When Speaking About Mental Health, Language Matters

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Why does language matter? What is the difference between describing someone as ‘Is Bipolar’ or ‘Has Bipolar’?

Firstly, language is a powerful tool of expression. We tell stories with language and these stories conjure up images and ideas in the listener. We can impact the way people think or perceive the world around them with the language we use. Language can change people’s opinions of others and more importantly when it comes to mental health, themselves.

When we say someone ‘is’ their mental health diagnosis people immediately jump to their preconceived notion of the illness. They see what their experience of it is; what they have heard and seen in the media. It causes us to stereotype without really realising that’s what we’re doing. When someone says to me I ‘am’ bipolar it makes me feel that this diagnosis defines me. That my personality and the essence of what makes me who I am has been dwindled down to a mental illness. All that I am is bipolar, and this is all anyone ever sees. It impacts my self esteem in a significant way. It is limiting and dehumanising. It takes away our individuality to be spoken about in this way. Although I believe labels are important and a tool to receive treatment and provides answers to behaviours, being seen as just a label can be damaging.

When you say that someone ‘has’ a mental illness it has a completely different impact. I feel like I can be seen as a person and individual. It shows to me that the person understands mental illness and how it affects me. They understand that I might be struggling and need support.

There is still a huge discrepency between how we use language for physical and mental illness. Whereas physical illness sufferers are seen as fighters, those with mental illnesses are seen as weak. If you have a physical illness you’re often seen as blameless, it’s ‘just one of those things.’ With mental illness you’re seen as a failure and ‘you could be doing more to help yourself.’ Mental illnesses are biological, we have a genetic susceptibility and they are often coupled with environmental factors. It isn’t a weakness or failure on our part, but the misuse of language continues to contribute to the stigma.

It’s important that we use language delicately and with care when discussing mental illness. Think about how much impact your words have and how they can shape a person’s self worth.

 

I Gave Up Alcohol For My Mental Health

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My last psychiatry appointment was a tough one – I was told with certainty that I should, no, needed to give up alcohol. My response was a hopeful one, surely half a bottle of wine on a Saturday night was alright? The answer was a definitive no, even that amount of alcohol was far too much. We agreed that I should go sober, and I agreed reticently. I left feeling dejected, grumpy and silently cursing my psychiatrist. Although I felt fed up, I had known before my appointment that this change needed to happen.

Why go sober? 

My psychiatrist explained that alcohol reduces the effectiveness of many medications. Alcohol is a depressant, and pretty much cancels out the work my mental health medication does. In other words, I might as well not bother taking my medication every time I drink. If I have three days in a row of drinking, then that’s three days without medication. For me that can cause the beginning of withdrawal symptoms, that feel like having the flu. Or, more seriously, it can cause a bipolar episode of severe depression or mania.

The mental and physical effects

After a heavy weekend, or a number of days in a row of a ‘few’ drinks in the evening to help me unwind and relax I start feeling the negative effects of alcohol. I’ve noticed a correlation between heavy drinking and heart palpitations, that often leads to a full blown panic attack. Panic attacks are a debilitating and exhausting experience, and I’ll feel drained for days afterwards. Another experience I’ve had after drinking is psychosis. Earlier this year I drank heavily over my birthday weekend and at the end of it began to hear voices. I wrote about the experience in this post, My Hearing Voices Journal Alcohol free, I wouldn’t have gone through these experiences, and would have stayed mentally well and stable.

How I did it

I literally just stopped! Seriously though, it’s been tough, especially on nights out and at family celebrations. I’ve been drinking since I was fourteen, so to just suddenly go completely sober was a massive challenge. I was open about it with everyone, and my partner, family and friends have all been extremely supportive. I reached out to the twitter community and was given heaps of advice and tips on non alcoholic drinks so I wouldn’t feel like I was missing out on nights out. Soda and lime cordial has been my saviour when I’m out at a bar, along with flavoured sparkling water when I’m having a night in. It’s taken a terrific amount of self determination and will power, but I knew it was something I had to do for my mental health.

How I’m feeling now

Two months later and I feel fantastic! I’m clear headed, have more energy and haven’t had any palpitations or panic attacks. I’ve been stable and haven’t experienced psychosis or any depressive or manic episodes. I feel physically healthier and I’ve lost weight. I know my medications are working as they should be now, and that’s given me the impetus to stay sober.

I may have left my psychiatric appointment with a feeling of dread and wondering how the hell I was going to go sober, but I’m so glad I stuck with my decision.

The Journey To A Bipolar Diagnosis

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Today is world bipolar day, a day to raise awareness of this complex and long term mental health condition. Here’s a few facts about bipolar disorder;

  • More than 1 million people in the UK have bipolar.
  • It can take on average 10.5 years to receive a correct diagnosis.
  • People with bipolar are misdiagnosed on average 3.5 times.

Just think about that. Think about 10 years of your life or more not understanding your own behaviours. Believing there is something intrinsically flawed with you. Living constantly trapped in a cycle of extreme moods. Months of euphoria and elation, where you rarely sleep and hardly eat. But during those months that euphoric feeling is replaced with something ugly and vicious, an intense anger you can’t satiate. You begin to experience delusions that puts yourself and others in danger.

Think about experiencing a crash where you’re left physically and emotionally drained, that ultimately leads to a severe depression. The depression won’t lift no matter what you try. You can’t do anything but sleep and lie on the sofa staring blankly at the wall. You have changed so utterly and completely  it bewilders friends and family. Some of them distance themselves from you, unable to deal with the duality of your moods. Suicide begins to feel like the only option left and you start to make plans.

Suddenly, you feel stable but, living in fear that the cycle will begin again at any moment. Living in fear that you’ll be alone forever as relationships break down. Living in denial over the psychosis you’ve experienced, though of course you don’t label it as that out of fear.

I first became ill at 14, and wasn’t diagnosed until I was 26. I spent 12 years living with a condition I didn’t know I had. I felt I’d missed out on so much from being constantly unwell. I was incredibly angry when I was diagnosed. Not because of the actual diagnosis, but because it had taken so long to get the help I had desperately needed.

I had been misdiagnosed so many times I’ve lost count. GP appointments always went the same way; you’re depressed, here’s a prescription, here’s a sick note for work and come back in 2 weeks if you’re not feeling any better. There was no dialogue between us about why I was depressed. Why did I keep coming back? Why was it always every 2 -3 months that I found myself depressed again? If just one doctor over those years had taken the time to ask one simple question,

“Do you ever feel elated and full of energy for long periods of time?”

I would have answered yes! That’s all it would’ve taken to start a new conversation. That’s what eventually happened when I was 26, and I will always be grateful to that GP who took the time to look at my (extensive) notes and question why I kept being mentally unwell. That maybe there was something else hidden beneath the surface of depression I was displaying.

Those of us with a diagnosis of bipolar have been through a long, difficult journey, much of it spent feeling alone and confused. Take some time to listen to our stories and learn more about this mental illness.

Guest Post: How I Became an Alcoholic at 14 – by Charlotte Underwood

In this guest blog, Charlotte describes her experiences of alcoholism as a young person and how there is hope and a way to overcome.

When you think about an alcoholic, many may think of an adult who is either out partying every night or drinking home alone after work and passing out on the sofa.
This is just not the case, this is just a stigmatised version the media portrays, I know this because I was an alcoholic for a year, except I was only 14 years old, barely out of childhood.

I am not sure of the exact cause of why I started, it was a long time ago but I believe I had a lot of pent up anger that I did not know how to let out, I was not informed of mental health so I did not understand why I was so different to everyone I met. Unfortunately, I also found that people preferred me when I was this confident, reckless teen and at that time, as I was bullied and unpopular, I would do anything to keep that attention.
It started off with just one sip of a cheap alco-pop that my older friend had given us when we went around his house, it tasted like pop but it gave me this little buzz and I couldn’t forget that, I remember that day because I walked home red faced and bumped into my crush, who found it hilarious!

I started to sneak into the fridge to steal my mother’s white wine, which was of very high percent! I would also steal her disaronao and then water it down, thinking she wouldn’t notice, though she actually did months later! Cheap larger was also a poison of choice, as my father would often buy a bunch for my brother who at this point was 17 and into the party scene. If all failed and there was nothing in the house, I would manipulate and persuade my older friends to steal from their parents or buy me, just so I wouldn’t go a day without that buzz, I would do anything.

No one really knew what was going on, I kept it pretty quiet, my friends just thought I drank a few times a month and my parents had no idea to start, yet there was not a day that went by that year where I did not drink, even if I was at school, I was hooked, I loved that floating feeling.

At one point, I invited all my friends over, I wanted to get wasted because I was trying to get an ex back and I needed the confidence, so we manage to sneak past my parents and get a £100 worth of booze into my room, as we had a gig to go to later, in a rush we hid it in my cupboard before we went, I was too drunk at this point to think straight. This mistake lead to my parents finding it, I do not know to this day why my mother was going through my room but she did find my stash and my parents were mad, not at my drinking but at my lying and lack of care for myself, that I was not safe; from this day I was forced to go cold turkey.

I still drank occasionally after this, I was just a teenager, not binge drinking but I was known to over drink when I was stressed or if a partner wanted to be intimate, as I was a victim of abuse, assault and rape, which I felt was my problem because ‘it was my duty’ to please my partner, which I could only do drunk. It is sad that I was no taught about mental health and the right to my own body at this age because I let my own self endure painful experiences due to feeling like I just needed to be quiet and take it, to avoid drama, it’s so important to remember you owe nothing to anyone.

But there is an upside, a fairy tale ending to this bitter story! I am now married and I live in my house with my dog and a cat (who loves my husband more than me), I do not work due to mental health but I do write often and spend a lot of time working on myself, so I am in a much better place, I am due to start therapy very soon.

I have not binge drank in a very long time, not since I met my husband, that is nearly 3 years. If I drink now I will barely finish a glass because frankly I just don’t like the taste of alcohol anymore. What helped me out of this was firstly removing myself from toxic people and situations but also due to being respected by my husband, he does not force me into anything and loves me for me, so I am nothing other than my true self nowadays. It is also worth mentioning how much talking about my mental health and writing about is has helped as I have learnt more about myself and how to manage my pain, as well as making peace with my past, it no longer defines me.

Alcoholism is a serious issue and it is very damaging to our body’s, sometimes causing long term damage both mentally and physically but I have found, most of the time, there is always a route cause and a reason for a person to drink heavily. There is such a bad stigma attached to people who drink, like teens and the homeless but we need to ask ourselves why they do it and find ways to help them, understanding saved me and maybe It can save others.

How I Learnt to Deal With Nighttime Panic Attacks

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I wake up with an intense nausea that floods my system. Running to the bathroom I’m convinced I’m going to be sick, but I’m not. Then comes the pain. It stabs at my chest and upper back to the point I can hardly breathe. I went to bed feeling relaxed and contented, but now I’m pacing the house, my heart pounding terrified I’m having a heart attack. The reality of panic attacks is the physical pain that cuts through you in great swathes. Having a panic attack at nighttime is very different to having one during the day. At night everything feels more intense, the atmosphere changes to one that is ethereal and other worldly. People that you count on to talk you through the experience are asleep and unavailable. You feel alone and desperate and not sure if you can get through the night. I’ve learnt some techniques to help me cope over the years, that have quelled the panic attack before it becomes too difficult to manage.

Thinking Logically

I know this is a panic attack. I know it’s painful but it won’t kill me. Twice I have been taken to hospital by ambulance because of the unrelenting pain I was in. Twice I’ve spent hours having multiple tests to find what was wrong, for everything to come back clear. What I know now is that although I have found myself in a great deal of pain, it won’t turn into anything sinister. I will talk myself through the situation by repeatedly telling myself this. I have to say it with conviction, to convince myself it will be okay.

Getting Out of Bed

Lying in the dark in bed during a panic attack is the worst possible thing I could do. The pain is all the more intense as I lie there, with nothing else to distract my mind. All the worst scenarios run through my head and all I achieve is making myself more and more anxious. I force myself to get up, go into another room and turn the light on. I force myself to have a drink of water and to do something, anything, rather than staying in bed worrying.

Therapy

I had CBT (Cognitive behavioural therapy) to manage my panic attacks, and to understand why I was having them so frequently. Therapy helped me to realise that I wasn’t dealing with stressors in my life, and that my worries and anxieties were manifesting as panic attacks. I learnt to face what was causing me stress in a situation and to deal with it there and then. Panic attacks for me often occurred after a stressful event. Once my body and mind were relaxed again, like going to bed on a Friday night after a difficult week, I would wake up in the middle of the night with a panic attack. It became vital to realise when I was going through a stressful time, so when that stress had disappeared I wouldn’t end up having yet another nighttime panic attack. I was taught breathing techniques to calm myself, which I still use today

Distraction

If thinking logically doesn’t work on its own and I’m up and out of bed, I’ll try and distract my mind. It might be watching a favourite tv show, something light and entertaining that I’ve seen before. I might sketch or get out a colouring book, that keeps my hands busy and forces me to focus. I love to play video games so I might turn on the console and try and figure out that Zelda puzzle that’s been bugging me. If I occupy my mind effectively and for long enough, I won’t even realise the pain and panic has gone.

Using these techniques has cut down the amount of nighttime panic attacks I have drastically; I haven’t had a serious one in a year and a half. What I’ve leant in therapy often preempts an attack completely. Changing the way I manage stressful situations and work through them has had a significant positive impact on my life.

The Mania Hangover

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The Best Feeling Ever!

When I’m in the grips of mania, I love Bipolar. The euphoria I feel is like no other drug. The feeling is addictive and I never want it to end. The mania is unbelievably epic, like I’m living in a blockbuster movie and I’m the star. The whole universe revolves around me. Continually going through my head are thoughts that instil an enormous, gratifying confidence: ‘I’m the best at everything!’ ‘I can do anything, be anyone!’ ‘Nothing can touch me. I’m invincible!’ It’s a feeling like no other and yes, when it ends I do miss it. Because of course, like any good thing, it has to end. I talk more about mania in this post Mania is…

Here Comes The Hangover

What I hate about Bipolar, above anything else, is what I call my mania hangover. First of all, I realise I’ve spent far too much. Imagine having a big weekend when you’re suddenly buying everyone shots, but that weekend stretches on for months. Or that clothes and shoes binge you’re on when you spend an evening sat in your pyjamas on the internet, but imagine it lasting weeks. I’ve found myself in crippling debt more than once, the first time meaning I had to move back home with my parents. I felt terribly embarrassed and an absolute failure for having to go back to live with mum and dad. Luckily I had that option.

Next, the realisation of my actions set in. I start to see with clarity and I realise I’ve done things that I’ll regret for years to come. I cheated on my ex, whilst I was away traveling in Japan. When I was feeling stable again the memory rushed toward me and I felt dizzy and sick over what I had done. It was completely out of character, and I was remembering it through a haze, as if I had been drunk. I see how much stress I put family and friends through with my unpredictable, sometimes rageful emotions. I’ve made family and friends cry with vicious words that cut them to pieces. I’ve done so many embarrassing, ugly things I regret over the years I can’t fit them into one blog post.

From constantly being full of energy and unable to sleep, now I’ve become emotionally and physically exhausted. I’ve been running on empty for weeks and not even noticed. All I want to do is to become a hermit, hide from the world in bed and eat junk food.

Hello Depression

Then, inevitably depression sets in. I hate the depression, and it’s usually part of the whole mania hangover. The juxtaposition between the mania and depression is ridiculous. I’ve heard the description of ‘it’s like living on a rollercoaster’ but it’s too simplistic a description. Rollercoasters for me are fun, and the lows of acute depression are far from fairground ride fun and games. Depression, just like mania, takes complete hold of you, and won’t let go. I can no longer function like the average person. I stop going outside, I have to force myself to shower and brush my teeth. Everything is an unbelievable effort.

My Hangover Cures

Ultimately, I would not want to be manic in the first place! To do this I check The Warning Signs of a Manic Episode that I have identified over the years. Even though at times it can be a tempting prospect to go back to that feeling of constant elation, it’s not worth the adverse effects. Taking my medication is the surest way to stop this from happening. If I do find myself with a mania hangover, I take the time to look after myself. I’ll take some time away from work and socialising. I’ll keep an eye on my mood and check for the warning signs of depression.

Childhood Grief

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I met Vicky when we were in Reception class, at just four years old. I remember walking up to her and saying innocently,

“Do you want to be my friend?” We became inseparable. We did everything together in and out of school. I was the tomboy who hated wearing dresses and pulled ugly faces in photos. Vicky was bubbly, full of fun and the one always in pretty dresses. We lived a five minute walk away from each other so we were always at one another’s house, playing after school or having sleepovers at the weekends. People say that we have the same laugh, we spent so much time together growing up.

Our Mum’s became close friends. Vicky’s Mum, Tracy, I instantly liked. She was lively and loud, and had a thick Geordie accent. It became our little tradition that I would have dinner with them every Tuesday. The ice cream van always came down their road, and Tracy would always treat us to a fab lolly. I was mischievous as a child, and was always pushing Vicky to do things we weren’t allowed to do. We would jump on the bed together singing along to our favourite music. Tracy would charge into the room and shout,

“Stop bloody jumping on the bed you two!” Every time she told me off I could see a twinkle in her eye that she didn’t really mind, and secretly loved seeing her daughter and best friend having fun. I felt I could talk to Tracy and would tell her about what was worrying me and I trusted her advice. I began to see her as my second Mum, someone who loved and cared about me. She was ambitious, and began a University course, which showed me it was never too late to better yourself.

When Vicky and I were Ten years old, Tracy suddenly collapsed one evening at home. They couldn’t wake her up and she was rushed to hospital. There, Vicky, her Dad and younger brother were told that she had had a brain aneurysm. She had been put on a ventilator, but they were told she would never wake up. She was only thirty eight. My Mum didn’t want me to see her in the hospital, but to think of her how she was. I remember my Mum coming home from the hospital in tears and telling me it was like she was just sleeping. Neither Vicky or I had lost anyone before. It felt impossible to get my head around that I would never see Tracy again and that Vicky didn’t have a Mum anymore. As I get older, I’m now in my early thirties, I realise just how young thirty eight is. She still had so much life to live and it’s so cruel that is was cut short in that way.

The funeral was gut wrenching. The room was full and we were all fighting back tears or sobbing. Everyone was in a state of shock and disbelief. It took place a week after Tracy had died, and I hadn’t seen Vicky until before it happened. I sat in tears, watching her cry, wanting to run up to her and hug her tightly and never let go. At the wake I went up to her and asked her if she was ok, not knowing what else to say. Her response was simply,

“I’m fine.” She ran off to play with her cousins. I was so confused. She was running around the garden and laughing. I went to my parents and told them what had happened. They told me Vicky was dealing with it in her own way and wasn’t ready to let go of her Mum and grieve yet.

In the following months we dealt with our grief in very different ways. Vicky wouldn’t talk about it to me for months, whereas all I wanted to do was talk. She became quiet and withdrawn. I felt like I was losing my best friend, but knew I had to stand by her. We walked home from school together everyday and on one afternoon, out of the blue, she started talking to me about her Mum. She told me how angry she was and how it was the doctors fault. Tracy had had heart palpitations in the weeks before and Vicky was convinced the doctor should have seen something else was wrong. I knew, as my Mum had told me, there would have been nothing for a doctor to find until it happened, but I couldn’t tell Vicky that. All I could do was listen and let her vent.

Grief made us grow up. We weren’t innocent ten year olds any longer. But it made our bond grow stronger. We realised that grief wasn’t a short term emotion, but that it lingered and caught you out when you weren’t expecting it. Vicky became quieter, but her bubbly side would surface every now and again. She tended to bottle up how she was feeling and only express herself to me when she was deeply upset. I became fiercely protective of Vicky, and when she was bullied in secondary school for ‘not being sad enough about her Mum’ I would lash out.

Vicky and I are still best friends, so that’s twenty seven years of friendship. As much as I have been there for her, she has supported me just as much through my mental health problems. I still think about Tracy all the time. To lose someone so close to you at such a young age you never really get over. In my own way I still celebrate her life by telling people about her. About her big, bold personality and caring nature. I’ll never forget.

 

 

My Hearing Voices Journal

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Last week I had an episode of psychosis, where I suffered from auditory hallucinations, or hearing sounds and voices. To help me through it, I journalled the experience in a notebook. Some parts are written during the episode, and some are written directly afterwards. It helped me make sense of what I was hearing and to ground me in reality and to help me deal with the shock when it had stopped.

“I think I’ve found the worst combination ever of physical and mental illness. Migraine, room spinning and doubting my sanity as I hear voices whilst sat in bed. I’m feeling very vulnerable and scared. I’ve felt physically ill all day today. We went out for a meal with friends but had to cut it short because I thought I was going to pass out or fall over from being so dizzy. This week has been an emotional rollercoaster with my moods all over the place. I’ve been ecstatically happy and hyperactive, busy working away on new projects. In a startling contrast I’ve felt hopeless, useless and deeply lost.

Now I’m home, and sat in bed. The noises have started. I can hear creaking. It sounds like it’s coming from the bed, but I’m not moving. It won’t stop. I’ve turned on my laptop and found the easiest, light hearted programme I can find, Friends. It reminds me of my childhood, before the voices started. I remember when it was first aired on a Friday night and I was allowed to stay up and watch it. If I can focus on this maybe the voices will leave me alone.

It isn’t working. Now the creaking has turned into banging on the bedroom window. The banging is urgent, fast and incredibly loud as if a fist is pounding on the window. The blinds are closed and I’m paranoid now that the banging is real and someone is playing a joke on me. Should I get up and check? I really should. I’ve been to open the blinds and there was nothing there. It’s windy outside, and all I could see were the bushes and trees swaying. The unpredictable and forcible wind today is mirroring my state of mind. The banging is making me really uncomfortable. I’ll turn the volume up on the laptop to try and drown out the noise. It’s not working, Fuck. What is my mind trying to tell me? How can I rationalise this or tell it to stop?

It’s suddenly stopped, thank fuck for that. I can breathe again. The cat has leapt up on the bed and has curled up next to me. It’s like she knows something is wrong. Stroking her and listening to her gentle purr is calming me down. I’ve just realised it’s getting dark outside and I’m sitting in the bedroom with no lights on. But I don’t want to get up because right now sitting here I’m not hearing anything scary or confusing. I don’t want to jinx it.

Now it’s dark and I’m still sitting in the bedroom, still too afraid to get up and turn the lights on. I can hear footsteps coming into the room, it must be my husband. I hear the bed creak as he sits down on it next to me. He says to me “Do you want any carrots? I think we need some more carrots for next week.” I’m confused. Why is he talking about carrots? I respond, “Yeah ok, I’ll put carrots on the shopping list next week.” I hear him get up and walk out the room. I’m not sure if that conversation was real. It was weird and random and now I feel really muddled and confused. I’ve turned the light on now so I could write this down.

Oh yay, hear comes the shouting. I close my eyes and try and focus my mind. All I can hear is “Fuck! Fuck!” “Get the fuck out!” Can’t take this anymore. I’m getting up. I realise I’m trembling and I feel as if I’ve been shaken roughly by someone much stronger than me. I sit down next to my husband on the sofa. I ask him, “Did you come in the bedroom earlier?” He replies “No, I’ve been in here the whole time, why?” I can’t be bothered to explain what’s been happening. I’m still feeling overwhelmed by voices. I’m asking him about his game. He’s playing Elite. I love how passionate he is about this game and the idea of space travel. I make myself listen to him intently, and the shouting starts to fade.

The problem with hearing voices is the paranoia afterwards. Is that banging from outside or in my head? Is that whispering in the background of the tv show I’m watching or in my mind? Unknown noises set my teeth on edge. I’m jumpy, full of panic with the fear it will start again.

At least I’m talking about it.”

Still More To Do To Tackle Mental Health Stigma

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For mental illness sufferers, an underfunded NHS, discrimination against benefit claimants and a negative tone from the media is still creating a society that misunderstand and stigmatise.

A lack of funding for mental health and parity of esteem in the NHS reinforces the view that mental illnesses aren’t as important or as serious as physical ailments. It gives the impression that there is a quick fix, with a few sessions of therapy and some medication it will disappear the problem. Many people wait months, even years, to see a therapist with the NHS. The dreadful reality is that for some it comes too late. For complex conditions, the right medication or combination doesn’t always work the first time. It can take patience to find the right medication.

The High Court ruling that changes to PIP (Personal Independence Payments) were ‘blatantly discriminatory’ against people with mental health problems proves the Government aren’t committing to their pledge to end stigma and discrimination. PIP is a benefit for those with disabilities, and that includes mental illness. Anyone with disabilities can apply, if they’re in employment or not. It’s designed to cover the extra costs that come with having a disability. A person applying may not be able to cook a meal for themselves for instance, and need someone to do this for them. People with mental illness often find leaving the house to be an insurmountable task and need support to do so. This is the aspect of PIP (the mobility section) that the government decided to change last year. People who were unable to travel independently on the grounds of psychological distress were not entitled to the enhanced mobility rate of the benefit.

The almost constant barrage of negative views in the media against benefit claimants strengthens public opinion that those with long term, severe mental illnesses are in fact lazy work dodgers. Dare to go on a message board on any well known news website and the vitriol against those with mental illness is clear to see. People proclaim, “There were never this many people with mental health problems when I was young!” To that, there has been a rise in people seeking out help and support in recent years. The ‘chin up’ and ‘keep going no matter what’ British attitude has kept people silent and unwilling to find help for decades. This attitude has ruined and cost lives that could have been saved. Severe mental illnesses such as Bipolar Disorder, are not as common as people believe. Only 2% of the UK population have been diagnosed.

Much of the ‘awareness raising’ centres around depression and anxiety. It’s time to move forward and introduce the general public to illnesses that are extremely damaging and life changing. Personality disorders, Bipolar, Psychosis, Schizophrenia, and PTSD deserve more positive attention. For many people, as soon as the term ‘mental health’ is brought up, what comes to mind is depression and anxiety. In no way am I trying to say that depression and anxiety aren’t important, they can be crippling and severe. The problem here is that so much emphasis is put on these conditions, but we must be speaking up about all mental health issues. There are conditions out there that are seen as less palatable and not as relatable. The general public can relate to depression and anxiety as they are more common and chances are, they themselves or someone they’re close to has suffered from these conditions. It’s easy to forget about a disorder when you have no real life experience of it. These less talked about conditions are also more stigmatised. With a personality disorder you’re seen as manipulative and attention seeking, with psychosis you’re seen as crazy and could snap and murder someone at any moment. Continuing to not pay these conditions any attention leaves sufferers feeling incredibly isolated and alone. We need to raise awareness of all conditions under the mental illness umbrella. Ignoring conditions because the conversation is harder to start will only further alienate sufferers. Allow people to share their story. Their experiences are valid and important.

For someone that struggles daily with a debilitating mental illness, it can feel overwhelming to be faced with such adversity. To deal with a severe illness and to know that there is blatant discrimination embedded into society is exhausting and infuriating. It takes a great deal of strength to keep going everyday knowing this. Having a mental illness, being aware of this and speaking out doesn’t equal weakness, in fact it shows how strong you are.

Relationships and Bipolar

 

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Relationships are difficult for everyone, but they can be even tougher when you have a mental illness. Each relationship I had before my diagnosis of bipolar suffered as partners found it difficult to be around me; they never knew which Katie they were going to be greeted with.

I didn’t have a serious relationship until I was twenty. I met someone on a night out and we instantly clicked. At first it was fun and we both looked forward to seeing one another. We went out for meals and nights out dancing together. We went on trips away to places like the Cotswolds. We were happy, but it didn’t last. She told me she could no longer cope with my unpredictable moods. She had enjoyed spending time with me she said, and could look past the bursts of anger and paranoia I had often displayed. But that now I had changed. I was no longer fun to be around and it was bringing her down. She had wanted an easy going relationship, but had realised now that I was too intense, too high maintenance.

I quickly found another partner, and we formed a bond online. It was a long distance relationship, with her in Manchester and me in Reading. We made it work and I admired her sense of humour and vibrant personality. Suddenly though, to me, she expressed an exasperation over my constant talking, my fits of rage, and my lack of concentration or planning that was needed to see her. My inability to listen to her concerns about my behaviour didn’t help, and she felt it was best to just be friends.

After two failed relationships in a row, that both ended because of my behaviour, I began to see my personality as flawed. I felt I was doomed to short term relationships, that sputtered out when they realised just how difficult I was to be around.

Then I met Jimi. We met online, then chatting occasionally on the phone when we decided to meet in person. We ended up having two dates in one day.  We bonded over our love of all things nerdy, and our similar tastes in music and literature. Our personalities were very different, but it worked. He was a calming influence on me and taught me to be more patient. I taught him to have more confidence in himself and to be less socially awkward. He has stuck by me through some of the most difficult times in my life. When I had a breakdown and had to leave my dream job. When I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. When I’ve been manic and unpredictable and angry. When I’ve been suicidal. He has taken it all in his stride and remained his compassionate, caring self.

We’ve now been together for eight and a half years and two and a half years ago we married. My Dad summed him up in his speech when he called Jimi “a true gentle man.”  I’m proud to say he his my husband.

It is possible to have a healthy, long term relationship with someone when you have a mental illness. I am proof of that. It’s not easy, but never settle for someone that doesn’t understand your illness. You deserve to be loved and cared for.