Seakayaking and photography is my life and many people have asked through instagram, what is it I do for a living. Well the fact of the matter is that I am unable to work because of disability, psychological and partly physical. In short, I am bipolar and have some arthritis in my joints. Depression has been a problem over many years, and kayaking plays a large part in keeping the depression at bay.
Every person has their own characteristics and each bipolar sufferer has their own specific challenges in life. Unfortunately bipolar has had bad press and the general belief that we are all psychotic raging bulls with no concern for life or the life of others is terribly far from the truth. My largest problem with bipolar is depression, which can be quite acute at times. For the largest part of my life, it is under control but never gone completely. Periods of hyper activity have also been evident in my life (the good days) but as I get older it seems that depression is more dominant. Since being diagnosed and accepting the diagnose my life has changed dramatically.
I use prescribed medicine to help control symptoms, they help with out any doubt. But I need more than chemicals to give me what I require, I need nature, I need regular (and controlled) physical activity which is where my kayaking has become my life savior. When signs off depression are obvious I need to get up and do something that makes me happy, I need to get away from problems and often people, I need to do what is best for me and feelings of selfishness must be put aside, I need my medicine.
There is periods also with hyper activity, but these are few and far between. In my younger days and without having been diagnosed, I thought this as normal and couldn't understand why people around me didn't share in my enthusiasm for life, over enthusiastic I now understand. Whether it was work, training, kayaking and also running and cycling in earlier life, I had to have something to do all the time. Then without noticing changes, depression hit like a baseball bat in the face and everything changes. Difficult enough not knowing why and certainly difficult for those around me, life quickly turned into a living nightmare. Diagnosis and educating myself about the sickness with a lot of professional help has brought me to a point where I myself realize the signs. I have become much better in recent times to get in touch with professional help, a safety net I can't go without.
Bipolar and social anxiety, horrible things with out a doubt. But in the last few years I have most importantly come to accept it, and make the best of what I have. Every morning I get up, I need to evaluate my own health and take the right action for my own needs. My first coffee is drank while I have to decide what is best for me, usually checking the weather forecast in anticipation of a kayak trip. But I have to accept there is days I can't get myself out of the house as I don't want to meet people. Running low on coffee is disastrous, as I then must go to the shops no matter how bad I am feeling. Sometimes it is also and very stressful to get my self ready for a kayak trip, even if all my equipment is ready I can stress and check my equipment over and over again. I can now laugh at myself and accept this as normal for me.
The importance of going out into the wilds for me is enormous, my escape from the rat race. I have always been a nature lover and getting away from it all is important not just for me but for all people. I enjoyed walking, running or cycling in the hills and mountains before arthritis in my knees made it more and more painful to continue. This in turn started the depression as I was less and less active. The irony of been less active because of depression is that it worsens the symptoms, a vicious downward spiral. It takes a lot of motivation to turn things around even with the knowledge that I need to go and to something to improve my mental health, I can't get going. Something I now accept as part of the disease and now allow myself the occasional day to just stop, breathe, get it together and in doing so increase my chances of getting back to a state of weirdness they call normality, in the shortest of times.
Some years ago, starting with a visit to the doctor receiving medication together with counseling, eventual hospitalization, literally hundreds of hours of treatment, stopping alcohol and smoking, my life has turned around a lot for the better. I just have to accept that there are times when I will need help and I feel I am very lucky to have the back up of experienced professionals. It really has been a long hard road, but I am still here. And as I started to get my life back, I got back what was once my biggest passion, Kayaking, becoming once again a major part of my life and an important building block in the wall against depression and other symptoms of bipolar disease.
2017 was one of the worst years I have had, 2 months in hospital and several months with a lot of back up help. I also tried ECT (Electro convulsive therapy). It took several months to get better because there was also a change in medication. But towards the end of the year, my outlook on life had definitely improved. My aim now (2018) is to continue the momentum and I am quite confident my life is changing for the better.
Getting back to the main theme here, kayaking. I had paddled kayak for many years, regularly on rivers back in Scotland. Working in the oil industry took me away from paddling for long periods but with free time a kayak trip was usually a priority. I came to Norway in the late nineties, and kayaking took second to mountain biking, and skiing. A few years later as my symptoms became worse, less and less recreational ''medicine,'' was in use. I went from around ninety kg to just under seventy kg, Still an occasional paddle in sheltered waters and little cycling. Around 2013, classed as disabled unable to work and having been through it all as it seemed, I started paddling more and more, filling up many long inactive days. I bought my first sea kayak, a touring kayak and soon my addiction came back. It would be easy to turn to alcohol or drugs to ease my symptoms, but I have become addicted to kayaking once again. An addiction that has played a large part in once again having a reason to live. An addiction where there is no cure and I can get high on it without damaging myself further, just the opposite in fact. Kayaking and photography now fills a large part of my life, with those and the love for my children I have reason to carry on.
To end this, my life is very much owed to many professionals within the health and even more so, the mental health service here in Norway. Certain individuals have played a major part in my life, and I will be eternally grateful for all the help I have already received and still receiving.
Photographer Neil Irwin