#StrongWords – Dave Sheekey

I am Dave Sheekey, I have diagnosed bipolar disorder. I am trained as social worker, have taught English in Thailand. I have family in Uganda, where I have also worked. Currently I’m back in Chester, where I volunteer at the Spider Project, no.71, Newtown Crisis Café, and the ShareShop. Importantly, I am also a passionate Everton fan.

When did you first notice and how did symptoms present themselves?

I was first ill around the age of fifteen. I found it difficult to break out of a depressed, low mood, and consequently ended up hospitalised around then. I was diagnosed with bipolar in my mid-twenties, during the time I was finishing off higher education. It has taken a long time for me to understand and come to terms with, but I’m okay with it now. I try not to be pathologized by it or defined as an illness- that’s a big deal for me. I’ve done a lot in my life; trained as a social worker, been through academia, volunteered with various community activism. And I hate being patronised due to an illness, so it’s important to me to not be defined by it.

“It’s important to me to not be defined by an illness.”

How do you usually manage your bipolar? 

It’s a dual approach. I take my meds, even though I would prefer not to, due to not liking putting strong chemicals in my body. But I look at it from a perspective of, a diabetic would take insulin, so I take mine. The social aspect as well, coming to accept illness. To not be defined, I try to do lots of different things with various groups. And from a practical angle, I try to ensure I get enough sleep, don’t smoke or drink- I don’t touch alcohol, and I try to get enough exercise.

Do you have a support network, if so, how does that work for you? 

At the moment, I’m under the care of excellent psychiatrist, at the countess. The have a very person centred approach, and are probably the best one I have encountered. I also have the support of the Secondary mental health team, the Spider Project. As well as yourselves at Chapter, I like to get involved with the allotment and the virtual coffee chats. In terms of informal support, I have a great network of friends. I think building links, as many as you can, and building that support both formal and informal is hugely important.

Can you tell us about a time you are proud of yourself for overcoming your bipolar?

There’s probably several. When I qualified as social worker in 1996, I felt that was a triumph over adversity. People on my course found out I had bipolar and would make jokes of “oh we’ll do our case studies on David”. So there was that, along with having a difficult relationship with the college I was at. But I qualified. I even set up my own major second placement, and I felt I had overcome adversity in getting that placement.

I have also been out in Uganda, where I was a community worker assisting a Kampala NGO, called Najjanankumbi Women`s Union which supports marginalised women, some have HIV/Aids or, are victims of domestic violence. Because of my efforts twenty-two women in Uganda now have own businesses, and that is really gratifying. Personally, I’ve built a house, and educated stepchildren who have gone on to successful lives. I am very proud of what I achieved in Africa.

I’ve always been influenced by dad. He passed away from sudden heart attack at 42, and I was 5. He had Outstanding record in World War 2 as a wireless operator and gunner serving in RAF bomber command. We still have his logbook, which shows 40 missions, a really high number and by all rights he should’ve been killed. I always think of my dad’s bravery and determination, and I try to live up to that. We are not the same in situation, but I try to replicate his overcoming adversity in his own life.
Also, as I mentioned, I’m a passionate Everton supporter. Back in 70s, Gary Jones did Interview of on match day program, his dad told him “Get in the box and make things happen”. I thought that was a good lesson for life and I always try to do that, just make things happen.

“I always try to do that, just make things happen.”

What advice would you give to somebody currently experiencing Bipolar? 

Firstly, don’t suffer alone. There are networks that can support you. The internet has plethora of sites for people with bipolar. There’s two major organisations in UK; Bipolar Organisation based in London, and in the north, Mood Swings Network based in Manchester. And there’s organisations locally like yourselves(Chapter) and the Spider Project. So never be afraid to reach out.

I think just, try not to be defined as an illness. Try not to let it take over your life. I had a conversation at the Spider Project, a woman came in with bipolar, and it was heavily impacting her life. I told her about a book by K. Jameson, Touched by Fire, which lists a lot of famous people with bipolar. Buzz Aldrin, Jimmy Hendrix, Hemingway, Dickens, Steven Fry, all experienced bipolar disorder.
So many people have this illness; it has become more accepted. Years back, it was called manic depression which didn’t conjure helpful images, but we’ve come a long way. But now you can take your place in society and make a difference. Don’t let it pathologize or define you, or people put you down. Be proud of yourself. You can get strength from adversity, we learn from good and bad experiences so, be proud.

A huge thank you to Dave for sharing his story with us! – Wren and the Chapter team!

Posted in Strong Words.