Living with someone who has a mental illness
Everyone except their doctor said it couldn’t work, two people with bipolar living together. As far as friends and family were concerned, Shane Egen and Joanne Lind-Egen were a bad mix.
Yet three years later here they are, very much in love and enjoying life like never before.
Their positivity has won over those who doubted them and even broken down stereotypical views and discriminatory actions against people with mental illness. The couple live in a lovely cottage in the Masterton Rural District.
They decided to put down roots in this community because of the positive relationships they forged since moving to the Wairarapa from the Manawatu. They are each other’s main supports, understanding one another like no one else. If one is feeling melancholy, they not only have self-identifying triggers and responses, but are there to look out for each other too.
Sometimes this might mean one giving the other space, but the point is that they know what works and how to give the best support.
Working in the community
Both Joanne and Shane are presenters for the Like Minds, Like Mine programme in Wairarapa. A close-knit team, they facilitate workshops for groups where each presenter tells their story, role modelling mental wellness and inspiring their audience wherever they go.
Both are also fulltime community support workers for Pathways New Zealand in Masterton.
They are amazed at how their message of hope empowers others. The reaction to their work engenders an even greater passion to spread the word, and for Joanne and Shane it is all the more fulfilling due to having their best mate beside them.
At the end of a day they return to their rural haven where they can reflect, debrief, and relax. They practise the whare tapa wha model of wellness, which helps to maintain balance and create strength of body, mind, spirit and family.
During their individual journeys both found being idle was unproductive, so they pursue passions and interests with a zest.
Shane finds working outside does wonders for him. Joanne prefers creative activities such as poetry, craftwork or digital photography. As evening draws near they enjoy nothing more than a meal cooked in the wood burner oven and a hot bath, both heated by the wood Shane has gathered.
They are careful to surround themselves with people who share positivity and talk about moving forward. They especially don’t want negative vibes left in their home because having somewhere safe to go is very important to them.
The value of a support person
A practice they follow, and one they recommend for others, is to take a support person to appointments. Having an extra pair of ears can be valuable if the tangata whaiora is not in a good space. The support person can hear information that the tangata whaiora might miss.
A support person can go further by connecting their friend or family member with other people that can help, find literature written by those who have experienced mental illness, encourage the person to find ways to get well and then to find hope and hold on to it.
The couple are strongly of the view that diagnosis of bipolar need not be a life sentence or a negative, life-defining moment. As with any relationship, there are ups and downs, but Shane and Joanne share a special bond forged through the feelings and experiences, with which they both empathise.
Maintaining respect and pride in each other’s individualism is important but so are joint goals and dreams. They maintain a thirst for self-improvement and a desire to link with others. Where many people with a mental illness are isolated, they are always there to look out for each other.
Shane and Joanne occasionally recall dark memories from the past but only to appreciate where they are now, to celebrate their exciting journey together, and to recognise that their own stories are providing hope for others.