If all organising is disorganising and reorganising — let’s reorganise how we think about mental illness

Amanda Tattersall
8 min readNov 3, 2021

By Amanda Tattersall.

I have walked a life living two identities. On the surface, I am ‘normal’ Amanda. I work, connect, and strive in the world just like you. At my core, I have lived a life yearning for change. I am an organiser.

I discovered organising in the wake of the social movements that rose and fell around the war in Iraq back in 2003. I joined a massive coalition in Sydney that held enormous demonstrations, but despite our passion, we didn’t succeed. It was a turning point for me. I embarked on a quest to find different ways to make change. In 2004 I enrolled in a PhD and travelled to North America where I soon found organising. I met people like Mike Gecan and Joe Chrastil from the Industrial Areas Foundation and did their five-day training. But change is hard and I wrestled with organising initially. I didn’t love the IAF’s idea of compromise and I found the practice of relational meetings troublingly difficult. But as I finished my PhD and contemplated my return to Australia, my resistance reorganised. The rest is history — the Sydney Alliance began and still lives decades later. Community organising grows across Australia.

But I also have a secret identity. It’s usually invisible. But if I trust you, I might share a little detail. It’s not something I am in control of and occasionally it surges out of me. It is ‘awe-some’ in the truest sense of the word — it’s stunning. It shocks. It can, at times, disgust.

My secret identity makes me different. It’s because my brain is different. I have a serious mental illness — bipolar disorder-1, which means that I live with mania and depression, and have experienced psychosis.

It’s confronting to learn that the life that you hold together is not how others live. I was always aware of the obvious differences, like being hospitalised in a psychiatric ward for two months when I was 19 or losing my job because of my mental illness when I was 38.

But it’s the little differences that stand out to me. Like how my brain and body work in tune with the seasons. Every winter I have to resist my brain’s call to depressively retreat. Then, in Spring, along with the scent of the first…

Amanda Tattersall

Associate Professor at University of Sydney’s Sydney Policy Lab. Helped start Sydney Alliance & GetUp. Lived experience advocate on mental health.