After a breakdown in Italy, Dan stripped his life back to the basics. For six months he may have lost his sense of self, but gradually he found a new purpose – as a motivational speaker and mental health activist
Seven years ago, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Now I consider it my blessing.
Let’s be 100% clear, bipolar disorder can be a bitch. On any given day it can wear you down, pump you up, play tricks on you, be all-consuming. It will take you down paths you could never imagine (some good, some bad), and it will make you ask yourself the biggest questions in life. And for that last part, I am truly grateful.
Through the first half of 2012, my mind took me on such a journey that I ended up preaching from the middle lane of a major motorway in northern Italy at rush hour – not to be recommended!
After six months of escalating moods, and ignoring all the warning signs – the fast talking, the racing thoughts, the sleepless nights, the poor nutrition, the excessive spending – my mind took me from believing I was the next Steve Jobs, to believing in my core that I was The Chosen One.
I was ‘the one’ who was put on this planet to show people how to ‘slow down and follow your heart’, which at the time I believed was the answer to all the world’s suffering.
But there were two main issues as I stood on that motorway: firstly, my mind was going at 200mph; and secondly, I wasn’t showing anyone how to slow down and follow their heart, I was trying to force them to. Combined, this was never going to end well.
Soon I was being fast-tracked to the closest psychiatric ward and being pumped full of drugs to make me slow down. Soon I was repatriated back to the UK, with two nurses who had to fly out to bring me home. I was in the Maudsley Hospital in south London in a crippling state of confusion, given that five minutes ago I thought we’d be setting up our new world headquarters at the Colosseum in Rome. Soon came the diagnoses. Then, now home, the worst six months of my life kicked in. Six months where, quite simply, I wanted to take my own life.
If we go that high, we’re going to crash down with the biggest bang imaginable, right? This was it. And if I had to choose just two words to sum up this whole chapter, they would be… to endure.
My mind had made me believe I was ‘the one’, 100% convinced by my ideas, my thoughts, and every word that was leaving my lips. Now, here I was, completely numb, in limbo, emotionless, barely living, barely breathing, overwhelmed, crippled, debilitated, broken, bed-bound… done. Or was I? Not quite.
With an incredible amount of love, patience, kindness, and warmth from those closest to me, I stripped it all back and started again
With an incredible amount of love, patience, kindness, and warmth from those closest to me, plus my professional counsellors who guided me through the rocky waters, I stripped it all back and started again.
I mean I really stripped it all back! We’re talking ridding myself of physical possessions and clutter, the apps on my phone, email subscriptions, unimportant responsibilities, negative relationships… anything that was getting in the way of the five things that truly mattered most: my health (both mental and physical), relationships, passions, growth, and being in service to other people.
See, this is the part where I was forced to ask myself the biggest questions in life, namely what truly matters most. And it really started working.
Clearing away life’s excess, so I could concentrate as much of my time, energy, and focus on these five light bulb areas, really started to work for me. So much so that, by 2013, I was going out in public again, back in employment, socialising, and being open about my experiences to others, and I was being asked to share my story.
And three incredible things started to happen. I felt lighter every time I shared my story. I started building an even greater support network around me. And on pretty much every occasion, sharing my story gave permission for others to share theirs.
This was truly game-changing. And I knew I had to do something more with this.
So, what better way to give permission to hundreds of others to speak up about their experiences with their mental health than by creating a huge project and platform to do so? What if – five years on from the motorway incident – I were to take on a big running challenge to share my story on a national scale? What if I returned to Italy, but this time, instead of losing my shit, I were to run – solo and self-supported – 1,250 miles from the Colosseum in Rome back to the London Eye? In that moment, my Rome To Home project was born!
And we smashed it! ‘We’ as in everyone who supported me on this mental adventure over the years, who were with me in spirit every step of the way – and without whom I could not have done it.
This was majestic. This was an oil painting I was lucky enough to live in for 65 days, waking up every day with an overwhelming sense of gratitude to be out there, five years on, having responded to those big questions I asked myself when I was pinned to my bed for six months. Having given myself the time to get my mental health in the best shape to take on this adventure.
I was now truly showing the world how we can slow down and follow our hearts, on a massive scale
And this time, without knowing it (until someone whispered this in my ear when I finally arrived at the London Eye), I was now truly showing the world how we can slow down and follow our hearts, on a massive scale.
Each step of the adventure lit up my five light bulbs: my health (I was in the best shape of my life), my relationships (imagine the people I met, and the support online), my passions (obviously), my growth (beyond words), and being in service to other people (I raised more than £15,000 for the Campaign Against Living Miserably, who were absolute rock stars behind the scenes). This was life-affirming.
I’ll say it again, bipolar disorder can be a bitch. But without the experiences of 2012, would I have taken on such an adventure, one which kick-started my career as a professional speaker and mental health activist, one where I get to wake up every day and empower everyone across the UK to speak up when we’re suffering? No chance.
What advice would I give to anyone going through a similar struggle? To hold on, to know that we’re all in this together, to know that every single one of us is suffering with something and that together – by speaking up – we truly can show future generations how it’s done.
So, I’m telling you that whatever you may be going through right now, just remember this – that when suffering finds meaning, it ceases to be suffering.
We’ve got this.
Graeme Orr | MBACP (Accred) UKRCP, says:
Dan’s bipolar hit a crisis with his extreme changing moods, which took him from euphoric to despairing. With the support of professionals and his friends, he started his journey to recovery, slowly finding out what he needed, and focusing on what was core to him as a person. Through setting himself the challenge of running home from Rome, he revisited his recovery in an emotional way, which helped him to have purpose. So often finding meaning in our lives can help us to cope better with suffering.