I began blogging about life with bipolar and anxiety disorders this year. Previously, I felt I had to keep quiet about my main mental health condition for fear of stigma, judgement of other people in society. However, I am open about it to close friends and family and wanted to share my story with others through mental health charities such as Time to Change.
I was diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder (formerly manic depression) when I was just 16 years old, I am now 28. This was diagnosed after a period of both depression and hypomania (a lower level manic episode characterised by a huge amount of energy and disinhibition) spanning over a year. I was then hospitalised later that year in Christmas 2004 after a mixed psychotic state and spent several months on an adolescent psychiatric unit in London, while they put me on mood stabilising medication and got me well through individual talking and group therapies.
I met some amazing people in hospital that time. We were all just teenagers suffering from a wide variety of mental health issues including schizophrenia, bipolar, psychosis (some drug induced), eating disorders, self-harm and other issues. I didn’t keep in contact with the people I was in hospital with due to the acute nature of our illnesses but I hope they are all well and I do think of them and hope they managed to stay well.
I was supported by a wonderful psychiatrist who managed to stabilise my depression and psychosis (delusions), and I also had a team of nurses and therapists around me who would cheer me up, make me laugh and one even helped me put on my make up one day. They really were my angels in recovery.
My mum came to visit me every day. It must have been so traumatising for her to see her little girl so poorly. However, after four months of being in hospital and slowly getting better I came home and it would be another ten years later that I would find myself in hospital again.
My illness is largely believed to be genetic as it runs in my family. Therefore for ten years I have taken constant mood-stabilising medication and anti-depressants to keep the chemical symptoms at bay. My hospitalisation last year was the culmination of my body changing as I became a woman and the mood-stabilising medication not working. I am now on the right medication and have embarked on courses of therapy to keep me well. Thankfully, I am back at work and the majority of my bipolar symptoms are kept at bay.
Throughout both times I have been ill, I have had people in my life who have provided incredible support. They have prayed for me, visited me in hospital when I have been at my worst, lit candles for me and said prayers, sent me cards and flowers and letters, all of which I have kept. When I was 16, my school year even came together to present me with two homemade cards. I was so grateful and have them in my bedroom in the wardrobe to this day. Of course, there are those who don’t understand and who judge – however I am lucky to have a strong support network around me.
My support network (family and friends) has meant many positive things – I could get back to work in my own time, have help financially, emotional support and when I felt suicidal. I had people there to talk to. I am aware how lucky I am and not everyone has this and struggles far more with life. My support network has given me the freedom to not have to panic or worry hugely. I can’t imagine having to go through this on my own as many others do.
I will have this condition for the rest of my life. I know how best to manage it but there are still hard times. Either way, I will continue explaining it to people who ask, so that people can understand you can live a full and fulfilling life with this illness and so that stigma falls. Having bipolar is not shameful.