I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2015 shortly after my mum passed away following a tough battle with cancer. When I look back, my first psychotic episode was actually in 1994. This arose following a traumatic event in my life.
Although I was diagnosed in 2015, it has taken me until 2020 to finally accept my diagnosis and not be ashamed of it. I had hidden behind the illness for too long, wearing my mask to appear “OK” to the outside world. At this time, I posted on Facebook and Twitter to acknowledge my bipolar diagnosis. I did this on the basis that those that don’t like it, can look away. That’s their choice not mine.
In reality, I had numerous messages of support, some from people I’ve not seen in many years. This was so comforting at a time I felt I was alone and had considered ending it all.
I had not admitted publicly that I have bipolar disorder as I was worried about being judged.
Would my children be affected, bullied or excluded because of my illness? Would my employment prospects be affected by my admission? I’m a self-employed bookkeeper managing finances and worried that potential clients might refrain from contacting me because of my diagnosis. However, my current clients have been brilliant and have worked with me during difficult times.
My children are resilient, and I have always been open with them about my illness and answered any questions. They’re the next generation, so if we can be open about mental health at an early age, this should help address the stigma that currently surrounds complex mental health conditions.
Bipolar disorder affects every single person that is in my life.
When I’m in a manic episode, I feel invincible. This can come across as arrogance, but it’s a true belief that you have a superpower. During this time, words can be said that wouldn’t normally be voiced and can cause hurt to my loved ones. And the way they react has a massive impact on me and could extend this mania and also delay the recovery.
At this time, all I want is someone to give me a hug, tell me it is just a moment in time and will pass. I want them to listen to me and not dismiss my thoughts, even if they do appear slightly far-fetched!
Health care professionals also have an enormous impact on the manic episode. They need to listen, empathise and reassure – if I feel they are not listening, which is always a prevalent thought at this time, I can become agitated which fuels paranoia and leads to psychosis.
I know that the term bipolar is banded around quite a lot, but I feel that the knowledge of the illness and how best to support someone through this requires a bit more help.
One of the hardest aspects to deal with is when family members accuse you of being selfish and attention-seeking. I have had experience of this and being accused of not managing my illness and being told the manic episode wouldn’t have happened if I had taken my tablets sooner. I just want to shout, and probably have, “It’s an illness!”.
If I slipped on the ice and broke my leg, would I have people continuously saying, “well if you had worn better shoes or not gone out, it wouldn’t have happened?”. I don’t think so, so why is it ok to blame someone with a hidden mental illness for a flare up that quite frankly is out of control. When psychosis decides to make an appearance, it appears much quicker than any medication can stop it.
The word psychosis is regarded as scary at times. It is scary for the person living through it. Recently, I could feel the psychosis coming on and was trying to listen to music to distract myself from it.
Music has been a great therapy for me. Sometimes I want to sing and dance, but this is just me expelling the excess energy I have. Please don’t stop me from doing this – it’s my release. With the psychosis and mania there are many thoughts whizzing round my head, they have to come out some way. I often write them down – that way they are less likely to offend rather than verbalising them.
I have at times experienced depression too. This is at the other end of the spectrum and can keep me grounded in bed until mid-afternoon. I see no reason in getting out of bed as everything feels overpowering.
I have learned a few coping mechanisms for this: to break the day down into three sections – morning, afternoon and evening. Therefore, if I have a bad morning, I’ve still got the afternoon and evening that could be better. I’ve learnt to go out for a walk – doesn’t have to be a long trek. Just enough to breathe in some fresh air and appreciate the smaller things.
What I don’t need at times like this are comments such as “cheer up”, “come on, think positive”, “chin up”, “what have you got to be depressed about”, or even “but you’ve got a lovely house, a lovely family etc so you should be happier”.
Believe me, I know I am lucky to have all this, but I could be the wealthiest person on the planet with the largest network of family and friends around me that all love me, but when the depression strikes none of this can be seen.
The comments from some members of the media questioning the mental health of Harry and Meghan, really irritates me. After all, mental illness does not discriminate – it can affect anyone at any time in their lives. So why do we stigmatise it, treat it differently to physical illness? It would be amazing if both physical and mental illness could be treated equally.
I believe the next generation will be the most educated and the hold the greatest hope of ending the stigma. Social media will be the most powerful weapon for this. Each and everyone’s words can make an impact, both positively and negatively. To use a phrase that is so true – in a world where you can be anything, be kind.