I first showed signs of bipolar disorder at the tender age of 17. Family and work colleagues knew that I was not myself but could not understand what had happened to me, so my mum encouraged me to visit the GP. Sadly, he misdiagnosed my symptoms and assumed I had anxiety and depression. I then commenced taking antidepressants.
What I remember about this time is that nobody sat and talked to me. Nobody tried to understand how I was feeling and what I was going through. Many family members laughed when I kept saying I was ‘confused’. But that was the only word that I could use to describe myself as I just was not functioning properly.
Not being myself, I had behaved in an unusual manner at work simply because I could not concentrate on the job in hand. I had gone a week without a wink of sleep. What really upset me was after taking some time off work when I returned my colleagues behaved differently towards me. They no longer wanted to have their lunch break with me. It was almost as if my behaviour had been my fault and now I was being punished for it. I can honestly say I have never felt more isolated than at this point in my life.
This was a time when I needed a friendly face more than ever. I so desperately wanted someone to just reach out to me. I needed someone to tell me everything would be ok. I can recall one gentleman who worked in my building. One afternoon when it all got too much I burst into tears. He sat me down and make me a cup of tea and asked me what was wrong. That small act of kindness meant so much to me that to this day, and 32 years later I have never forgotten it.
I went on to experience a major bipolar episode every two years, which would result in me being hospitalised. This lasted until 2002 when I started seeing a new consultant. Again, different members of staff have different approaches. The nurse who would sit me down have a chat and a cuppa was always the one that brought out the best in me and the one that speeded up the healing process.
I like to think that as time has moved on people are becoming much more understanding of mental health. I would like to see more people looking out for each other. If you feel that a family member or a friend are behaving differently, look out for them.
Keep a closer eye on the change in behaviour. If you need to raise an alarm do so, but please be there for that person. Try and find out what the problems are but please no matter what do not turn your back on them. They may not admit it or even realise it themselves but now will be the time that they will need you more than ever.