How losing my job was the break I needed

Date: December 18, 2012 / Posted by control

‘The West Australian’, 18 December 2012 –

In the third of our end-of-year series, ex-ABC broadcaster Glenn Mitchell reveals he has found happiness.

It’s strange where life can lead you.

Eighteen months ago I was midway through my 22nd year as a sports broadcaster at the ABC.

I held an incredibly privileged position, and for a man who loves sport, the opportunity to sit in the best seat in the house worldwide for some of sport’s major contests.

Olympic and Commonwealth Games, Paralympics, Test cricket, AFL and myriad other sports – I was lucky to see them all many times over.

But for a large part of that time I was a afflicted by mental illness.

In the middle of last year it all came to a head with a mental breakdown that resulted in me resigning my job and making an attempt on my own life.

When I realized I couldn’t get back to the ABC I was bitter and angry.

But 18 months on I look back and realize how lucky I was, and more importantly, how lucky I now am.

In September last year I finally received an accurate diagnosis of my condition – Bipolar Type 2.

With a change in medications and the support of a wonderful psychiatrist and family, especially my wife Karen, I am the happiest and most relaxed I have ever been.

This year, I have had opportunities that I would never have contemplated a few years ago. As an ambassador and advocate for the One Life Suicide Strategy I have had the wonderful opportunity to travel throughout WA speaking to all manner of groups about suicide prevention and reducing the stigma associated with mental illness.

I have been to places I had never heard of and met some truly quintessential Australians, in particular, men and women off the land. They have proved to be a fascinating array of people with experiences at vast ends of the spectrum, from the most amazing resilience in the face of hardship to those that have found the seemingly endless struggle too much and are lucky to still be with us.

Everyone has been gracious and open about their daily challenges and some of them have been such that you can’t help but feel that life is not always fair.

In one country town I met a wonderful old man who recently lost three members of his family in the space of 18 months to suicide. He was stoic and philosophical, but more importantly, he was determined to help build resilience and support in his community.

My travels through regional WA and the Northern Territory have also provided a wonderful bonus with the opportunity to meet and mix with many indigenous Australians.

I have had the chance to learn more about their culture and history and it has been a fascinating experience.

I have also had the privilege of being able to speak to so many high school students, from out of the way public schools to the likes of Melbourne Grammar.

Most encouraging has been the way young men and women – our future – feel free to speak about their feelings, and at times their fears.

There is no doubt that we are chipping away at the stigma that surrounds mental illness but there is still much to be done and I count myself extremely fortunate to be able to do my part.

This year has been a time to reflect on the truly important things in life and I have found greater happiness than I have ever had, even though there have still been periods of sadness.

After stoically fighting a series of medical problems, my father passed away at the age of 90 in late-March. Thankfully, he suffered no pain at the end and quietly slipped away in his sleep.

The fact that I was no longer at the ABC allowed me to spend time with him in the final stages and was able to be there often to tell him how much I loved him.

Not being on the merry-go-round of travelling with my job has gifted me the ultimate joy and that has been the time I have been able to spend with my seven-year-old son James.

Rather than spending fragmented time with him I am now able to pick and choose what I do work wise and much of it is built around him.

I get to coach his Auskick and Milo cricket, something that in the past would have been impossible. Where my life was totally absorbed by my job and consumed so many hours each week – whether in the office or at home and abroad – I have been so lucky the way things have turned out to be able to build the most incredible bond with him.

Had it not been for the turmoil of last year I would have continued as a ‘part-time’ father and would one-day have regretted the lost years.

Not now. Life is the best it has ever been.

I have so many great memories from two decades as a sports broadcaster and still keep my hand in having called some footy for 6PR, broadcast cricket for the South African Broadcasting Corporation and written for various websites and newspapers.

I am now in a far better place and able to make memories that over time will be far more important.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a backyard Test to play. Wish me luck, I’ll no doubt need it!