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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