For yourself but not by yourself: Living with bipolar disorder

Elliann's picture

Warning, this blog may be triggering for some readers.

 

I was diagnosed with biopolar (or manic depression as it was termed then) at the age of 21. Elliann At the time of diagnosis my nephew was in Great Ormond Street dying from a brain tumour, I had withdrawn from all social interactions choosing to sit by his side during the day and working at night so I wouldn’t have to talk to my colleagues (my office was 24 hours). I was fortunate enough to have a perceptive GP who saw this not just as an instance of bereavement but rather the straw that broke the camel’s back. Looking back at the years prior to this I don’t know how I hadn’t been diagnosed previously but hindsight always makes these things painfully obvious.

I started having difficult thoughts at a young age

The first suicidal thought/planning I remember clearly was around the age of 10, the thought was: it would be better to go as a kid because my family wouldn’t be as attached to me as they would if I waited until I grew up. I also remember that that thought was not a surprise; I’m sure it was not the first time and anyone with bipolar will know it doesn’t really go away you just learn to shout louder or distract it so I suspect it’s been with me the whole time.

I’d started to self-harm at 12 or 13, I’d embraced the goth trend because it gave me a means to cover the cuts, copying the style of The Crow film I’d wind black cloth bandages from my hands to my elbows meticulously keeping them covered in front of teachers, friends and family. Some of my friends at the time knew but they were the kind who thought it was cool. Unfortunately for anyone seeking stimulus it becomes an addiction, a habit as difficult to kick as smoking but with a more public record of the damage. I finally kicked the habit by 17 or 18.

Making myself aware of my internal weather system helps me to understand changes

In the years since diagnosis I have finally learned to manage my condition without medication. Making myself incredibly aware of my internal weather system but also becoming more relaxed about its changes as I get to know what they mean and know that (most of the time) I can control them. So here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Don’t hide from it – get to know your condition from research as well as the behaviours you associate with depression. If you feel something is wrong, admit it. I’ve known people who have spent good portions of their lives in limbo because they can’t face what’s happening but like alcoholism the sooner you admit the problem the sooner you can deal with it.

  • Don’t hide behind it – Melancholia and mania are the very worst of you but they are still you. Whilst you learn to control your condition you may have limited control over your behaviour but your actions are still your responsibility. If you catch yourself saying ‘I don’t have to do this because I’m depressed or mentally ill’ get someone to give you a swift kick in the backside. Distancing yourself from responsibility is also distancing yourself from reality.

  • Know yourself – Get to know your triggers. This is probably the hardest part. You need to start paying attention to what triggers mania or melancholia for you and then start grouping them so you can also make assumptions about new experiences. Which do you spend most time in? Or which do you tend towards more? Once you know your triggers you can use them to help balance your mood, generally exercise, achievements and forcing yourself to practice social interaction will get you out of melancholia. Exercise will also help you burn out a mania but you can also bring it down with anything that requires mental focus something that stretches your brain.

  • Love yourself – forgive yourself for mistakes or ‘bad behaviour’ instead of beating yourself up resolve to do it differently next time and move on. Dwelling unnecessarily on the negative and the past will get you quickly into mood cycles. You have to develop a bit of goldfish memory for this.

  • For yourself but not by yourself – Each person has to learn their own way to control their condition. We are genetically different so it stands to reason that the impact of this condition is different for each of us but you are not alone. It’s incredibly easy to recognise other people with bipolar when you recognise the behaviours in yourself but it’s very obvious when they are struggling. There is nothing better than recognising your fellow bipolar person and sharing stories with each other.

  • Use your family and friends! – Help them to understand, explain to them your triggers but also how to help you manage your moods. Often friends and family feel helpless when it comes to mental health not knowing how to deal with it, what’s appropriate to say or not. Giving them a way to help is good for them as well as you. My family are incredible and many of them suffer with me so it’s great to be able to support each other and lament together when the black dog comes to sit on you.

Elliann works in cancer research; she'd love to see mental health research catch up with cancer in her life time, in terms of evidence base to treatment and care but also in terms of moving away from taboo. 

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Comments

Bipolar?

Hi here, I think this is great advice and doesn't shy away from the truth. I particularly appreciated reading "don't hide behind your illness" as it is so tempting to do so. I blog about my mental health issues http://therapyjourney.wordpress.com/and am thinking about what labels to attach to myself - I don't know maybe I am bipolar, a lot of what you're saying sounds very familiar. I am also thinking about starting medication but I dont know

labels and medication

Elliann's picture
Bipolar is really only a label, there's some evidence to suggest that some types of depression are part of the autism spectrum and others that it's a deficiency of one receptor or another. I'd think more about the symptoms and behaviours than the name you give it or yourself. Medication can be a bandaid it brings your cycles down to a middle range to help you get more on stable ground but I personally would never look at it as the solution. Also finding the ability to control your moods on your own can be very liberating because you start to realise that actually they come with some benefits. I am at my most productive when I'm on a mania and if I can beat the lethargy I am most creative when I'm in melancholia. Your choice is yours alone all I can suggest is find out as much as you can about your own behaviours and triggers so that your choice is an informed one.

Thank you

Thanks Elliann for that thoughtful response. I have been trying (to a greater or lesser degree, admittedly) to control my moods all my life. That hasn't worked for more than a few days, the episodes keep returning. Medication while I understand not to be taken lightly, looks like the last resort. I am pretty desperate now as nothing else that I have tried seems to make any lasting impact beyond the first day or two when it is fresh in my mind.

living with biploar disorder

As a fellow person who lives with bipolar I can fully relate to Ellian's blog, the pointers you talk about are so apt on the whole a great blog. Well done Elliane for sharing this. Love Sharon

Elliann's blog

That was a very insightful piece of writting and Im sure it will help someone else with Bi-Polar. As a mental health nurse Im very interested in her non medication approach. It sounds brilliant!

Brilliant - Elliann puts into

Brilliant - Elliann puts into words a lot of my experiences. It is so good to hear someone else voicing 'abnormal' thoughts. Has also inspired me to ask my psychiatrist again about decreasing my medication. Thank you.

sans meds

Elliann's picture
Thank you Jen, really glad you could relate to it. I think it's an odd truth that most of us know and never really voice and it's also the hardest thing to explain to someone without any mental health experience especially when your outward exterior can appear relatively normal and happy they find it tough to accept that your 'abnormal' thoughts are always there. I hope you manage without medication as I've said in a previous comment, once you master it it can be very liberating but I won't pretend it's easy and it takes time to get to know your internal weather system so just be patient and use your friends and family to support you.

Elliann's blog posts

This makes me wonder if my bipolar diagnosis is the right one. I just don't identify with a number of the symptoms. I had a psychiatrist that thought I had S.A.D because I can't take much 'blue light' and admissions were in the summer. Thank you Elliann very much for sharing and it's triggered me to pledge I'll look in to things further. Very best of luck with your own path. Frankie.

to the path

Elliann's picture
Thank you Frankie, I hope it helped at least in separating symptoms. There are a number of things that affect our internal chemistry that impacts on your mood that could be anything from hormones to how you process your vitamins. Even in two people with the same genetic cause for any particular disease (not just depression) they can still manifest in very different ways. I'd urge you to go to the scientific literature and I hope you find your answers. Do remember that all science comes with uncertainty so take everything with a pinch of salt but hopefully you'll find something that strikes a chord and works for you. All the best, Elli

trying to move forward

Dear Fear, You suck. If I give you an inch, you take it a mile... You stalk around my bed all night. Your whispers cut through me like a strong wind from the north. The kind of wind that penitrates everything in it's path with out discrimination. They blow on my hands, forcing them to go numb... The scars on my knuckles, they are impossible to not notice. How could I forget where they came from? How can I ignore that you showed me how much weakness I am capable of? I have no choice but to see the aftermath of your influence. You have ben following me for years. It was always you telling me that I will never be good enough. You where there when I let that silent chant slither around in my head for years. I did not like it. I used to reject your opression with a scourching anger. You took it the extra mile when you told me it was my fault... So I took it out on inatimate objects. Each time you said it I gained a new momento to wear on my knuckles. The chill spreads to my arms turning them a blue as dark and as ominous as the darkest ocean. I can see your mark as clear as a full moon on a cloudless night. I have let your pervassive whispers echo in my head for far too long. I began to believe them. Now I wear your poison on my arm in a permanent ink. Anyone who sees it knows that I am to be left alone. Lucky for them, they only have to see it whenever I am around them... The cold is causing the throbbing pain to rear is spiked head at my foot again. Your gravel voice can be very distracting. I heard you the day my foot was folded in half and forever deformed. It was imperative that I focus on everything around me. I almost got through my task without incident... I remember how laud you where screaming at me during that last twenty-five feet from my destination. It felt like you were trying to drive a locamotive at me. The thunderous surge of an unstoppable mass skirting my tail from the moment I started down the road. Your onslaught was so thorough and so vast that I wasn't even able to asses how much pain I was in until a hour after it had already happened... You rob me of my sleep. You wreak havoc on my view of myself. I have missed out on alot of opportunities to experience joy. And you have beaten me down physically. I do not like it. I never have. I want you to know that nobody wants YOU around and that YOU are weak and pathetic. I'm not as young as i was.

What is life?

This whole story got to me. I don't think Selfharm is easy to Recover from I am now 15 years Old and have been selfharming for two years. How do I stop?

Support

Hi Ally, if you need support or want to ask questions about mental health, we've got links here: https://www.time-to-change.org.uk/what-are-mental-health-problems/help-support-services Best, TTC

for yourself but not by yourself

Thanks Ellian. Your words are probably the best I have ever read. All the tips without endless jabber. My two challenges are being more open about my mood disorder and finding the sweet spot of just the "right minimum"of medication. If openness is met with judgment--I dont need to interact with that person anymore. I think I can accept "almost zero" as good enough for my med dose goal.I will definately be re-reading your tips, thanks.

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