Jana Lucas first started showing symptoms of bipolar when she was 17, living in Bristol.

For the next 20 years, she was instead treated for depression with various drugs, which had the effect of making the ups and downs more pronounced.

For much of that time she lived a nomadic lifestyle, moving from London, to Brighton, St Ives, Berlin, Amsterdam, Zaragoza (Spain) and other places, before settling in New Zealand.

“Over those years, I lived with the ups and downs, sometimes self-medicating,” she says.

“Then in 2009, I was in a terrible state and went to see my doctor. She advised that I needed more expert help and it was only then that I was properly diagnosed and treated.”

Jana started to develop a greater understanding of her health needs and what keeps her well.

A supporting partner

Jana’s partner Cindy (pictured left) says support is about being there, not judging and being patient when things are not going well.

“Jana is such a wonderful person and the hardest thing is seeing her in pain and feeling like I can’t do anything for her,” Cindy says.

“She used to have three or four episodes a year of severe depression – I could always tell when it was happening and my stomach would drop and my heart would start racing. I didn’t know what to do because I thought that the medication should be working.

“Being unwell has had a huge impact on our lives and affected Jana’s self-confidence and her self-esteem. This has sometimes impacted on her professional and personal life. Now that she has the right support and treatment, the episodes are far less frequent and she works through them faster.”

A good network

Jana emphasises the importance of a good, continuous support network.

“Having that support takes the isolation away,” she says, “It is important to have friends, family and professional contacts you can go to who will listen.”

In 2010, spurred on by her experiences and a desire to work in a more interesting environment, Jana enrolled in National Certificate in Mental Health Support Work at Manukau Institute of Technology.

“I have a lot of goals and a long road,” she says, “but my passion for this type of work will get me there.”