ADAM BOLAND AND HIS BLACK DOG
Across the years, media writers have called me everything from “television’s morning maestro” to a “wunderkind”. Lazy tags which masked what I knew to be true.
At the beginning of last month, that truth was finally exposed. My inner fears played out for all to see.
In the week before the launch of Ten’s new morning line-up, those close to me noticed something was up. I got tired of hearing how tired I looked.
For the first time since my early twenties, I was again doing 2 a.m. starts. I felt the weight of expectation while knowing from breakfast experience there would be no instant success.
On the morning of November 4, it was time to put Wake Up to air for the first time. There was a real buzz around the network. Our beachside studio delivered no shortage of sun.
But for me, there was nothing but darkness.
To be honest, I have no real memory of what we broadcast that day. I do however remember crying that afternoon. It had nothing to do with critical reviews or audience reaction. In fact, I can’t even isolate a specific trigger.
Perhaps not by coincidence, the last time I felt that low was when I launched The Morning Show on Channel Seven. That show debuted at number one and would go on to exceed all predictions. But while the staff celebrated at Larry Emdur’s house, their Executive Producer was missing.
I was at home, hiding behind a couch in a foetal position. My then-partner had seen enough. The constant mood swings had taken their toll. It was time to seek help.
And so, in 2007, Professor Gordon Parker at the Black Dog Institute diagnosed me with bipolar. I didn’t really know what that meant. He prescribed some pills which, for a while, I took.
About six months on, however, I felt I’d lost a sense of creative freedom. My mind seemed to slow. Meetings went longer. I made a decision to continue with counselling, but to can the drugs.
In hindsight, I know now that was the wrong decision. The breakdown I suffered last month was worse than anything I’d experienced.
It involved police, an ambulance and time confined to a ward that I never want to see again. (For the record, I think the concept of locking up someone whose mind already feels trapped does nothing to help.)
I have an uncle with schizophrenia and I accept that sometimes forced intervention is necessary. In my case, the sole sound of a ticking clock only made matters worse.
All of this unfolded late on Tuesday night.
It was Melbourne Cup day but for me, the only thing racing was my mind. I lost focus and perspective. My new partner watched me in the studio control room that morning and thought I had no control at all. He was right. He took me home as soon as the show was over. I then spent the day pacing, rambling and even fitting.
That night, the paramedics did what they could to calm me down. It wasn’t their fault, but some of their actions backfired. By the time we reached hospital, the bright lights were hurting my head and I had no sense of where I was or why.
That was the start of two weeks of deep depression.
The anxiety attacks were daily – in fact, sometimes hourly. They were also exhausting – but sleep wasn’t an option.
This happened at the precise time my show needed its leader. My partner tried his best to keep me away from social media and wayward headlines. When I did see them, I felt a deep sense of guilt. I would scream “I need to be at work” before again landing on the floor. I didn’t feel safe anywhere. I would move from the couch to the bed to the floor and then back again.
When I wasn’t rambling, I was crying.
I started seeing a new psychologist but his well-intentioned breathing techniques didn’t scratch the surface. Attempts to see a psychiatrist all failed. We were told there’d be a two-month wait. How on earth do people cope?
In the end, we again reached out to Black Dog’s Gordon Parker – the man who’d first guided me to light. This time round, I would see him twice. On the first occasion, he put me back on bipolar medication and felt I was on the road to recovery.
I returned to work soon after and started making changes to the show that had been delayed by my absence. I thanked my boss and colleagues who’d been nothing but supportive. But within a week, it was obvious that my mind wasn’t back at all.
One early morning, the Executive Producer of Studio 10 asked my partner to take me home – and to do so quickly.
Another visit to Gordon Parker soon followed. He was now much more worried and recommended time in hospital. Given my last experience, I refused. I instead placed a heavy burden on both my new and former partner – who worked as a team to medicate and care for me. Professor Parker described my condition as biological melancholic depression and prescribed a powerful cocktail of drugs, designed to jolt me back to reality.
I’m no longer scared. I’m no longer down. I feel “normal” and am keen to return to work next week.
I have a clear head about where I want to take the show (more newsy, for those interested) and most of all, I again have perspective.
So why did I feel the need to share all of this?
It genuinely saddens me that many people still don’t see mental illness in the same way they’d view any other form of sickness.
I received a tweet from someone I have never met telling me to “man up”. Even worse, one of my own shows trivialised the condition of English cricketer Jonathan Trott. I watched as three panel members on Studio 10 argued with Jessica Rowe over what they considered to be an overused excuse.
These are people I respect. Intelligent people. It struck me then that we have much to do. And when I say us – I especially mean the media.
Many people with mental illness already feel guilty. That shouldn’t be compounded by the ignorance of others.
I feel stronger now. I know that medication works for me and I have vowed to stay on it.
If only changing public opinion was so simple.
If this article brings up any issues for you please call Lifeline on 13 11 14
*Adam Boland is the Director of Morning Television at Channel 10. He was previously the executive producer for the Seven Network’s breakfast show, Sunrise, which became the most watched breakfast show on Australian television.