Actually Education Neurodiversity Stories – Will Sawney

Actually Education Neurodiversity Stories – Will Sawney

Actually Education are committed to sharing and spreading great advice and stories from the world of neurodiversity. As a part of our discussions with the community, and our research, we hope to also share our conversations with fascinating individuals we meet along the way.

Will Sawney describes himself as a ‘Playful marketeer’ and has several years in top level marketing roles for several firms and is presently a consultant who thrives in the business to business sector.

A couple of years ago though, Will had a significant hypomanic episode which resulted in him being diagnosed fairly quickly as bipolar. Will talks to us in this chat about the process of being diagnosed and just how that influences his young family, work and what it means to be neurodivergent a little later in life…

Great to talk to you Will, firstly can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I’m a dad of two, a six year old and a two year old and in full time work as well as a head of marketing and I live with my lovely wife called Amy.

We’ve reconnected through LinkedIn and a post you made about being Bipolar so I wanted to get a bit of background from you what is your own experience with neurodiversity?

I’m relatively new to Bipolar, I was diagnosed just under two years ago. I previously was on some medication and had some therapy for anxiety. What happened two years ago was quite a major hypomanic episode that was very noticeable to a lot of people. I ended up seeing various doctors and being told to go to A&E about it. That led quite quickly to my Bipolar diagnosis. I’m quite lucky that it happened so quickly because reading what many people go through they spend a long time getting a formal diagnosis.

I’d never heard of mania really before but it was a pretty definite episode. It was quite work focused, I had these visions of a better world where all these things that were problematic at work and in my personal life could be fixed. I was sending out hundreds of messages to people, almost feeling called to a higher purpose where I could see how I could make all these great things happen right now. I had a long day and by the end of it my wife took my phone off me. I thought I’d changed the world and it was brilliant that this had happened. A few days later I was seeing doctors but I still thought ‘I know I’m right about these ideas’.

Some therapists have told me since I can’t discount some of the things I said and did during that episode, there was a reason for all of that and some of those things are really important to my core. The delivery of the messages may have been over the top but that’s what the medication now helps me with. Some people at work have since said that I wasn’t a million miles off with some of the ideas!

I had quite a long time of seeing therapists and being on some medications that didn’t work. I was off work for about five months, definitely the hardest five months of my life. The hardest part was how it affected my parenting. When you are deep in depression it’s really tough. I tried to struggle through, one particular day I couldn’t even get out of bed to take the kids to school, that was horrible.

How does it affect your daily life now?

For almost a year I’ve had no days off work for it. I definitely still have moments where I am a bit, heightened shall we say, creatively. It’s all really manageable now, I feel really proud to have got back into life. The diagnosis was useful to get the right treatment but it was quite traumatic to know your brain doesn’t work in a normal way or there are at least elements of it that you can’t trust. That was really tough. It made me think did I need to change my career and everything I’m doing? Parenting, have I made a crazy decision to be a parent with this condition? Lots of people have helped with that since though.

In terms of your diagnosis it was very quick then?

From that episode which was a Thursday I was diagnosed on the Monday. A&E and then straight to a psychiatrist. I know that I’m lucky, compared to others who wait months and years for a diagnosis.

Your employers were the same before and after diagnosis in terms of how they handled your return to work?

Yes, they were really great, cautious of course. They wanted to make sure I was ready to come back.

In terms of being a parent, how has this condition affected your ability to parent?

In the high periods it’s amazing! I can play to a ridiculous level and frankly the kids absolutely love it. Very over the top, fun and silly. In the depression it’s absolutely horrible. I was in the playground one time, I remembered feeling no positive emotion, no joy. That’s what Bipolar does to you it takes away your ability to see the positives and feel happy. It becomes a guilt because you aren’t feeling that joy, it’s a spiral that compounds you. CBT (Cognitive behaviour therapy) helps with that, it helps you understand that you can’t control your thoughts but you can control your actions. You can still play with them because eventually that will make you feel better. A key lesson is that even when you don’t feel like a good parent try and pretend that you are a good parent!

It’s interesting that the condition has a positive side too…

I rate myself on a scale, 5 being balanced, 1 depressed, 10 manic and I try to be around 6 or 7 all the time and that’s how I enjoy life more.

What advice would you give others about managing their own mental health?

Definitely don’t discount your ability to be an amazing parent just because you’ve got a diagnosis or condition. A couple of people have said to me, ‘you are so much more than Bipolar’ and it’s literally just a label. I spent too much time Googling ‘Can a Bipolar person do this or that?’ and you’ll find the answers of people saying it’s really difficult. I certainly know that I’ve achieved a huge amount of things and being Bipolar has been there all the time and not stopped me.

You’ve already got a lot of positive achievements, for a younger person yet to have the chance to achieve too many things before a diagnosis, should that stop them?

I think I might have found a diagnosis earlier in life more challenging, really. It depends on the care that’s available to you. I hope it’s the right kind of care, some therapists have been excellent and the whole process led me to be a lot stronger so maybe that would be better to do earlier in life. I had a really rough period of depression just before my wedding. My stresses overshadowed the excitement and love. Thankfully I recovered in time for the big day, but I’m sure. I would deal with it so much better now I’ve had the help that I’ve had. There are some benefits to getting through it earlier but no matter when you go through it you come out the other side much stronger.

Thank you Will for your time and for sharing your story, some fantastic advice in there not just regarding Bipolar disorder but also handling a diagnosis generally!