When I was a teenager, I thought as a 30 year old, you basically were a proper grown up – you had a good job, you were married, you had a kid and bought a house. This mentality drastically changed as I got older. Now 34 is still pretty young in my head, still plenty of time to become a grown up. Sure (a la Friends) your job’s a joke, you’re broke, your love life’s DOA. You’re only in your early/mid thirties so you’re fine. Life starts at 40 right so enjoy your youth.
The things Friends didn’t prepare me for: The struggle with mental health issues. I don’t think I’m alone in going through bad patches. Everyone has their own issues to deal with. But seeing someone from Friends go to a counsellor would have been huge for me and I think it would have helped a lot of people. Knowing – on those crushing days where you can’t get out of bed – that you are not alone, that other ordinary people experience this too, would have been life saving.
I think it’s fantastic that there’s more mental health awareness in schools these days. I mean, I never knew it was a thing.
I wasn't remotely prepared for my diagnosis
I was diagnosed with bipolar type II in September 2014. The crippling depression followed where all motivation went out the window. Any shred of confidence and self-belief disappeared. I hid in my bed and considered it an achievement if I made it to the couch. My poor husband didn't know what to do with me. I read all the books, I knew exercise and eating properly were crucial in my recovery but even thinking about those things was overwhelming. For people who have never experienced depression it must be baffling to comprehend, but your mind belittles every positive thought that manages to enter your head. You feel useless, worthless and begin to think people would be better off without you burdening them. Your mind lies to you and you see the world as dreary and grey. Hope of anything changing vanishes and you become convinced that this will be your permanent state.
And then one day, there's momentary relief from the negative thoughts. And slowly, ever so slowly, without daring to hope, the clouds begin part. This can take time so you have to be patient. You slowly realise that you feel more capable, less sad than the day before. More willing to try things, to get in touch with people.
But then comes the hypomanic phase. Your mind floods with ideas. No one can keep up with you, nothing entertains you fast enough. Constant stimulation. Constantly on my phone. You tell everyone your latest plans and can't understand why they don't share your opinion that this is the best idea you've ever had. Who needs sleep? There's too much to do!
Then gradually you become aware that this is not normal. People are worried for you. And you realise you are hyper and that this too will come to an end. Will there be a period of normality before the depression returns? How long will "normal" last?
Friends who listen make a world of difference
I've been lucky in that I have a great support network. My husband tentatively broaches the subject when he sees a change in my moods. Sometimes he can predict a change before I realise it myself. My friends have been incredibly supportive and it's refreshing to be able to have honest chats about how I'm feeling. The thing is, bipolar is not a world away from what they sometimes go through. Yes it's a scary label, but you are still you at the end of the day. You just have a trickier time trying to find balance. Being frank with people has deepened my friendships and people have opened up to me in ways they've never done with anyone else.
I’ve learnt that you are more than your diagnosis. Us humans are wonderful complex beings and a mental health illness is just one tiny facet in what's a fascinating thrilling adventure.