Mental Health Awareness Week: My bipolar story...
All this week it has been Mental Health Awareness Week- a week where people are encouraged to discuss and be open about mental health and try and break down the barriers that cause stigmatisation. I had drafted up a post about my own experiences with mental health some time ago, but since then I have been too nervous to publish it. To be honest I tend not to talk about my illness as I have seen too many people change the way they treat me upon finding out. The truth is mental illness is no different to physical illness, we are still human beings just like everyone else, and there is nothing to be ashamed of. Today I have decided to bite the bullet and go for it, and publish my post. I would love to hear other people's stories, or links to any posts you've written. Here's mine...
Ten years ago, at age 18 I was diagnosed with depression. It was something that took immense courage on my part; to go to a doctor and actually be honest about my feelings. Talking about my feelings to anyone was something I felt very difficult about. After that diagnosis, and over a few years I was put on various anti-depressants, and saw various councillors but nothing helped. My depression would come and go with no warning. When it was here it was intense, and heavy, and tore my life apart. Then it was gone, and I'd be fine again.
Skip forward a few years, and I had a good job that I enjoyed, I lived in a lovely flat, and had a great social life. Everything was good. But then depression struck again. One morning I was sat at my desk when my face started burning up, I needed to cry. I felt hopeless. I left work, feigning illness and rushed back home to shut myself off from the world. The depression was back. I ignored phone calls and texts from worried friends and family. Nothing mattered to me apart from this unbearable pain I felt. I decided I had to go back to my Doctor, as I couldn't go on like this.
In the Doctors office we started tracing back and noticing a pattern. It was then I realised there wasn't just intermittent episodes of depression in my life, but there were unexplainable highs too. Of course at that point they'd never raised a warning sign to me because in those moments I felt good, so going to a Doctor was the last thing on my mind. But with those highs came risky behaviour, bad decision making, not sleeping, and acting out of character. The Doctor mentioned Bipolar. I didn't know much about it at that point, but went home and as I usually do researched the hell out of it. Everything made sense. I remember crying with elation. Remembering more incidents through my life. Reading other people's experiences and knowing there was a name for it. That I wasn't alone.
Of course it wasn't as simple as that. Bipolar is a complex illness (how many times have I been told that...) and a diagnosis wasn't easy. Over the years my episodes got worse and more intense. Even the highs were unbearable now. They just turned into anxiety filled days of being constantly irritated by everyone and everything, unable to concentrate on anything, shaking with frustration and not eating or sleeping. I'd lost countless jobs, and homes and friends. At the age of 27 I was referred to a CBT therapist after being misdiagnosed with borderline personality disorder. Through the ongoing sessions she saw my moods play out and went above and beyond to help me. I will always be grateful to her.
Mental health service in the UK needs a lot improvement. I've heard so many terrible stories of bad treatment or lack of treatment people have received. I have plenty of my own stories too. After years of being pretty much ignored I had finally found a professional who not only listened, but wanted to help. She referred me to a GP who specialised in MH and with both their help last year I was referred to a psychiatric hospital where I eventually received my diagnosis. It meant I could finally start getting the right treatment.
There's still a long road ahead of finding the right medication (and so many side effects!) but at least I'm on the road now. Before I think I must have been stuck in a lay by somewhere with no petrol. Here I am now aged 28, and ready to start living my life without this illness weighing over me. It will always be there, but now I am more equipped to cope with it. I am bipolar, but bipolar isn't me. That is the most important lesson I have learnt: there is hope.
I hope this helps or makes sense to at least someone... If you or someone you know has mental health problems then never be afraid to seek help. If you have any questions about bipolar please feel free to ask. You can also reach me at email@example.com if you'd rather talk in private.
Here are some useful mental health websites:
Rethink Mental Illness
Time To Change
Mental Health Foundation