Former patient walks the journey in Bipolar Shoes

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By Jasmine Franklin

An illness that overtook one man’s ability to lead a balanced life landed him in a mental hospital 15 years ago has since led him to publish a book to help others.

Dave O’Riordan, 47, was a resident of Ponoka nearly 15 years ago — but not for reasons many would expect. O’Riordan was a patient at Alberta Hospital Ponoka, now known as The Centennial Centre for Mental Health and Brain Injury, for a breakdown he now recognizes as a bipolar episode.

“At this time I knew nothing about mental illness,” he said. “It just got to a breaking point where I went way over the edge.”

On Jan. 7, 1994, a 33-year-old O’Riordan decided to take a cab from Calgary to Edmonton after a series of events triggered the illness within him. He ran a small business in Calgary where money became an issue; in addition to this stress, his only escape — NHL hockey — was on strike.

“I don’t know why I took the cab,” he said. “But once the cab hit Ponoka I lost it, I had a breakdown.”

He believed he was both God and the devil.

“If it wasn’t for that cab driver I would be dead.”

O’Riordan doesn’t remember being taken into the police station. All he remembers is when he came to a state of awareness he was in handcuffs. After that, he was told he fell off a chair in the police station and when an officer went to assist him, O’Riordan turned violent and assaulted the officer.

It was then he was admitted to the mental hospital.

“I was there for about one month after it was found I had bipolar disorder,” he said.

“But I was relieved to know. It really explained a lot of reasons as to why I was who I was.”

His book, Bipolar Shoes, is a personal journey about the struggles with bipolar disorder due to his lack of knowledge on mental illness throughout his life.

“I always knew something was wrong,” O’Riordan said. “I just never knew what it was.”

He dedicated three years to writing his book with the hopes the average person would be able to understand the disorder in layman’s terms. When he was diagnosed, all that was available on bipolar disorder were doctor’s journals and books he couldn’t understand.

“I really wrote this book to help people.”

Since his breakdown, O’Riordan has visited the hospital many times to meet the nurses and staff who gave him immense support and help. His daughter and her family have moved to Ponoka.

“Ponoka will always have a soft spot in my heart,” O’Riordan said. “Mental illness is very personal — everyone has a different experience. It doesn’t matter how good you are, at any time it can hit you in the face like a shovel.”

Today, his illness is manageable but not cured. He takes medication to control mood fluctuation but can still have episodes when stressful situations arise.

Bipolar Shoes is available online at www.biplorshoes.com#,. Fifty per cent of proceeds from book sales will be donated to the Canadian Mental Health Association.

—This story was originally published in the Sept. 30, 2010 issue of the Ponoka News.

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