic Newling.
By
Kimberly Gillan

8 Oct 2018 - 6:00 AM  UPDATED 8 Oct 2018 - 11:15 AM

When Nic Newling, 32, was admitted to a psychiatric hospital in his teen years, he never could have envisaged the happy place he would find himself in today – about to get married and running the grassroots mental health organisation The Champions.

"I didn't foresee a time where I'd even be alive, or if I was, that I could have any independence," he tells SBS Life.

"I thought I'd always be living at my parents' house and not really engaging with life or meaningful work."

It took a long time to get an accurate diagnosis of bipolar disorder, which is characterised by mood swings of extreme highs and devastating lows, and after a lot of trial and error, Newling found a suitable medication regimen to stabilise his emotions and enable his journey to recovery.

For a lot of people with bipolar, each day can be an unimaginable struggle [but] for many who find the right treatment, the symptoms might surface only every now and then.

"I know how to look after myself now and I'm probably more stable than a lot of my friends who don't have bipolar," he says.

"For a lot of people with bipolar, each day can be an unimaginable struggle [but] for many who find the right treatment, the symptoms might surface only every now and then. I’ve been really fortunate to get through both of those stages and am now at a point where I hardly have to ever think about it."

While Newling says his mental health journey has been gruelling at times, he says that with the benefit of hindsight, he can see that it's taught him a lot and he wouldn't change his experiences.

"Someone once asked me, 'If you could flick a switch so that you never experienced mental illness and could have gone on to finish school and become a vet like you planned, would you flick that switch?'" he says.

"If you had asked me during my darkest times I would have said, 'Yes, get this illness out of me' but now I've gained a lot of strength and resilience and personal understanding of myself and other people and how different human beings work in a lot of different ways. So as far as my illness goes, I actually wouldn't change my past."

The things that keep me balanced are the medication; having people around me who I can speak to about stuff

Newling says that if there is a silver lining to his diagnosis, it's that he has developed incredible connections with his support network and is very in touch with his emotional state.

"The things that keep me balanced are the medication; having people around me who I can speak to about stuff; and being able to express it openly, without the fear of judgement because putting up a mask is just so exhausting and limiting," he says.

"Having a sense of purpose and meaning and direction in my life is really helpful for me as well."

Through his journey, Newling says he's gotten to know himself a lot better.

"I've genuinely found out what makes me tick and uncovered these personal truths [which has made me] a bit more of a well-rounded person in a lot of ways," he says.

In fact, Newling says it's not unlike the way a physical injury can make your body stronger after you go through rehab as you then make a proactive effort to protect your vulnerable body part.

"Years ago my back wasn't very good so I saw a physio and now I think I now have a better posture than most people who've never had a back issue," he says.

"I have to work on it, but at the end of the day, if I didn't focus on it, I'd be 10 steps behind everyone else."


If you or anyone you know is experiencing distress, visit the beyondblue website or call Lifeline on 131114.

The new SBS series 'How 'Mad' Are You?' takes a unique look at mental health. It will be broadcast on SBS on October 11 at 8:30pm on SBS.

Related content
Why creatives need to start talking about mental health
When it feels like everyone else is “killing it”, it’s hard to admit that you’re not: “You think that you're the only one who’s experiencing these things.”
I accepted my anxiety out of pure exhaustion
When my doctor first suggested anxiety, I was horrified. As I was obviously dying of some terrible fatal illness that was stopping me from being able to function as an adult.
Here's what you need to know about mental health
Movies and TV series commonly portray people with mental illness as dangerous, scary and unpredictable, promoting stigma and perpetuating myths.