Going public for greater good
After years of mulling over an idea, Robyn Yousef finally decided to seize the day and
take a step into the unknown. In 2013, the Auckland-based freelance writer wrote an
opinion piece for the New Zealand Herald about living with bipolar disorder.
Robyn, whose father also had experience of the mental illness, says she felt the time was
right to share her story.
“I thought, ‘I’m 60 now. I think my chances of a dream job are pretty slim’,” she jokes.
Her decision to talk candidly about what can be a very private issue is simple – it might
just make a difference.
“It’s the old cliché – if it helps and if it has any impact on anyone, then that’s
great,” she says.
“For years I did my darnedest to conceal it because I know people do judge. But at
this stage of my life, if people are judgemental, well, I don’t really give a damn.”
Praise from friends and strangers
Since her story ran in print and online, Robyn has received a number of comments. Many
applauded the writer’s courage in telling her story, while others related their own
experiences with mental illness.
“My GP said it helped one of the other GPs in the practice who has a family member
suffering with bipolar,” says Robyn.
“It helped him to see there was light at the end of the tunnel and there was hope for a
“I was really pleased with my kids’ reactions too. They said, ‘everybody knows you’re
barmy, Mum. It’s not a problem’.”
Wellness an on-going journey
Symptoms of bipolar disorder first came to light for Robyn when she was a teenager.
Determined to keep her personal struggles under wraps, she told her classmates she had
“Physical ailments are so much easier to explain. I did everything within my power to
conceal the fact that in my seventh form year I had two stays in a psychiatric
Down the track, Robyn enjoyed a number of years of “feeling great”, which included a
newspaper cadetship she loved, life in England and newly wedded bliss in Egypt.
However her mental state deteriorated after the birth of her first child.
“When I had him, I had a massive breakdown,” she explains. “I had ECT [electroconvulsive
therapy] and I was there [in hospital] for about six weeks. You come out and you feel
like shit because you think everyone is looking at you like you’re a loony, but people
are kind for the most part.”
Support networks and self-care
Having an “absolutely fantastic” husband, kids and friends are key ingredients in Robyn’s
recipe to keeping well.
“The most important thing is to get really good support from your friends and family,”
“Talk about it and realise you’re not alone.”
Her other strategies are simple, though not always easy to follow.
“It’s important not to get over-tired. I also try to be as healthy as I can with my food.
I’m not a great exerciser, but when I do, I notice the difference.”
Taking the right kind of medication and keeping stress at bay also works wonders, along
with keeping up with one of her greatest loves – writing.
“It’s my sanity,” she says. “I love to write so much.”
Progress made, but some stigma remains
Since she was first unwell back in the 1970s, Robyn has noticed a positive shift in
attitudes to mental illness. However she still gets a jolt when she comes across
“Even people that are well-educated and intelligent – sometimes they just don’t
With this in mind, despite choosing to speak publicly about bipolar disorder, Robyn
believes a person should consider disclosing their mental illness strictly on a
“Nowadays, many people – the vast majority – would be enlightened enough to help. But
still, sadly, there are people that will hold it against you. You’d have to think
carefully about the situation.”
Look for the light
Robyn’s advice to people experiencing a down period in their mental health is to take
heart, because things will get better.
“If you’re in a lull and in a low period, you’ve got to know that chink of
light will come. You will get through it.”