This is a condition that I don’t know a great deal about, and I was unaware that I knew anyone who suffered from it until a couple of years ago. I have two people who have chosen to take part in this blog post – they are very different in terms of personalities and careers. But both have suffered the affects of this disorder, yet remain strong and successful in all that they do. I hope that these insights prove to others who are suffering that having a mental health condition doesn’t define you: it creates you. And that creation is entirely up to you.
1) What have your battles been in relation to your mental health?
Many battles, if its not one, its another, sometimes there doesn’t seem to be a break in between. One can trigger many others off such as my anxiety triggers off my bipolar and depression or my OCD used to trigger off my eating disorder.
I have battled with my mental health since secondary school. I didn’t feel like I fitted in properly and had no self confidence. I vividly remember wishing I didn’t exist most of the time. A proper diagnosis didn’t happen until I was in my early 20’s though and unfortunately its followed me the rest of my adult life.
2) How would you describe living daily with bipolar disorder?
Hard, extremely hard, and very tiring. Sometimes it doesn’t affect me and I manage to go a whole day. Some days are worse. It could be the simplest things – it feels like there’s a wall in the way. I want to be happy. If I’m asked how my day was, I want to answer with a smile and ask the same but I can’t get it through. I either don’t answer or I walk away. But people also know me as the bubbly active *name hidden*. Its a constant yo-yo and its exhausting and testing, especially when I’m working because I’m basically on stage. I never get aggressive or nasty with bipolar; I’m more angry at myself and I never know when it’s going to change which sets me into depression.
I think bipolar is very misconceived. I think people imagine you be up and down like a yo-yo all the time when in fact episodes of depression or mania can last several months with periods of ‘normal’ in between. I find it hard to describe day to day living with bipolar as it really depends what episode I might be experiencing.
3) What help/support was available to you in times of mental health crisis? If none, how did this make you feel?
There was quite a few; I feel though because I tried to take my own life twice they had to offer me support fast. As I believe these days its a lot harder. Counsellors didn’t work out for me; they passed me from one to another (so in my eyes they gave up on me). Family were there, however, none of it really helps me as an individual because they don’t experience it. So even though I was surrounded by people; I was completely alone. It helps to talk to someone who knows exactly how it feels. That is probably the best remedy – relating to someone else; its a relief to know you’re not on your own.
My family and partner at the time were the first people to notice changes to my personality during my first episodes and were as supportive as they could possibly be. It must of been harder as I tried to hide it or disguise it and pretend like I was carrying on like normal so it took until I was unwell for me to accept outside help. I had a manic episode one summer and made some very dangerous and unhealthy decisions and was put in contact with the crisis team in my local mental health department. I was quickly referred to a psychiatrist who placed me on the correct medication and course of treatment. My local mental health centre, doctors and crisis team were amazingly supportive to both me and my family and we had someone to contact 24/7.
4) How does it make you feel when people use the word ‘bipolar’ so flippantly or in joke form?
It doesn’t make me feel anything, it doesn’t offend me. Living with disorders like this in my eyes makes you stronger. I’m the queen of banter and I joke about it in work myself which I find helps. I can’t keep dwelling on it. As they say – if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry.
I’m glad they renamed ‘manic-depressive’ to bipolar. I think the words manic depressive gave people the impression sufferers were just extremely depressed. I know I thought that before I got it. I’ve often heard people describe someone as bipolar as a way of saying they are crazy, extreme or weird. That can be hurtful as although they can be symptoms, they don’t define someones personality.
5) What aspect of your personality/life in general does bipolar affect the most and why?
My motivation to keep going. I’m always active, I’ve always got to be working or doing something. It gets in the way of family, and friends say they never see me because I work so much but I have to because the time I stop to have a cup of tea; that’s it, my mind starts ticking. It’s not that I don’t want to see them as I do but I struggle. So in their eyes it makes me unsociable or rude or ignorant but I’m not. If I stop I guarantee I’ll have an episode so I push myself to exhaustion and that’s the worse way it affects me.
Bipolar has definitely impacted my personal family life more than anything. Its made me turn on, leave, push away people I have really loved. Its distorted my personality so much that my nearest and dearest have said its like being with a totally different person.
6) What can happen during a manic episode?
Quite a bit. Sometimes more drastic than others. Obviously me trying to end my life was the most dramatic. I was realising at that stage what was wrong with me and I was scared and I didn’t know how to face it. But on a daily basis I can either lay down in bed staring at the ceiling just crying quietly; I won’t eat, I won’t talk I just go numb. I could be sat in the bath and I’m just banging my head against the wall (not hard or to hurt myself) just to ‘knock some sense’ into me. Worse situations – I could be screaming hysterically, shaking and rambling on about anything: it just comes on. And the worst one is when I’m working, when you’re being happy talking but you start feeling shaky, anxious; the noise is muffled and you’re sweating. You know its anxiety but just keep smiling and don’t let them clock on.
I’ve had three manic episodes in my life but one lasted for approximately six months about eight years ago. I became ultra-confident, full of ambition and desire to do so much more. I felt I had the most drab, boring life ever and I needed to do everything at once. I left my boyfriend of nine years promptly telling him I didn’t love him anymore, I quit my job, started my own business, had a complete image change, dumped my mates and started seeing and dating the most ‘fun’ people I could find. I went partying for days, took myself to London with no bag, money or place to stay as someone online invited me to a party. I spent money I didn’t have and gave money to people I didn’t know. I partook in things that I still cringe about to this day and put myself in some dangerous situations. I would stay up all night doing research like the FBI on topics that caught my attention and study them for weeks on end; literally absorbing myself into them. I know everything there is to know about the history of my local town; plane crashes and disasters and the aids crisis! I would become so consumed I wouldn’t eat or couldn’t sleep and nothing else would be important. Mania is a very scary thing to experience.
7) How do you feel bipolar has impacted on your life; has it made you into a better person in some respects?
Yes its made me stronger. I used to be so sensitive someone could say boo and I would cry. I’m quite a strong person and people say I have a stern personality, well my job means you have to be strict. Its definitely 100% made me stronger not weaker.
I feel like bipolar has stolen a large part of my young life. It basically absorbed my 20’s and although I haven’t had a serious episode in about seven years, the impacts of what happened during that time still have consequences up until this day. I have started to re-kindle with friends and people I literally walked out on years ago which is hard when you have hurt others but I feel those who truly care understand that you were not trying to be unkind and that you were not well. I have a good 7-8 years of my life that are a complete blur and I do mourn those lost years. Having said that, I do feel like it has left me a much more compassionate and understanding person of others.
8) Do you speak openly about your condition? If not, how do you feel people would react if you did?
No, this is the first time I have. Obviously my family and husband knows but I can’t. My job is very ‘in your face’, everyone sees me to talk about their problems, not to hear about mine. And personally, yes I think people would judge me because everyone has a different view and opinion on what those disorders are and I don’t want them to get that wrong about me.
I’m still quite guarded about who I openly tell my bipolar diagnosis to. Not because I’m ashamed of it but more so because the nature of my work means I’m there to listen to other peoples problems rather than bombard them with my own. If anyone mentions mental health to me though I will happily share my experiences.
9) What is your opinion on how mental health is portrayed in the media? Do you feel we are making a positive step towards breaking stigma?
Yes I think its a positive step. I worry that people may just stamp a mental health sticker on any problem these days and blame certain disorders because its easier to do and that scares me. But everything I have seen so far is positive people need to see they are definitely not alone and to see who else is suffering. They may find it easier to talk to those who have experienced it and they wouldn’t know who those people are without the advertisement.
I think its amazing how much more mental health issues are being brought to everyones attention. The amount of things I read on social media etc now compared to ten years ago is fantastic. The ‘pull yourself together’ attitude is dropping and many more people are viewing their problems as an illness and getting treatment rather than hiding away or worse still: taking their own lives.
10) What advice would you give to your younger self in relation to your bipolar diagnosis?
Its hard but you wouldn’t be who you are today and wouldn’t be where you are today. We were chosen to have these disorders because out of the group we were the strongest.
I would love to rewind a few years and go back before my symptoms started and educate myself on many more aspects of mental health as I feel if I had known more about the symptoms I would of got help quicker and would of had less of a traumatic experience.