August 18, 2015

A-levels are hard for everyone. The challenge to “do well” is enough when you’re healthy, but when you suffer from severe mood swings and impulses, which leave you exhausted, irritable and sometimes incapacitated, it sets a whole new challenge. My bipolarity came to the surface at a bad time.

The start of my emotional rollercoaster

There was never anything unusual about me when I was young, a quiet, shy child who got on with people and stuck to the rules. This changed abruptly in the last years of school. I had to take frequent trips to the nurse to try and calm down. I experienced extraordinarily high moods, sudden outbursts of anger to crippling depressions. I was good at hiding how I felt, but my walls slowly came tumbling down and close friends noticed major changes in my actions and personality. It was clear how much I was struggling with my health and the pressures of school on top made life a constant battle. They helped me through the bad patches, made sure I was safe. I could talk to them about how I felt.

As the final exams of my school career loomed closer, I couldn’t focus on revision. By this time I was attending GP appointments fortnightly and was referred to see a psychiatrist six times. A select few of the many staff at my school were brilliant and helped me when possible, a few in particular going above and beyond, and yet others seemed to be put off by my behaviour saying that I was just being a “difficult teenager” and that I should simply “grow up” as if I had a choice in the matter. At this point my relationships with these teachers broke down. The majority wanted nothing to do with me: I was on put out my own academically.

If you want something enough, you can have it

A week before my first exam I knew I needed to move forward with life. Somewhere I found the determination to do whatever was necessary to get into university. I revised hard, when I was able. Some days my moods were just too crippling to even get out of bed, but I wanted this more than anything. When Results day came, it was a huge success. Despite all the problems and challenges I had encountered, the sheer lack of support and difficulties at home, I came out with grades over and above what I was predicted and got into my first choice university.

Only two days before I started, I was given my bipolar diagnosis and I knew the upcoming year was going to be challenge. I was doing a design course that was based around coursework, with large projects and strict deadlines. I am lucky that I attend a supportive university; I was assigned two mentors, one to keep an eye on my mental health and the other to help me keep me on top of my work. With the support of mentors, tutors and friends I finished first year with a first, against all odds. This showed me I am so much more that my bipolarity. I could still succeed.

If It weren’t for family & friends I don’t know where I would be

At the end of my first year, I was admitted to hospital during an extreme depressive episode. I thought my life had ended, that everyone would leave me and nothing in my life would go right again. I have never been so glad to be wrong. Family and friends came to visit me on the ward. They made me feel like I was cared about, especially with all of the debilitating negative thoughts that I felt like I was drowning in. I spent two months there and was subsequently discharged and re-admitted to a day hospital. I continued to progress with the help of continued therapy and medication. By the time second year had arrived I was ready to start afresh. A brand new me.

Having just finished my second year, I am going onto do a placement in the engineering industry. I have my whole life ahead, with exciting opportunities lined up. I couldn’t have done any of this without my friends; whether keeping me under control through the highs, being there to give me a hug and tell me everything would be okay through the lows or simply remaining by my side through it all, they have endured a lot. I can honestly say that they are true friends, the ones who love you no matter what, even when they know both sides of you.

The stigma is very much out there, but I am not defined by my condition

The best advice that I can give to anyone struggling with mental health issues and the stigma attached is to always be true to yourself. It’s not your fault. Surround yourselves with the sort of people who will go out of their way to help you, who will stand by you no matter what and will never be afraid to help. If you find that people willingly want to understand, help them, but don’t over exert. You must still put yourself first. By being open, honest and engaging with others about mental health you will be helping break the stigma, not just for yourself but also for everyone. Just like recovery, the stigma needs to be tackled in baby steps. Every step forward is progress, working towards a better end result.

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I can relate

This post really hit home for me, not just in the obvious ‘we have similar experiences’ vein, but in the fact that both of us are trying to own our illness, and use our experiences to change the stigma that surrounds bipolar disorder and mental illness. This idea of “openness” has been a resonating theme my second year at a new school. The lines, “By being open, honest and engaging with others about mental health you will be helping break the stigma, not just for yourself but also for everyone. Just like recovery, the stigma needs to be tackled in baby steps. Every step forward is progress, working towards a better end result” really underscore the value of both of our blogs. Reading some parts of this blog brought up some uncomfortable truths that I had been repressing since my hospitalization, such as the early days when my bipolar depression was so severe I couldn’t get out of bed. A lot of people at that time couldn’t understand why such a simple action could be so difficult to execute. Thanks Lauren for this post and validating my own experiences with bipolar disorder. I truly hope we can change this stigma against mental health.

Love and unconditional support are what REALLY matter.

Thanks for sharing your story, Lauren. I'm just beginning to recognise that I'm also bipolar, with the extreme mood swings starting in my teens, just like you (I'm now 63!) I realise that my dad was bipolar, as he would veer from happiness to anger in just a few seconds. Sometimes, home could be very frightening - although he never hit any of us. We learnt to tiptoe round him. In the 60s and 70's, no one - absolutely no one - spoke about mental health. it was out of sight, out of mind :( I am lucky in that my mania only appeared in my early 50s: lasting for 3 weeks. Some thought I was going mad, but I had many religious/ecstatic visions in that time and some of those profound insights later came true, which is amazing. After 3 years of highs, I've had 8 years of lows, and both my husband and son have suffered through it. On top of that, my younger brother's suicide, my in-laws deaths and most recently, my twin brother's death. I often thought of ending it all, but realised that it wouldn't help anyone and would have been terrible for my son, whose mental health also shows bipolar symptoms. BUT, we can survive. Despite the extreme highs and lows, I've managed to work (contract work), get out, travel and have fun with friends who've been so supportive. My dearest friends are all people with long-term challenges in their families - we support each other and laugh a lot about Life, as well as commiserating. One thing you will learn, Lauren, is that by experiencing others' compassion, you will learn to be very compassionate yourself. That is a life saver. Every blessing and good wish for your future. Annette

I am all alone in this....

I've had depression all my life. Early 20's extreme panic disorder came along for the ride. Early 40's I was diagnosed with PTS...umm? Really, geez, I knew that I had PTSD long before this diagnosis, lol. I've started taking medication for my depression and horror panic attacks in my late 30's. Best decision I've ever made. In my early 50's, I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. As if I had not known that already either... Well, enough about my sarcastic site and more about the life with 'mental illnesses'. I am married, 4 children. I am a more calm, keep to myself but people loving person. I just don't want to be the center of attention or constantly in a big, loud crowd. Living with this depression was and is very hard. In my younger years I hid everything and I hid it very good. I did however research and learned everything and anything about it and what I could and should do. It worked pretty good. Lot's of meditation and self talk. Being bipolar, I must say my Psych. says I am more on the 'down' site, meaning....I never really had or have the big 'freak out' episodes, so he thinks. I did have a few, but I'd say mild to medium. Never been institutionalized. Back to why I wrote...I am all alone in this... Well, when I was younger, not much was known well or talked about it at all. Getting married, I certainly did not want to be seen as the 'weird' wife, lol, so up to my 50's, even my husband did not even know everything or even details but I think he is also not very interested in any of this. Hmm...? My children know everything about me, for I always calmly explained to them why I had a bad day and how I am dealing with it etc. I do not agree with my Psych. to try any bipolar medication because I have managed well so far and if I can keep some chemicals out of my body, I will. You may now think that I never had a real bad bipolar break...well, I did, believe me...but I still call them mild to medium because I have learned to pull myself out of 'public' so to speak, away from everyone and anything and deal with it until calm and collected again. Let me say, if I'd ever feel it's too much for too long, I would decide to try far, so good. It does get exhausting, yes. Many of my friends today know what I deal with and they are all ok with it for they'd never seen me act strange. I am always the liked one, lol. What I'd call the biggest enemy are probably the racing thoughts, feeling uneasy and wanting to conquer the world.

dealing with bipolar

It took me a long time to realize what was wrong with me, especially since mental sickness was never discussed in the black community. I still struggle with my everyday routine. I would rather stay in doors alone than venture out. it takes a lot out of me because then I will have to put a happy facet or answer ignorant questions. sometimes I wish I could switch and leave the lights up there just to avoid sliding into the dark pit. the worst part is when your family have no understanding of the problem. I still struggle with my rollercoaster moods and find myself crying because I am upset and I have no idea why I am upset. trying to explain your situation draws blank and confused look the insane questions that range from are you crazy to is it infectious. I am forever tired and not want to get out of bed or hose. unfortunately I have a job and family who don't understand and always angry when I do things at my own pace. I sometimes find myself asking God to help me understand what is going on or just create me differently. I wish someone can walk in my shoes for one day and understand the struggles I go through most of which I want to walk away from. times like these makes me wish I could join my mom.

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