September 23, 2016

We’re coming up to the birthday that I half heartedly joked I’d never make, when I was 17. 27. Most people struggle through their mid-twenties, trying to find their career, the love of their lives, the right home, and the right friends. I’ve struggled to find the will to get out of bed, instead.

I ‘should’ be happy, or so I’m told. I have a fantastic fiancé, and we are planning the wedding of my dreams, planning to buy a house and enjoying all the millennial aspirations we share eventually coming true. Not through luck – through hard work. For the last 16 weeks I’ve spent each day staring at my computer screen, in an air conditioned office, blithely thinking about committing suicide, and then feeling wracked with guilt that I would even consider such a thing. After all, I ought to be happy.

This is par for the course for any one with bipolar disorder. I tend to be able to mask the main symptoms pretty well for the most part. My colleagues and friends just tend to assume that I’m having a bad day. The crippling lows are met with euphoric highs, and in the blink of an eye I’m back to bouncing off walls and gleefully pitching my next big idea.

The lows feel inescapable, though. It’s like walking through tar. You can see the end of the road, but it feels impossible to reach it. Each step takes an inordinate amount of effort and each moment you’re stuck in the thick, sticky, black darkness, you feel yourself sinking lower and lower. There are warning signs. It’ll start with a nagging feeling of frustration, for me. Frustrated with the pace of life, frustrated with my career, frustrated with the food I eat, the body I inhabit and the area which we live in. And then it builds to a malaise – a kind of inescapable fog, clouding my thoughts and permeating my sleep.

Before I know it, I’m stuck in the deep black tar of a low and imagining cracks spreading across ceilings. Hallucinations are not an uncommon part of bipolar disorder. They can be grandiose or, like mine, subtle, like watercolour paint mixing on a palette. They’re a lot less frightening when you realise what they are – just an overabundance of particular chemicals in your mind, tricking your frontal cortex into over analysing every signal you have picked up – whether visual or auditory.

When I am happy, I will happily cook, bake, paint, laugh, joke, create, write and passionately debate almost anything. I will happily and passionately sell my skill-set in an interview and I gleefully dance on tables and screech along to my favourite songs. The world is a Technicolor playground, and I’m the most popular kid in the city.

When I’m not happy, I withdraw completely into myself and become a determined introvert. I don’t wish to do anything, and the effort of doing something is crucifying intense. The problem is, it’s not a black and white kind of situation. When I’m sad, it’s not like everything ceases to amuse me. When I’m happy, it’s not like the world doesn’t occasionally bore me.

 So. 27. The age I never thought I’d reach. Never really wanted to reach. There are signs – as I’d known all along but never really wished to entertain – that I’m not going to get better. This is the long haul. Up, down, in never ending succession, for the rest of my days. It’s exhausting, you know?

And I think the most troubling part is that even now, 10 years after I realised I was sick, and 7 years after I was officially diagnosed, the world is still deeply distrustful of anyone with a mental illness. Am I just as sharp as anyone else? My IQ might be 143, but does that mean anything when my brain is playing cross stitch with homemade chemicals?

This naturally makes it incredibly difficult for me to share my illness with anyone, be it bosses, colleagues, close friends, family. So I think it’s safe to say Bipolar at 17 and Bipolar at 27 have two things in common; 1) loneliness in my diagnosis and 2) that the world is still not quite ready to be accommodating of bipolar (or perhaps, any mental illness).

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Comments

Amazing blog

Reading this on the train. And it's so so moving. I have never been able to imagine the feelings associated with bipolar disorder as vividly as when I read this. Brilliant piece and I hope it will help others to understand it better. X

Wow. Thank you for sharing

Wow. Thank you for sharing your heart. My nephew had been diagnosed and refuses help or acceptance of his illness. We are all overwhelmed but we love him and want him to receive help. He just turned 27 yesterday. I have been doing a lot of reading and research but what I just read about you helped me far more than anything I have read this year. Please continue to share your story it was amazing and I pray that you will get stronger and stronger everyday. Thank you, you have opened my eyes to do much. And yes society has a long way to go with intolerance period.

Bi- Polar Condition

I would like to make it clear at the out set of my comments that I am not a " Professional Doctor" and I am expressing MY OWN PERSONAL VIEWPOINT on " Bi-Polar Condition". I am aware that my viewpoint is completely different than the excepted opinion now being held by Professionals whom work in this field of Emotional Disorders. With that said, I have several friends that have been diagnosed with " Bi-Polar Disorder". I worked on the closed ward of a large Mental Hospital for a year as an orderly with Bi-Polar Disordered patients. I have watched a couple of Television Documentary's on the subject. My first observation is this, ALL OF THESE BI-POLAR PEOPLE have ONE THING IN COMMON " THEY ARE ALL VERY MUCH ABOVE AVERAGE IN INTELLIGENCE". I have noticed also another COMMON FACTOR, they have a NEED to OVER ACHIEVE in life in various ways. They all seem to have led lives growing up that were very STRESSED. The average normal person generally knows when they have reached their PHYSICAL and or EMOTIONAL LIMITS, however, Bi-Polar Disorder appears to be the result of a person going WELL BEYOND THEIR TOLERANCE LEVEL to the point of EMOTIONAL DISFUNCTION. The medical profession in an effort to SAVE MONEY and RESOURCES has opted for QUICK CURE, put the Patient on LITHIUM for the rest of their life to provide some form of emotional stability. Lithium will treat the symptoms but not the cause. It remains my opinion until I can be shown other wise that " Bi-Polar Disorder" is the end result that comes to a person whom has been KNOWINGLY OR UNKNOWINGLY emotionally subjected to living in a LONG TERM DYSFUNCTIONAL ENVIRONMENT, generally made up of FAMILY, FRIENDS and WORK PLACE. Their is generally no one person to blame for this disorder. The dysfunctional environment effect is SUBTLE AND INSIDIOUS and the victim is unawares of the long term determent to their mental health. The undoing of this emotional damage is daunting to say the least, for the Bi-Polar Disorder was YEARS IN THE MAKING. Like the STRAW THAT BROKE THE CAMELS BACK this Disorder does not make itself known until some minor unsuspecting event occurs that finally causes the victim to emotionally lose it as they say. Once the Bi-Polar Disorder Patient has been diagnosed I believe they should recieve as much Phyco-therapy as is available to them and that they themselves devote as much time as is reasonably possible in coming to a personal understanding of how they ended up with this condition. Thankyou.

Really interesting

I'm a mum of a son who is 25 with bi polar who u have describe to a t ... my son won't take meds because he said they numb his brain he can't think it's all misty and his emotions are dead !!! I really understand your theory and so believe what u have written makes a lot of sense , my son struggles every single day of his life and he has thought about suicide many times just so he escape from the arwful struggle he lives every day !! He can't see any future he thinks there will never be happiness for him and this breaks my heart at 25 you think your life is over !!! So any advice anyone or a good counsellor I would be soo grateful !!!

Awesome

Really enlightening post...it described me.loneliness is killing me and everyone sees me as bad.made plans and later changed them.am really sick and HV never been on any medication.am 28yr old now.this post really gave me a little relief .hope to get people I can share with.here in Nigeria..the stigma is too much.

You are great!

Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts and feelings. I was one of those people who did not understand the concept of mental illnesses. I simply could not understand it and the reason was that I was afraid. I was afraid of people's inside pain. I was afraid to admit that I might I have a mental illness myself. They key to stop the "stigma" or make people stop being afraid of mental illnesses, is to educate them. To make them aware. No matter how much empathy you have inside you about people with mental illnesses, you need education about the issue itself. The more we speak about our mental health issues, the more aware people become. You(we) have a mental illness?? So what? Is not a big deal. You(we) are a strong fighter(s), perhaps the strongest(s). And yes, you(we) are smart, beautiful, clever, funny and everything. You(we) do not differ. The differential point between people is the empathy they have inside them. No matter how perfectly healthy someone is, all it takes is having empathy. Good luck my dalring! All the best!

This article has really

This article has really brought it home for me. My boyfriend was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and I have made it my mission to learn any and everything I can about his condition. It angers me to realize how ignorant people can be when it comes to individuals living with mental disorders. I hope that more people will see your blog and become educated on the facts and not false believes of how bipolar disorder affects individuals who are human beings like everyone else.

Hope...

Thank you so much for your story. There is comfort in knowing that I am not the only one battling this monster. I am not glad that anyone has to endure this horrible debilitating condition but it does help to know that I am not the only one. You explained it perfectly with the dark tar analogy. I myself have been in the tar for a few months...not a day goes by that I have not considered just ending it, last night as I lay in bed I prayed to God that I would not wake up in the morning. I have gotten as far as convincing myself that my loved ones will be alright if not better without me. I reach out for help but no one seems to truly understand, they are always quick to make suggestions, not realizing that I know that getting out or exercising would help but how is this possible when I am completely consumed with no will except the will to die. I hate this feeling so much, I hate myself so much! How can I be pitiful when I have been blessed with such a beautiful life? Doctors are no help they just want to hand me some pill that might work or in my experience make it worse. In fact I believe that I have permanent brain damage due to cymbalta...well any way I just wanted to thank you. Your strength and experience gives me hope.

Thanks For Sharing

Your article really summed up how I often feel and was great to share with my partner to understand me better!

ten years on

relate completely to your comment about the tar analogy. I too have found the high level of stigma even amongst my colleagues when I worked a psychiatric nurse! Life seems to have contracted and slowed down. unemployed. unemployable? options seem to be more limited. depression symptoms quite severe right now. just want to hole up in my home and safely isolate.

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