Contains content you might find distressing
So, what do you get when you get a diagnosis of bipolar disorder? When I got mine in 2013, along with my prescription for a box of mood stabilisers in tow, I didn’t know what to do, whether to tell anyone, or what was to lie ahead for me. What I did want to know was what it meant and what I was going to do about it.
For about a month I kept relatively quiet about my psychiatrist’s recent conclusion, however eventually it appeared to be no secret. For anyone unaware of what bipolar disorder is, it was formerly known as manic depression and it can affect your moods by swinging from being in a depressive state to an elevated state.
Bipolar disorder can affect 1 in every 100 adults. Many people, like myself, are diagnosed when depressed. It results in just over a 9 year reduction in expected life span, and as many as 1 in 5 patients with bipolar succeed in taking their own lives.
Although bipolar disorder is equally common in men and women, research indicates that approximately three times as many women as men experience rapid cycling. Bipolar disorder affects nearly 6 million American adults, or about 2.6% of the U.S. population aged 18 and over every year.
Side effects can include a range of symptoms from having difficulty in concentrating and remembering things, difficulty sleeping, hallucinating, self-doubt, lacking energy, being irritable, easily distracted, talking quickly, being overjoyed, hyperactive and having racing thoughts.
Mania is an extreme elevated state which can include extremely risky behaviour, but I myself have never experienced it. I have experienced hypomania though. In some of my depressive states I haven’t left the house for weeks except for school runs, I’ve cut off the outside world and barely looked after myself.
On the other hand I’ve jumped up and down on the bed randomly in the middle of the night being full of adrenalin, along with my bedroom window wide open whilst singing loudly to the birds, all whilst not caring who is listening or who I may potentially annoy.
So by now you’re probably wondering how all of the came about…
I think that my mental health problems began when I was approximately 16. I had never known much middle ground in my life, but what I knew – as did others – was that I was different. By now I was told that I stood out from most people and I liked it. I never once wanted to blend in.
When I was 15 I spent time mixing with the wrong crowd of people by getting into trouble and I was up to nothing but pure mayhem. I’m ashamed to admit that I think I became a dreg of society within that space of time. At just 16 years old I moved out of the family home and spent nine years in an abusive relationship with a psychopath.
I was bullied, spat on, spoken to like I was worthless, controlled, stalked, mentally, financially, sexually and physically abused, and so this was the beginning of a downward spiral in my mental health. I sometimes had knives held to my throat, and at one point I even had a fractured left hand and bruises on my body. It wasn’t easy to walk away; it was easier to put up and shut up.
When I was 19 my life literally changed overnight. I was 7 months pregnant at the time with my eldest daughter. My ex unsuccessfully tried to take mine and my daughter’s lives in a car crash. I felt like I had to take matters into my own hands. However I found myself being too scared to move on in my life. So instead, I drove in front of a lorry, head on.
I clearly didn’t know what I was thinking at the time. Luck was obviously on our side that day. The only thing that stopped me from driving into the lorry was the driver flashing his headlights, and at that moment I swerved my car to miss it. I was alive, but sick of my life. I didn’t want to die, I just wanted my pain to end. It was more a cry for help.
I felt exhausted in every way and I wanted to leave the world behind, as I thought it was my only way out. From the outside looking in, it would seem that I had it all; a family business, a house and a car. This was maybe the case, but behind closed doors it was a different story. A house it was, but a home it was not. My then-partner never found out about my suicide attempt and so my life went on like Groundhog Day.
After some time, I finally dared to move on. I sold my business and moved house with just me and my eldest daughter. I spoke to the police about my violent past but with my case being historic, they couldn’t really help me as I had no proof. I wanted to help others not to have to go through what I had, so I started work as a Police Volunteer in domestic violence, adult vulnerability and child abuse investigation.
I then met someone else, moved house again, had another child and eventually started married life. I was in the relationship for about four years before we parted ways. My complicated personal life continued. Disastrous toxic relationships followed, but at the same time, without what has happened in my life, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
It’s now 2017, roughly 10 years since I was at the lowest point in my life, and now I’m telling you my story, pleased that I failed my suicide attempt. In just over three years, what have I done with that diagnosis then?
To aid myself to getting on the path to a better life, I decided to teach myself what it was all about. I set up a Facebook page called “Me, Bipolar and I” to help others. Today that page has over 12,000 followers worldwide, is recognised by the International Bipolar Foundation in the USA and is looked at by all sorts of people.
From there I’ve looked for things I can do and be part of. I’ve been involved in TV, scientific research, delivered bipolar disorder classes in recovery colleges and universities, met celebrities and spoken about experiences with them, worked in a mental health hospital, become a member of numerous mental health charities, had my thoughts put in front of Parliament, and even won the Deputy Prime Minister’s Mental Health Hero Award in 2015; I was 1 in 4 to receive it from the North East of England!
I try to be an advocate by speaking out, blogging and campaigning to break the silence. If more people like myself spoke out about mental illness, there would be a lot less stigma and discrimination within society.
I speak for the silent, but together we can be stronger in numbers. When we learn to work together versus against each other, things might start getting better.
After years of being on medication, I have been totally free of them for over 8 months now and find that weight lifting and boxing help me too. I help my new partner and he helps me, as we both have experience of mental health issues.
I don’t let bipolar get in the way of what I want to achieve. It’s not an excuse but an explanation of my behaviour, and just sometimes, having bipolar disorder means waking up not knowing whether Tigger or Eeyore will be making my decisions for me.
It doesn’t rule my world, nor define me, but it fuels my passion and inspires me. To be honest, without my bipolar disorder I don’t think I would be as mentally strong as I am today. I find it a curse at times, but more definitely a blessing, and from it I now have a passion and purpose.
If there’s one thing that you could take away from reading my story, then please try to remember to see the person and not the diagnosis.
Change your fears, change your boundaries, change your limits.
Choose your hobby as your job; to go somewhere, even if you have no idea where the road will take you. Choose to be excited about your next idea, whatever it may be; to move out of your comfort zone.
Choose health and to look after yourself; to help people even when you don’t want to help yourself.
Choose to be the person that you would want to know; to smile at the person who isn’t smiling back at you.
Choose to be different and to stand out; not to be consumed by everything.
Choose your thoughts not to be controlled by society; not to be told what to do.
Choose to be the person who everyone wants to genuinely know; to love the life you live.
Choose experiences over possessions; to never give up.