Brisbane schoolteacher Karen Tyrrell will never forget that fateful morning in February 2003 when student Allie Broadhurst (not her real name) walked into her classroom with her parents.
“I withdrew into silent panic, breaking out into a cold sweat,” Karen said. “They (the Broadhursts) had made false accusations and complaints against teachers and our school. Nobody wanted to teach this girl anymore or her elder brother.”
The Broadhursts certainly didn’t want Allie in Karen’s class. Thus began a “hellish teaching year” for Karen. Because they didn’t get what they wanted, the Broadhursts repeatedly harrassed her on a daily basis, dishing out spoken, written and psychological abuse.
Things got so bad Karen says she “loathed going to school and teaching the class I once adored”. When she couldn’t take the abuse anymore, she fled. Eventually she was found by police hiding in a lonely motel. They forced her into the frightening world of the psychiatric system.
Karen describes her harrowing experiences in her book, Me & Her: A Memoir of Madness, published earlier this year.
She recounts how in the space of a few months, she changed drastically from the “quietly spoken, super organised teacher” into the “new extroverted Karen. The one who couldn’t stop talking. The one who couldn’t sleep. The one ravaged by nightmares and savage panic attacks.” Insanity “grabbed Her by the throat and slowly strangled any of the old Karen that was left.”
The Broadhursts’ repeated harrassment and abuse of Karen, triggered the mental illness known as bipolar disorder.
According to the Black Dog Institute, a leading educational, research, clincial and community-oriented facility specialising in mood disorders and attached to the Prince of Wales hospital in Sydney, bipolar disorder is used to describe a set of ‘mood swing’ conditions, the most severe form of which used to be called ‘manic depression’.
Though everyone has mood swings from time to time, it is only when these moods become extreme and interfere with personal and professional life that bipolar disorder may be present and medical assessment may be warranted.
Karen’s mood swings were extreme.
On the one hand, there was “me-wife, mother, teacher,” and on the other hand, there was “her-manic, psychic, healer to the living, and telepathic to the dead.” But it was her bipolar disorder that inspired Karen to put pen to paper and she hasn’t stopped writing.
Karen wrote Me & Her because she realised that “sharing my unique story would help others, and in the process I rescued myself.”
Karen says that Me & Her hopes to “provide a deeper understanding of mental illness and how we’re all vulnerable. That mental illness presents like any other illness, having symptoms, diagnosis, treatment … and most importantly, recovery.”
With the staunch support of her family and friends, this brave woman turned her mental illness around on its head.
Karen has now successfully learned to manage her bipolar disorder. She has not only written her long-awaited memoir, she is also now a mental health advocate and she provides motivational talks on mental health, creative writing workshops to children, and resilience training and life writing workshops for adults.
Karen is also working on a young adult novel and two children’s picture books, all with mental health themes. And she is currently editing her companion sequel to Me & Her called Me & Him: A Guide to Recovery, to be published in 2013.
Her mental health message is also spreading around the globe. Karen was recently a special guest blogger of American bipolar expert Julie A. Fast who is a speaker, consultant and columnist on bipolar disorder management for Oprah Winfrey and Doctor Oz. Julie’s website is read by over 10,000 readers every month.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” Karen said. “So many sufferers of bipolar disorder still struggle to ease their depression and mania. The statistics for this illness are staggering. One in fifty Australians will develop bipolar disorder at some time in their lives. Around fifty percent of those will remain undiagnosed, not receiving the treatment and support they deserve. I’m proud to have come this far along my journey of recovery.”
You can learn more about Karen by visiting her website at http://www.karentyrrell.com
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About the Author:
Belladonna Took worked in community development and primary education in Sydney before moving to Canberra in 2010. She is a writer for Her Canberra, a website for women of the Canberra region. Belladonna is also writing her first novel-a young adult fantasy featuring elves, dwarves, romance (of course) and not so sparkly vampires.