Bipolar disorder can be really difficult to identify. Most of the time, people only go to their GP when they're feeling really ill. If you’re feeling down, depressed, anxious, lacking in energy and interest in anything, it’s easy to feel as though it’s not serious enough to go to the GP. Sometimes even that it’s your fault. You certainly go nowhere near health professionals when you’re feeling elated, energetic, invincible and positive about everything!
In my experience, once I got myself to the GP and described my symptoms, they looked quite bored and gave me a long list of counsellors to contact. However, there was mostly a minimum three or even a six-week waiting list, and I needed help right away! I hardly had the ability to function, so making these calls was nearly beyond my capabilities at the time. This lack of support made me feel even more worthless.
At the time, I was a teacher, mostly teaching exam sets in Sixth Form, as well as having further significant responsibility for students. I was struggling from day to day, but always putting on a brave face.
I did however, get a recommendation from the medical centre at the school to contact a psychotherapist, who had space to take on new patients. This worked for me, but finding the right therapist can be so challenging and time-consuming. However, it really helps to find the right person as both medication and other support are necessary in being able to manage Bipolar.
In the meantime, I had to resign from my job. It was a really tough period and put stress on my family. My husband in particular.
I struggled for three years with no medication and no diagnosis other than depression, until the point when the psychotherapist I’d been seeing for two years spotted the pattern. He told me that he thought there was a high probability that it was Bipolar Disorder and referred me to the NHS for a second opinion.
After nine months, the diagnosis was confirmed as Bipolar 2 with Rapid Cycling.
Before this, I don’t think I had even heard of the term ‘bipolar’, and even ‘manic depression’ was not a term which I was aware of.
However, once receiving the diagnosis, it all made so much sense and I felt such a sense of relief knowing what it was. Until that point, I felt as if there’s something not right but nobody is really taking you seriously. Since the diagnosis, I have read up as much as possible and encouraged friends and family to do the same which has helped.
Earlier this year, I experienced the most intense and frightening depressive-anxious-psychotic phase with sky-high obsessional anxiety. I was unable to communicate (either by text, email or talking), experienced delusions of losing everything, of being arrested by the police for having defaulted in my job and having suicidal thoughts. I was unable to exercise, despite being very active normally, and I couldn’t even write a shopping list or go shopping. Trying to make decisions whilst looking at the shelves was just too overwhelming.
I was referred to a Home Treatment Team who were excellent. Though I now think I was unable to get the full advantage of their attention as I was so depressed. After being discharged from them I was referred to a Community Psychiatric Nurse (CPN) who is brilliant, as well as a Psychiatrist who keeps a regular check on me via my CPN and this is such a major support. She even met with my family to offer them support and answer any questions, which was amazing.
The thought of telling my employer filled me with total horror as, for more complex reasons than I can explain here, I felt as if there would be total rejection based on a system of beliefs in which I was working.
I did eventually tell the Chairman of the Board (my manager) and a member of the Board of Trustees about my diagnosis, and there was complete lack of judgement and total support.
I was so grateful for their support and it was agreed that, due to lockdown and the furlough scheme, I should remain on furlough and take as much time as I needed to regain stability.
These two people and the Board of Trustees as a whole took on any tasks which needed attention and sorted everything out. There was nothing more they could have done at this time to support me. It was an incredible feeling to be supported in this way with no questions asked and to be accepted and wanted in this role, despite the health challenges I was facing.
I had also started to tell close friends and family and overall people were supportive and were usually prepared to read up and research bipolar. I even gave the link to the Time to Change personal stories, as they are all so positive for anyone living with Bipolar Disorder.
I feel that more should be shared about the manic phase of bipolar, as this is often overlooked. The person themselves feels great, yet the effect they usually have on those around them is pretty awful and it isn’t always documented.
The manic phase is the most complicated because due to the assertiveness, extreme confidence and invincibility one feels, the things one says and does, can be hurtful to those closest to one.
It can be difficult for those around me to understand and accept that it is the illness in control and not the person themselves. Once one feels ‘stable’, it’s such hard work to repair relationships which have taken so much strain. I would like to not have to do this on top of trying to ‘recover’ after an extreme manic phase.
I would want friends and family to be aware of this, so they can cope better and not blame or judge the person experiencing bipolar.