I grew up throughout my whole adolescence a lost little soul, hiding away my internal sufferings from those around me in my life, and desperately seeking the answers as to why I was so unhappy compared to all my other peers. Little did I know, that 10 and a half years later it would all make sense. The day I sat in my doctor’s office whilst she threw the term ‘Bipolar Disorder’ at me.
Bipolar disorder? I questioned her. But I am not either sad or happy all the time? Little did I know that such a mental health condition was so much more than just switching back and forth from becoming super happy one minute then having a low mood the next. It was much more multi-faceted and complex than that.
According to research published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, the average time from onset of symptoms to official diagnosis for Bipolar disorder, is in the region of 10 years. In my case, my experiences fit in to these statistics pretty neatly; although there are other people out there who suffer for many more years before they seek the right help and treatment that they need in order to survive.
When I look back at my troubled youth towards my lost little self, attempting to navigate her way through the foggy maze of heightened teenage emotion, I see her frightened. Bewildered, in to taking more wrong turns than the steady path that she so desperately grasped at and missed. 14 years old, who was I to recognise the symptoms of a serious and debilitating mental illnesses if I had grown up with it being my norm? Luckily for me, it was at the age of the internet, where having a computer back then was gradually becoming more common in households, where it was cool for teenagers spent their evenings chatting away on MSN messenger to strangers and carefully crafting the best MySpace profile to show off to their friends.
One day, when I was curiously seeking answers on Google for ‘Why do I feel so sad all the time?’ and ‘Is having urges to hurt myself normal?’, I came across website that specialised in mental health issues, and had a growing community of forums and live group chats. I sat up all night, reading all the posts of those who were suffering and desperately seeking replies to which I could offer words of advice or comfort them in some way. Thus, I signed up to the community, wrote up my first post – and that was the last time I can remember when I really truly felt I was on my own in my sufferings. Over the months, I made connections with others who also felt like me, and eventually talking it out gave me the confidence to realise that maybe I needed to go and see a specialist after all – these hidden feelings I had carried over the years deep inside me had been validated.
The battle for a steady diagnosis was still far beyond reach; it took countless therapists, psychiatrists, a few misdiagnoses of PTSD and Borderline Personality Disorder, before the nail was fully hit on the head. But still throughout those difficult years, I had people there on the other side of the keyboard who assisted me whilst I tackled this uphill journey.
It took until my 24th year in life bad choices and hurt later; and I finally got the treatment that I deserved. I realised how far I’d come, and decided to take it upon myself to help people who were still lost in the fog – I started to speak out and become more open about my past difficulties through my own blog, The Manic Years, in an attempt to reach out to those who needed some validation of their own. Eventually, others started to share with me their own journey; wanting to get involved in the blog themselves. The stories had a huge impact on encouraging others, and to this day have resulted in more and more people opening up and getting the help they need. Without online mental health projects such as Time to Change, and having that crucial access to the like-minded community who shared their experiences and fought to reach out to help others, I may still have been sailing along without the breeze to guide me. We have those more experienced who are willing to lend a land, but why stop at that?
These days, it is becoming more and more common for people to open up about their mental illnesses and struggles, but the stigma still exists and it is these clouds that block the sun from our reality and casts a shadow on the truth. It is very easy for those who have never been unfortunate enough to have suffered with the likes of depression, anxiety, and other serious conditions to walk by those who need a friend by their side. Don’t dismiss it. If you come across somebody who is seeking help, please reach out to them – even if you have no experience of mental health yourself, that doesn’t mean it does not exist. It’s real, it’s frightening and overwhelming, but ‘stigma’ does not mean the story cannot be re-written. Take the time out to listen and to educate yourself on the unknown, be the change that we desperately need. It is you who will eventually help us break through to the light, by coming out of the comfort zone and accepting what we are afraid to acknowledge. Who knows; maybe by opening your eyes to someone else truly needs help you will learn to recognise symptoms in yourself further down the line if it ever comes to that.
For it was to those who virtually held my hand at 2am on sleepless nights when I was frightened of myself; who reminded me that there was always someone who will listen to me when I had many times locked myself in the bathroom on my college breaks silently sobbing away; for whom I have to thank for being the healthy individual that I am today. It’s those who we all have to thank, for giving us that nudge in the right direction, and not giving up on us when the only path we are walking on is the path that leads us to give up on ourselves. I feel like I can only repay their generosity by sharing such an important message, the message that was passed down to me when I was at a time in my life where I needed it most.
Reach out. Break the silence. Speak louder. It could one day save a life, just as it saved mine.