Before we start, I am fully aware that the correct grammar is ‘bipolar and I’…
but I think grammar has it wrong so I’m sticking with my title. That sorted and said, grab a cuppa and settle down for a chat, this could be a long one.
If you don’t follow me on Instagram, where I share far too much about my life (why aren’t you? Go do it now…) then you won’t know that I have bipolar disorder.
But what does that even mean? Well…
What it doesn’t mean is…
- that I am crazy,
- about to go loco on you all and
- stop functioning around normal people.
It does mean however, that this is a relatively new diagnosis and I am still very much in the defensive zone about it all. Sorry not sorry.
Coming to terms with something like this is going to be tricky I guess despite knowing it in my heart for a good few years, so perhaps this slightly raw emotional state was a bad place to start all the typing. Anyway, here we are and I am doing the typing so c’est la vie hey?
As I write this, I am currently signed off from my day job due to the lack of sufficient medical support in the NHS, long wait times for appointments with scary sounding Consultant Psychiatrists and the havoc-inducing medication prescribed by GPs with little regard for the fact I DON’T HAVE DEPRESSION. It is the go-to response of every GP I’ve spoken to despite the fact I am rarely ever depressed…
It’s safe to say these past few months have been extremely difficult…
and I am going to need a good chat(s) with a medical professional who knows what in hell bipolar is doing to me, a prescription of medication that doesn’t send me over the edge as well as a whole lot of systems to manage life as I know it.
So if you’re reading this through curiosity then here’s a few little facts about bipolar disorder:
What is bipolar disorder?
- Bipolar disorder is a severe mental health condition in which your mood can swing very high, or very low, for weeks or months. Most people alternate between the two at some point.
- Moods can be low with intense depression, high or ‘manic’ with elation, over-activity or anger or a bit of both.
What causes bipolar disorder?
The simple answer is we don’t know for sure but the people studying and researching it think:
- There may be a genetic link (true in my case)
- There may be a physical problem with the brain systems that control mood
- In women, there may be a trigger link following on from childbirth or menopause
Facts about bipolar disorder
- 1-2% of people are categorised as having bipolar disorder and it’s thought that up to 5% of the population in the UK may fall on the bipolar spectrum at times.
- The World Health Organisation identifies bipolar disorder as one of the top causes of lost years of life and health in 15 to 44 year olds.
- On average it takes 10.5 years to receive a diagnosis (based on NHS) and at least 3.5 wrong diagnoses before hand (I can vouch for that!)
- There is no medical test for bipolar disorder – instead you are treated to assessment after assessment…
- Research has not led to a cure for bipolar disorder but there are medications offered that can help you to deal with the highs and lows as well as various therapies such as cognitive behaviourial therapy.
Facts are all well and good though. I know the facts, I’ve read and educated myself until the cows come home. But being someone who lives with bipolar disorder can often defy the facts.
And how it feels?
Well it feels exhausting.
I am, more often than not, the sort of person who is on a high, a bit hyperactive to the outside world, a bit manic to the people who know me.
I liken myself to a high speed train, the kick off is exciting, fast-paced, exhilarating, exciting but there will come a point where it’s going too fast and the train will derail – almost cataclysmically at times. Sometimes that’s characterised by a crashing low, a depression that consumes me with no rhyme or reason but this is really rare for me personally.
Mostly that crash, whilst rare, is just a period of time where I feel completely out of control, detached from reality and from normal every day life. This kind of derailment occasionally opens the door for the inexplicable and often frightening darker thoughts. Sounds a bit menacing? Well, I suppose it is but only for myself so don’t panic 😉
Usually however, I spend my days on a ‘high’ (not in a drugs kinda way…) or elated and during these periods of time, I’m so much more creative, so enthusiastic and often times it feels really good.
A bit like being really super super excited all of the time!
It’s not good though because it’s also during these periods of time that I will spend lots of money I don’t have or do stupid things, start stupid projects, enthuse about causes and charities that mean SO much to me. Try to take on the world.
And then all of a sudden, for no apparent reason, the skies darken, the atmosphere changes, the vision, creativity and colour is blocked and I wonder who in the hell I actually am. What on earth was I doing?!
This kind of mania may make me feel good in the moment but afterwards it makes me question everything I actually think / believe / say. Was that really me or was it just the bipolar talking? Is it even the same thing?
In bigger terms this has in my twenties led to reckless and destructive behaviour that wrecked my marriage, went on to cause significant emotional trauma to myself and loved ones and allowed me to spiral into a pit of self-hatred.
I feel so much shame writing this…
I know with my sensible head on that there is no shame in mental health and that being open and honest both with myself and the wider world is important for many reasons. But I feel ashamed nonetheless. Maybe acknowledging this is also an important thing? IDK.
Admitting that I am exhausted by my rapidly cycling thoughts, my constant need to be doing something, creating something, working on something – it’s exhausting yes but most of all just embarrassing. Just really difficult, really awkward and a bit humiliating.
How do you explain to people who casually ask how you’re feeling that you’re mentally derailing? How do you explain to someone who knows you’re off sick from work but sees you functioning, parenting, shopping, smiling etc – that actually you are seriously unwell and on a knife edge almost permanently? It’s not exactly a 30 second conversation is it? Not to mention it makes people feel seriously uncomfortable.
And so “I’m fine thanks” is almost always my go-to response.
I’m not fine though…
The truth is, that this a really difficult time right now despite the full face of makeup and smiley Fiona staring back at you over Instagram stories.
There’s a lot of work to do both with my mental health team and myself to find some sense and some balance to these cards I’ve been dealt.
I don’t know anyone with bipolar disorder…
bar one lady who reached out to me over Instagram after I mentioned it. And that makes me feel really alone. Really different. Really weird.
I don’t know how this is going to play out, I don’t know what success and failures are ahead and I don’t know how I am going to manage this bipolar that’s got me in a throttling grip just now.
But I know I wanted to share it. To get it out. To be honest and to share my everyday reality. Because sometimes that’s all you can do.
So there we have it, now you know.
This is bipolar and me. And so the story begins…