As an adult before my diagnosis, my life was cyclical, but I never understood why. My entire life was ruled by my moods, as they jutted and churned, spiking incredibly high and terrifyingly low. Every two to three months, I became horribly ill and then I would have to take time off work. Before the illness would kick in it would be preceded by a bout of elevated mood. I wouldn’t have stopped for weeks. I would feel utterly exhausted and just want to sleep all the time. Sometimes I would catch a virus; I was and still am particularly susceptible to inner ear infections, that are often linked to stress and fatigue. Then of course there were the multiple bouts of depression. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve had to say no to seeing friends, or been signed off work for weeks or months.
The doctors, and I say doctors as I saw so many different ones, had no idea what was wrong with me. They would spout the same nonsense I’d already been told.
“You’re suffering from stress.” Nope. I would try and cut out and eradicate the source of the stressor in my life, but the physical ailments would keep coming back.
“Try to look after yourself and plan a nightly routine before you go to bed.” Didn’t work and has never worked. I could be sleeping a solid eight hours or more and still feel as dreadful the next morning and the morning after that. I would also have random sparks of high energy and a complete lack of need for sleep.
“Drink some camomile tea.” Laughably bad advice, if I hadn’t been so bloody tired and ill all the time. I don’t understand where this notion came from made by health professionals that a cup of herbal tea is a cure all. Maybe if my depression was mild to moderate a cup of tea and a chat would’ve helped, or could have calmed some mild anxieties, but I was suffering. Having severe depression means needing real, tangible routines and support in place.
“I’ll order some blood tests for you.” The first time this was suggested my reaction was a positive one. I felt that to be so utterly exhausted so frequently for a woman in her twenties was far from normal. I was convinced it must be some form of physical ailment. Then came the results,
“You might be anaemic” Nope.
“You might have an underachieve thyroid.” Nope.
“Maybe you’re diabetic.”Nope.
“There might be a problem with your liver and kidneys.” Nope. It got to the point where I believed I had chronic fatigue, but it didn’t account for all the times I had huge bursts of energy for months on end and could lead a normal, active life. I also didn’t suffer from the same muscular and joint pain that is associated with the illness. Then there were the times when a GP would say,
“You’re depressed.” Yes! This is the point where I thought the doctors were right and they were, in a way. I was showing all the symptoms of depression. I would be given a prescription of antidepressants. I’d start to take them and begin to feel unstoppably hyperactive. I’d throw out the remainder of the prescription. I would believe I was cured and ignored the fact that the general consensus is that you usually feel worse before you feel better when you begin taking and antidepressant. What I didn’t realise back then, was the medication was only triggering the illness further. The drugs were causing me to feel manic and so the cycle for me continued, as my moods bustled for dominance. I’d feel fantastic for a time, then I’d crash. I might then be prescribed Prozac, for example, that would in turn make me feel superhuman. Then I’d feel gut wrenchingly awful. Then there’s the time I don’t take medication, but my energy eventually explodes and my mood elevates and then…it’s laughable that not a single medical professional made a connection. That really upsets, in fact it angers me incredibly. Could not one of them have taken the time to look through my notes and ask me why i stopped taking antidepressants after two weeks, or so suddenly. I would have answered them honestly. This would have led to more questions about my state of mind and my mood swings.
It wasn’t a doctor that asked me about my mood swings; it was my Mum. I remember we sat down together when I was signed off work and very unwell. At the time she worked with young children who had problems with anger and mental health and asked me, straight out,
“Do you ever mention your mood swings to your doctor?” I had never thought speaking to a GP about anything other than my depressive thoughts and tiredness. Why would I mention that? To me at the time, it was just part of my flawed personality. I took my Mum’s advice and mentioned it to my doctor. It was a GP I had never met before, at a surgery I had just signed up for. As soon as I mentioned I also had periods where I was as I called it ‘hyper’ and reckless and quick to anger, he referred me for a psychiatric assessment.
I was diagnosed with Bipolar Affective Disorder at the assessment. I wish I had known what to say ten years earlier.