As someone who is passionate about mental health awareness I decided that I didn’t just want to post about my own experiences with my own mental health. I posted on Facebook to see if anyone on my friends list had experience with bipolar as even though I had worked with people with bipolar, I have no idea what it is like to be inside the mind of someone who has the condition. A few of my friends were good enough to message and I had a long conversation with one who very kindly agreed to let me post about her. I promised to keep her anonymous so for the purpose of this post I am going to refer to her as Annie.
Annie found out she was bipolar after being treated on and off for around fourteen years for depression. Annie’s family sent her for help as they were concerned for her well being and believed that she could need sectioning. Having been at that point myself before, I could completely relate and it amazed me that she had had to wait that long to get a correct diagnosis. Annie explained to me how she would experience highs where she would spend thousands of pounds which resulted in her getting into large amounts of debt. She would experience dips and lows in mood where she wouldn’t be able to see or speak to anyone for days. She would break things and smash her house up. Annie then attempted to take her own life by overdosing five years ago.
I asked Annie how she feels when going into a dip. Being BPD myself, I know how hard it can be and my mood swings are often not as quick changing as that of someone with bipolar. Personally, if I go into a really bad dip where I haven’t slept for days I can hear and see things that aren’t there however I can now spot if this is going to happen. Annie admitted that she struggles on her ‘downers’ herself but her family can recognise it. She said her downers make it difficult or near impossible to get up in a morning and she says that she can’t be bothered to do anything or go anywhere.
Annie has is on a high dose of Quetiapine and has been for around five years. She says that her medication is the only reason that she functions and she doesn’t think she would be here today if it wasn’t for her medication. Annie really believes she would lose everything, including her family without the medication.
With bipolar, downers are only one end of the scale. Periods of elated mood can cause as much trouble for sufferers. Annie told me that her behaviour can become reckless during one of her ‘uppers’. She explained to me how it’s really bad being on a high because you feel as if you can do no wrong. She has taken off in the car before and had no idea where she is going. Annie says she has never taken drugs but her periods of elation make her feel as if she is high on drugs. She can’t stop talking or sit still and says she will suggest things to do with her family and will get annoyed when they try and stop her even if the things suggested are erratic. Annie spends more time down than up and says she doesn’t know when her moods switch unlike myself with BPD. She explained that it feels as if the mood changes are gradual but then all of a sudden it hits her.
I am a passionate believer that mental health as a whole has been glamourised by social media. I feel anxiety and depression are the main two that people claim to have despite the fact they have not been diagnosed. During my service at HMP, I would hear prisoners often blame their behaviour on personality disorders and I do believe that although some appeared and were genuine, a lot of the time it was a get out clause to avoid repercussions for disruptive and anti social behaviour. Anxiety and depression can be faked so easily because of how social media portrays them. Annie agreed with me on this but says that bipolar is so much harder to fake due to its visual signs. She tells me how it’s not something she would ever want to fame because it is such a horrible condition. She did agree that diagnosis is much harder to get because how many people claim mental health. Annie was closely monitored by doctors, had to have Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, both her family and herself had to keep diaries of her moods and she saw a psychiatrist. Bipolar is hereditary so anyone that is going through this should bare it in mind when getting a diagnosis as if there is a family history, it could lead to the diagnosis being much quicker.
I wondered if having bipolar was as easy for Annie to talk about as I find talking about anxiety and BPD is for me. At the start I found it incredibly difficult because I feared the stigma attached to them and also the accidental ignorance of people not being able to understand. I found by being honest about my condition I have been accepted and people have been able to help me should the need arise. Annie told me that she finds it easier now to talk about her bipolar than she did when she was first diagnosed as at first she wouldn’t tell anybody. She says that some reactions are better than others and some people will just say ‘well you look normal to me’. (Don’t we all fucking hate that?!) Annie also said she thinks its harder for men to talk about than women.
I really enjoyed speaking to Annie, her ability to open up to me and trust that I would keep her anonymous was inspiring. Meeting someone who can suffer so badly and remain positive is amazing. She told me how she now looks at it like this:
I feel okay most of the time so it was good for me to be diagnosed and treated.
I can advise people on conditions that I have a good knowledge on, even if it is only to a certain extent, or a personal experience but I’m not bipolar and I’m not living with a bipolar mind. I asked Annie what advice she would give to people and I have written her response exactly as she said it:
I’d advise anyone who thinks they have it to get the help you need and do everything the psychiatrist tells you to do. As for the families – humour the sufferer to some extent. Don’t tell sufferers to get a grip and sort themselves out. Support them all you can because they need it. Try and think of triggers, my one trigger is I couldn’t go into places such as supermarkets, pubs etc. My parents had to come with me. Get families to watch you carefully if you’re having a high cause highs are more dangerous than lows because you don’t think you’re doing anything wrong and can be erratic.
I really hope this post can give insight into bipolar and I hope that it helps people that are suffering or think they could be suffering. As Annie says, if you think this sounds like you then go to the doctor. There is no shame in mental health.