Jonathan featured by 'What it feels like: living with bipolar'

Jonathan featured by 'What it feels like: living with bipolar'

What it feels like: Living with bipolar disorder

'I always felt like I was swimming against the current. I was always overcoming the rapids in the river.'

Emma Jones January 11, 2021 
Jonathan started his apparel company after he was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder.

It wasn’t uncommon for Jonathan Sinden to wake up in the middle of the night and spontaneously clean the house. In fact, Sinden spent much of his life managing extreme mood swings and dramatic shifts in energy. He finally sought help when he realized that he had so many great things in his life, but yet he felt disconnected. After a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, Sinden launched Arthur Bane, an apparel company aimed at creating comfortable clothing while raising awareness for mental health.

Bipolar disorder causes extreme fluctuations in mood, energy and concentration, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Individuals with bipolar disorder may experience depressive episodes, marked by low energy and feelings of sadness, indifference or hopelessness and then also experience manic episodes with intense levels of energy and increases in mood. During manic episodes, people report feeling very happy or powerful and may take risks they otherwise would avoid.

Contrary to popular belief, these changes in mood do not necessarily happen back to back. People will likely have periods of time between episodes where their mood and energy levels are in a more moderate range.

In Canada, a 2002 study found that one per cent of the population over 15 years old show signs and symptoms consistent with bipolar disorder. It is not known what causes it, but a combination of genetic and environmental factors are thought to be involved. Treatment usually includes medication and psychotherapy. spoke to Jonathan Sinden, father of four, about his diagnosis of bipolar disorder, why the outdoors is a great coping tool and how he is using his apparel company Arthur Bane to start conversations around mental health.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How did you find out you had bipolar disorder?

I could see my behaviour starting to affect my family and the other people around me. There were days when I would have a burst of energy that you couldn’t keep up with. Then the next day, I couldn’t get motivated.

The big tell-tale sign was when I turned 40. We went away as a family. I had all my loved ones around me, we were in a beautiful resort. I was in a good place professionally and financially — I had the world in my hands. But I just wasn’t connected to that moment. I should have been high and soaking it all in, but it was more like, “This is not who I am. This isn’t who I wanted to be.” I knew that something was off, so I reached out to my doctor.

I reached out to my doctor because I knew that something was off.

Were you thinking it was related to your mental health?

The mental health aspect wasn’t even on the radar.

Looking back into my childhood, my parents chalked up my moods as seasonal depression or seasonal affective disorder. So, when I was talking to my doctor, I just said that I didn’t feel like myself. I said, ‘I don’t have that, you know, oomph. I get a burst of it and then it just goes away.’

He started with blood work and a questionnaire. My blood work came in and everything was in line. But the questionnaire was the red flag. We talked for almost an hour and at the end he told me I was bipolar. That’s when everything — how I had been feeling for so long — fell into place. After that, we discussed seeing a psychiatrist, deciding on what medication would work best for me and the things that I could do to help myself.

What are some of the things that help?

Looking back at times in my life when I was at my best, it was when I was running the local trails, next to the river in the woods. I felt like a million bucks. My doctor said, ‘John, the most therapeutical exercise you can do is in nature, get out, go in the woods, do a hike.’ I realized that I had already been doing a lot of the work for myself — I just didn’t know it. But having an understanding of the diagnosis and why doing these things are important in my life made me want to do them that much more and stick with it.

Other than getting outdoors, exercise is also important, so I make it part of my routine: exercise, major outdoor time, positivity, and friends and family. With those elements and strong relationships with my friends and family is huge.

Was it a tough diagnosis to hear?

It was like a weight was lifted off of me. I had always felt like I was swimming against the current, always overcoming rapids in the river. But when I found out that I had bipolar disorder, I just kind of let go and let the current take me. And with treatment, I found myself out in the calm water, finding who I was.

The diagnosis was just an answer. It was really an insight to what was happening with me and how I, as a person, had things that I had to do. I wasn’t going to allow this to be a crutch, I wasn’t going to allow it to be something to be ashamed of. I was absolutely proud of it and I was going to make a difference because of it.

Do you do anything different in your day-to-day life now to manage better?

I’m not a nutritionist by any means, but diet is massive. I try to put the right things into my body. There’s a lot of information that says fish oils and omegas are good, so I try to eat fish three times a week. You’re as good as what you’re putting into your body and with a mental illness, I think you really have to make nutrition a part of your lifestyle.

Not to say that I don’t like the odd handful of chips or gummy bears, or anything like that — I do. But if I eat junk for three days, I really do notice it in my mental stability.

In the midst of all of this, you launched a business.

It has been years of dreaming. Launching an apparel company that made quality clothes that are comfortable was something I’ve always wanted to do, but I never really felt I could make it happen. With a great support network, and the fog clearing in my head, it was a goal that became attainable. I thought maybe we could create staples that people would keep in their closets, but also talk about, like ‘hey, it’s Arthur Bane, they give to a great cause. And this is the story of the founder.’ It opens a dialogue, so maybe something like, ‘Did you know that guy is bipolar?’ and then maybe someone says, ‘Yeah, I bought it because I am too.’

It’s about starting the conversation. I received so much positive feedback when I was diagnosed, that I started to think this was my calling — breaking down some of the stigma around mental illness. Plus, it really helps to talk about it.

There are things I never would have considered to be part of bipolar disorder until I hear from others. For example, I can be sleeping, wake up at 10 o’clock at night, and clean the entire house, top to bottom. I can stay up for days in a cleaning frenzy. I never thought that was weird until another gentleman mentioned it to me. And I’m like, ‘Whoa, I do that.’ Talking to others helps explain the quirky things we do. That’s not to say it’s the same for everyone, but sharing helps you see things that you might not realize are happening.

Do you think it helps others to see you — a successful businessman — come out and say ‘I have this, and I’m doing okay’? 

I definitely hope so.

It’s nice to be out there and be open and be able to be who you are. I think the fear is that when you do have a crash, like the Kanye West episode, you’re going to be judged. We can’t control that. It’s not an excuse for our behaviour, but until you walk a mile in somebody’s shoes you can never understand fully. People with bipolar have peaks and valleys and it’s hard for others to understand how it feels.

Last year was a difficult one for everyone, especially in terms of emotional health. Do you have any advice on how we can move forward in the new year?

It’s a good time to set some resolutions for yourself that focus on mental health. We have been under such strain with the pandemic. I think now is a great time make mental health a priority in 2021, especially since there is going to be a lot of uncertainty this year. Maybe we could pick up the phone and reach out to one another. You may hear the words, “Yeah, I’m struggling.”

If you’d like to learn more about bipolar disorder, you can visit the Canadian Mental Health Association, the Canadian Network for Mood and Anxiety Treatments as well as the Organization for Bipolar Affective Disorder.

Arthur Bane Apparel is available here. Arthur Bane donates 10 per cent of profits towards organizations that focus education and support of men’s mental health.