I've been experiencing mental illnesses for 16 years. I have OCD, I wasn't diagnosed with bipolar rapid cycling until 7 years ago, then a year later I was diagnosed with BPD. I have had quite a few close calls and desperate times. I have been both chaotic and painfully numb. But I am grateful to be here and truly shocked that I have made it this far. It’s difficult and exhausting dealing with the "pain in the brain" I refer to my depressive episodes as, even without the discrimination I experience regularly – to me it’s been normal to be admitted to psychiatric wards, chucked into police cells under a Section 136 as there has been nowhere else for me to be put because "I’m a danger to myself”.
I am not a threat to anyone but myself. I have never harmed anyone or any animal. However, there have been many occasions when people have run for the hills or not trusted me with the basics in life such a babysitting (whilst the child was asleep) or even feeling like I am a normal person that can be spoken to.
I experience bipolar, but I'm more than a diagnosis
Using all your might to physically get out of bed and get into some sort of fit state (usually just dressed) to leave the house just to be met with such prejudice can break you like you didn't even know you could be broken. One such occasion started when, on a bipolar high, I relocated and told myself it would give my family a break and make me more independent. I moved somewhere where I didn’t know a soul. When I was out walking my two dogs I met a couple who also had two dogs of the same breed, the opposite sex to mine. I was thrilled talking to new people about common ground: our dogs. Later, the husband turned up with an orchid for me, treats for my boys and a good luck in your new home card with their phone numbers. He told me to call them any time for a dog walk. I was ecstatic and rang my mum after shrieking with excitement.
I called them a couple of days later and met up the woman and all the dogs. We had a lovely chat whilst the dogs played together on our way. But then, we went on our last dog walk – it was perfect until she asked me what I did for work. The ultimate conversation killer. I said that I was currently off sick and left it as that. To my dread a whole heap of questions arose. I wasn't prepared and couldn't think of saying anything to get away from this. She said that I looked fit and well physically, so why wasn't I working? I was trapped and I always believed that no harm could come from telling the truth, “always best to tell the truth” I had drummed into myself whilst growing up. I confided that I had mental health problems but was getting better, expecting that to finalise the interrogation. I couldn't have been more wrong.
I shared that I had bipolar but was managing it better than I had in a while. She responded by saying she had worked with someone who had bipolar before and she was "mental". She said she used to get that look on her face and she couldn't talk to her and she scared her. The couple and their dogs exited my life as quickly as they had entered. They didn't return phone calls or messages. I was devastated more so for being a "mental" which meant my dogs lost out seeing their doggie girlfriends.
The support I received changed my life
Other times, talking to people about my mental health has been essential. When I was first diagnosed with bipolar I was working, and I did not tell anyone how much pain I was in everyday mentally, but in the end one person’s support changed everything. I was struggling with the basics of getting out of bed, getting ready for work and doing my fake-it-to-make-it face. Little did I know everyone around me was concerned for my well-being – colleagues, family and friends were all watching me fall apart when I thought I had it under wraps. My line manager who I had worked closely with took me aside one day very gently and shared all the "out of the norm" things and behaviours she had been witnessing with me. I was so shocked, I was unaware of most of it and with other parts I was finding it hard to justify. I then confessed what had been running around in my head for 6 months and completely broke down. She hugged me and said “I'm really worried about you, you need to go to your doctors and seek some help”. I promised her I would and she helped me make the appointment. I am so grateful to this woman who voiced her concerns for me because if not for her nothing would have changed or actually started to make sense. Over the years I have met many people with mental illnesses which helped me realise I'm not a ‘Lone Ranger’ dealing with it.
I used to joke about not knowing what my shelf life time was going to be. At the moment I'm in a positive mindset and tell myself that I'm going to kick mental health’s butt and it's not going to be what takes me out. The longer I live with mental illness, the less time I have for people who discriminate against it.