Be Real with Bipolar
When I first started speaking and writing about mental health, I promised myself to always be real. With good health and confidence it is fantastically easy but the challenge has been when the ill health sets in. How can one positively impact the world of mental health when their mind oozes negativity and any thought or movement is like wading through tar? The difficulty is obvious and the symptoms expected.
So no surprises that depression is haunting my days once again.
I’ve been in hiding. Done a disappearing act. Poof. Gone. No blogging. No writing. For nearly five weeks I’ve fallen off the radar.
Every time this happens I am knocked back. The invasive thoughts of ‘you were doing so well’, ‘you seemed fine’, ‘you should be stronger than this’ flood my brain. After seven years, every time I hit a bout of depression, it feels as powerful as the first. This is often a misconception by those who haven’t experienced the illness repeatedly. Yes, I do learn from each episode and yes, I do get better at spotting the signs and the symptoms but when depression gains momentum and takes over, every shred of sadness and loneliness hits just as hard. We must all remember that feelings are real and immediate and the memory of a past time might rationalise those feelings but not remove them. If someone breaks their leg twice is the second time less painful? If someone sadly loses two close ones, is the second bereavement any easier?
I have struggled with my mental health since February resulting in an inpatient hospital admittance in a local psychiatric unit. I kept writing throughout and afterwards, went away on a lovely respite break. The escape from life and its day to day stresses was vital to my recovery. Nagging thoughts of my return to England sat in my stomach but I laughed, smiled and felt more like my usual self than I had felt in a long time.
So this leads me and I’m sure every reader to the question
‘if you can get through all of that, go away and feel enjoyment and motivation to get up and be involved in life, how could you have slipped back into depression?’
I have learnt that in mental illness, triggers can be identified but some things are impossible to explain.
Knowing myself (as we are our own experts), I think the freedom of being in a different environment stifled the memories of my recent crisis. The perception of my home and local environment changed from a ‘safe’ place to a place of manic aggression, irritability, risk taking, alcohol-fuelled escapism, arguments, upset, fear and sobbing to mental health helplines and crisis teams. However, being transported overnight to the beauty of the shimmering sea and the glorious sunshine (with no hospital walls) lifted my mood, giving me strength and hope.
The crucial factor for me was I had no stress. Nothing to think about, worry or do. Sounds like a privilege doesn’t it? For my health it was a necessity to survive. And give my brain a break from the negative thought cycle that had been pulling me under.
However, my positive attitude dwindled on my return and the trauma of recent events once again, flooded my head. My professional support was lacking and I struggled to cope. I stopped going out. I stared at the TV. I didn’t want to see friends and my body was so, so tired. I spotted the signs of depression but convinced myself that I just needed time to settle back home. Over five weeks I worsened to forgetting to eat and hiding in bed, desperately trying to block out those dark thoughts.
I have worked hard at everything in my life from school to University to my career reaching a Senior Management role in a Branding and Design Agency. Post bipolar diagnosis I felt passionate and driven to raise awareness in mental health and instil hope. In true character, I have applied my determination to learning about my illness to understand how I can help myself to stay well. It is therefore difficult not to feel a failure when the tried and tested doesn’t always work.
I can write a daily to do list, set my alarm to get up, remind myself to eat regularly and keep in contact with friends but all of this feels impossible if your entire being is pulling against you. In order to get up each day you need motivation, the ability to feel things, enjoyment, self-belief and have confidence or else nothing works. One action feeds the other but the term ‘swimming against the tide’ seems to fit. Nothing changes whilst you lie in bed but whilst your brain and body scream out for peace, it can feel the only option.
I can say on a positive note that I think the cloud is starting to lift. I have a fantastic new community psychiatric nurse and I am now completing daily mood monitoring charts. I have been given small, measurable tasks which may be laughable to most but are achievable to me. Over time I have confidence my mental and physical state will continue to get better and I’ll recover to be the charismatic, passionate and dedicated girl I know hides within.
I am not alone. Ruby Wax and Stephen Fry are renowned for removing themselves from the public eye when they sink into depression. In fact, it’s pretty normal for those diagnosed with bipolar to do so.
I felt the need to tell my brother last night that I will always do what I can, when I can but he stopped me from speaking. He said “you never need to reassure me, you’re my sister and that’s it.”
There are people in this life who really accept mental illness, without pressure, judgement and comparison. My younger brother is one of them and I’m proud of him. It is attitudes such as his that help to keep those struggling feel safe and well. I hope this article makes people think differently about bipolar depression and just how easy it is for an episode to be triggered. We’re not weak minded and our coping ability is different to yours. When we become unable to cope with our day to day life, please be patient. We’ll get there soon.
Let’s be aware, not compare and try to be there to support.
First port of call is speaking to your GP and don’t be afraid to ask for talking therapy. For more information use the following websites – there is lots of support out there I promise!
Here is a fantastic carers package if you are supporting someone with mental health problems:
http://www.youngminds.org.uk/ – For young people with parent helpline.
The Samaritans are a non-judgemental ear where you can talk confidentially about anything