Mental Illness is More Than Depression and Anxiety

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For many people, as soon as the term ‘mental health’ is brought up, what comes to mind is depression and anxiety. In no way in this post 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. Personality disorders, post traumatic stress disorder, psychosis, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder to name just a few. 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.

When I’ve brought up the subject of mental illness and my struggles either with bipolar disorder or psychosis with people their first response is usually along the lines of,

“I get anxious/depressed sometimes.” That’s great that they can feel honest and open with me, but that wasn’t the point of the conversation. People will often turn a conversation around into something they can relate to. Talking about psychosis makes people uncomfortable and often they don’t know how to respond.

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.

Mental health, the internet, and conspiracy theorists

 

Last week Time to Change charity shared this blog post What not to say to someone with Bipolar Part 2 on their social media channels. It was great to be able to reach a wider audience and to find new readers. In my foolishness, I decided to go on facebook, and read the comments section. This was a massive mistake. Although the majority of commenters were supportive and agreed with what I was conveying, I came across one poster that was vehemently against the recognised science behind mental illnesses. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but this one poster was spamming the comments section and making what I believe to be harmful statements. This is how it began:

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The poster was referring to medication, and how it doesn’t work. Intrigued, I looked up Kelly Brogan, a ‘holistic psychiatrist’, who believes that mental illnesses, (and cancer) can be cured through healthy diet and exercise alone. I felt that it was important to engage with this poster, and try to explain how medication is vital to many people living with bipolar disorder.

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After this calm, polite and factual response they went on the defensive, quoting a psychologist (who would have no training in medication or psychiatry), showing me a photo of a course they attended but not the information about the college or school, and swearing at me.

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I wanted to get to the facts and decided to ask where all the evidence for these claims were. Many people that are against psychiatric medication in the UK often cite opinions and ideas that originated in the US. I thought it was important to make it clear the stark differences between the UK and US health systems.

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After my questioning I was sent a barrage of photos of healthy meals and how eating this way would cure mental illnesses. It was also insinuated that myself and other people posting were not eating healthily otherwise we would be cured. The response below shows that the person is living in a fantasy land, comparing themselves to Martin Luther King or Gandhi. It seems they believe the majority of mental health sufferers are in the wrong and are being lied to.

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I found her responses to be incredibly rude, patronising and downright strange. Again, I asked to see some evidence that wasn’t anecdotal, but a serious, long term study. At this point, I was struggling to keep my cool, this whole conversation was making my blood boil.

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I still feel my responses were needed and respectful. What this woman was spreading was dangerous stigmatising of mental illnesses. This was the end of the conversation, as I received no response beyond this. Obviously she wasn’t able to back up her claims with hard evidence, which was my main point. As I said in my last comment, someone reading these comments could be in a serious crisis and in desperate need of support. Lecturing them about their eating habits and how medication they have been given is toxic could push them over the edge. All of us should live a balanced lifestyle with healthy eating and exercise at its core, but it does not cure bipolar, or other chronic, serious mental health issues. Medication as I’ve said previously, saves lives. The right balance and combination gives people a chance to live and thrive. As a community, people with mental health problems need to look out for one another. When we can, we need to stand up for those that do not have a voice, or are too unwell to see past such dangerous claims.

What not to say to someone with Bipolar Part 2

Continuing on from the first part, which you can read here I’ve explored conversations I’ve had regarding bipolar. As I mentioned in part 1, many of the questions or statements are meant to help, but are things I have heard many, many times before. Sometimes they can be insulting, which is difficult to deal with. I have been taken aback by how little people understand the condition and what they feel is acceptable to ask. It’s like when a woman is visibly pregnant, and people will touch her tummy without asking. It’s invasive and so are some of the questions I’m asked. Statements are made without thinking. If people stopped and thought to themselves “would I be alright if someone asked me that?” they may change their mind before speaking.

You can’t have bipolar, you seem so nice!

I’m always confused by this one. Having Bipolar is not a character flaw. Just because I suffer with intense mood swings it does not make me a bad person. I’m not going to suddenly attack you or go on some rampage. Mental illness for the vast majority of us doesn’t work like that. I find people that suffer with mental illness have a huge amount of empathy for others, and are willing to support friends and family even when they themselves are struggling.

A healthy diet and exercise will make you feel so much better.

I know this suggestion is supposed to be helpful, but honestly I have heard it a ridiculous number of times. As someone that wasn’t diagnosed for over a decade of suffering, I have tried everything I can possibly think of and that includes a healthy diet and regular exercise. Although I agree it helps with general well being, it cannot alone alleviate symptoms.

But you don’t look Bipolar.

I’m not sure exactly what people imagine a Bipolar sufferer to look like? I suppose they feel I should be wearing all black when I’m depressed, with my head in my hands, rocking back and forth. When I’m manic, maybe they believe I should have a crazed look in my eyes and act like a clown all the time? People don’t always present as being manic or depressed. I don’t look much different during these times, I just look like me. I might look more tired than usual when i’m depressed, but on good days I can still dress up and wear makeup.

Do you really need to take all of that medication?

Yes, yes I do. Medication has saved my life and giving me stability that would never have been possible without it. I talk at length about this in the post Psychiatric Drugs Saved My Life

I’ve watched Homeland/Silver Linings Playbook and you don’t act anything like that. 

Bipolar disorder is not the same for everyone. There are different forms of Bipolar such as Bipolar I (characterised by extreme manic symptoms and severe depression), Bipolar II (with a milder form of mania called hypomania and severe depression). Rapid cycling (where you switch from mania and depression in quick succession). A mixed episode (where you could be dealing with both extremes at the same time) and cyclothymic (a chronic but milder form of Bipolar disorder). Film and television will always show the extremes of mental illness. I have become astute at hiding how I’m feeling, after years of trying to fit in. So I may not always appear to be ill, but in fact inside I’m struggling.

It’s a shame that I’ve had to post this, but the reality is that many people still do not understand bipolar disorder, and mental illnesses in general. I’m sure there will be a part 3 of this somewhere in the future, but I hope not for a long time.

 

 

 

 

Time to Change Story Camp 2017

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Filled with excitement and trepidation on Friday morning I woke early – about two hours earlier than I needed to, ready for Time for Changes’ Story Camp. Fighting off the nerves I made all the important decisions; are those glittery shoes too much? Did I really need to coordinate my stationery with my bag and phone? How the hell was I going to navigate London with my complete lack of directional sense? I made it out the house and found my way to the venue only managing to lose my way twice, a massive achievement!

So what is Story Camp? 

Story camp is a day dedicated to all things mental health, and how to get your story out there. Whether it’s through blogging, vlogging, illustration, (even crafts), or becoming a media volunteer. Although I’m already writing here on this blog, I’m still relatively new to the idea of sharing my story and getting my voice heard. I wanted to broaden my knowledge and learn from others and this seemed like the ideal opportunity. Time to Change set up the day and work tirelessly to reduce mental health stigma in the UK. Their focus is on the general public, and providing them with real life stories, awareness days, (such as Time for Talk Day) and educational tools to combat harmful and sensationalist ideas surrounding mental illnesses.

The Day

One of the most inspiring aspects of the day was that three of the speakers had attended Story Camp just a year before. They had taken the experience and ran with it – using their passion and creativity to spread awareness across the country and on a number of media platforms. The first speaker of the day was Shea whose motivational words and assured yet warming presence set up the day perfectly. Shea spoke about storytelling and its power and how telling our stories helps to humanise mental health.

Next up was Jodie, who led us through blogging and social media. Although I realised I was already doing many of the things she mentioned, it gave me the belief that I was on the right track and that I could make a few tweaks here and there. It felt important to know this and that I should have some self belief! I came away from this segment with a ton of new blog ideas that I can share with you all in the upcoming months.

Then Andrea spoke passionately about vlogging. This is something I’ve begun but rejected earlier this year. It felt too daunting and emotionally draining a task. After hearing Andrea speak however, and the important message that it doesn’t have to be polished and perfect has renewed my interest. Making shorter videos that are more focused should help them feel less tiring to make.

The final speaker of the day was Lucy who, like the others, spoke so inspiringly. Her segment was about the media and how to work with and share your story with them. This is definitely something that sounds scary but could be ever so rewarding. I had a upsetting experience working with BBC three last year. I was unhappy with the final edit, but it was put on the website without any of the participants having a say beforehand. What I hadn’t realised until story camp was that Time to Change can support you if you are contacted by the media to share your mental health story. It’s given the confidence to know they’ve got my back if I ever have the opportunity to participate in something again.

My own mental health

Although I do struggle with Bipolar disorder and sharing my story does dredge up painful emotions and experiences, I feel it is vital to educate others and provide a voice for those that aren’t able to. I do have periods of stability and even during depressive or manic episodes I can still write. When depression strikes I’m not constantly in a state of numbness or deep emotional pain, and have good days. Sometimes I can even feel positive!

The mental health community

It was wonderful to meet people at story camp and everyone sat and chatted immediately because we all had a common interest; helping others and reducing the stigma of mental illness. I truly feel there is a community online that suffer with mental health problems that support one another. Just as importantly we want to create change in our society and I believe we can. I’m excited and full of motivation to continue my journey with you all, and to really make an impact surrounding mental health.

 

 

 

 

We Need to Stop Apologising for Being Ill

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This is something I find myself doing often. I have lived with mental illness for over a decade and I still find myself uttering that one word; sorry. Sorry I let you down. Sorry I couldn’t make it. Sorry for being ill.

An example of this is my partner and I recently went on holiday. Due to a mix up, I was left without one of my medications, and in the end went for three days without it. Including the withdrawal symptoms I was experiencing, I also started to feel very low and tearful. We didn’t leave our lodge for two days because I was convinced I would break down or have a panic attack. The one thing I kept saying again and again was sorry. I felt I had ruined our holiday and it was all my fault.

When it comes to my mental health It’s so ingrained in me to apologise that I do it without really noticing. I find myself saying it before I’ve realised what I’ve said, and what it implies. Apologising implies it’s your fault. Mental illness is not your fault, it isn’t anyone’s fault for being ill. We are blameless. We didn’t cause ourselves to be ill, and we certainly didn’t ask for it.

So why do we do it? I think the stigma that lives in our society is mostly to blame. Mental illness by many is seen as a sign of weakness. The ‘just snap out of it’ and ‘cheer up’ brigade often think this way. We’re told by them we need to be stronger and to just get on with life. By others it’s a character flaw. There is something wrong in how we think and live and that it can be easily fixed. We’re lazy, so exercising regularly and working hard will cure all our problems. If we’re constantly being told we’re weak, flawed and lazy, no wonder we’re always apologising.

Another major reason we find ourselves apologising is guilt. We often find ourselves feeling guilty for a multitude of reasons. Our room or our house is a mess, we can’t get out of bed, we cancel plans with family and friends. But is this guilt an ordinary part of mental health problems, or does the pressure of being happy and normal cause it? I think maybe the guilt is always there, but the demands put on us by society exacerbate this feeling.

Back to the holiday I took with my partner. I kept saying sorry. Through tears and sobs I was still apologising. However, my partner would say to me, until it finally made sense, “Don’t apologise, you’ve done nothing wrong. I’m not angry or upset, you can’t help being ill.” That’s the key to all of this; to surround yourself with accepting individuals. Keep hold of those friends that understand and really mean it when they tell you it’s ok. Ignore  those that demean your mental illness and cut them out of your life if necessary. Educate the rest.

It can feel very lonely living with a mental illness. We want others to love us and not to frighten them away. We fear that we have made them angry or upset. So we say sorry, hoping they will stay. We need to show ourselves some compassion and to truly believe that we are not at fault for being ill. We shouldn’t apologising even if some people think we should. Even if we don’t always realise it, to go through what we do everyday, we are far stronger then them.

What not to say to someone with Bipolar Part 1

I’ve compiled a list of what not to say to someone about Bipolar. I have heard variations of all of these at some point and they either make me sigh, make me angry, or I just burst out into laughter. Sometimes what people say seems helpful from their side, but actually they are pointing something out I have tried before, or already doing. I often get the same advice time and time again, when what I really need is a listening ear or a normal chat to take my mind of things. We’re all guilty of making assumptions about mental illnesses, so it’s vital we educate ourselves and understand the illness from the sufferers point of view.

“Cheer up”

I’ve heard all of these; “Snap out of it!” “Look on the bright side!” “People have it worse then you.” “What have you got to be upset about?” It’s one of those cliches people come up with when they don’t know what to say. They feel like they have to say something to make you feel better but they’re just making it worse. It’s like telling someone having an asthma attack to pull themselves together and just breathe normally. They can’t and all they need is help.

“I’m a bit Bipolar sometimes.”

Mood swings are not the same as experiencing Bipolar episodes. Mania and severe depression are totally self destructive and debilitating. You’re probably just in a bit of a bad mood, a bit tired from a night out and then drunk loads of coffee and energy drinks that made you kind of hyper. Mania and depression can last for weeks or months, or cycle rapidly from one to another.

“Are you a creative genius?”

I definitely believe that when I’m manic! I say to myself, “I’m amazing!” “I can do anything!” “I’m the best at everything!” But really we’re all just normal people. We don’t have a predisposition to being creative. We all have our own strengths and weaknesses like everyone else. Personally I am creative, but I’m pretty average. I like to write and sketch but I don’t believe it’s anything special.

“Are you sure you have Bipolar?”

I am very very sure. It took over ten years for me to be diagnosed. I had to write a journal for my psychiatrist and I looked at it and go “Oh yeah, it makes sense.” I can see the pattern. Bipolar has caused massive upheavals in my life. Everyone thinks they are an expert. When someone asks this question it’s not ignorance, but a lack of information and education. Before my diagnosis, I never thought it would be me with Bipolar. It never even registered it could be a possibility.

“You don’t seem like you have a Bipolar.” 

I’ve become very good at hiding it. I’m not sure what people mean when they ask this question. Do they think I should be running around screaming and shouting and being ‘wacky’ and ‘crazy’? Or huddled in the corner clutching my head swaying backwards and forwards? Maybe I need a tattoo on my forehead to make it easier for you?

“Is this the Bipolar talking?” 

I have my own thoughts, feelings and personality that aren’t governed by my Bipolar. Everyone has mood swings to a degree, everyone has good days and bad days and it’s the same with having Bipolar. It’s extremely difficult when people are constantly second guessing or trying to interpret what you are saying or how you’re acting.

“Have you taken your meds?”

I find this very insulting. It’s a way of saying my feelings aren’t valid and any emotions I feel must be connected to my illness.

“Have you tried to commit suicide?”

It’s not ok to ask if you hardly know me! It always seems to be people I don’t know very well and they sort of blurt it out. Why would you ask someone that? Would you ask a person who didn’t ask who didn’t have a mental illness this question? No you wouldn’t. If you’re already depressed this can be very triggering and make you further spiral down. It triggers ideas, plans and previous thoughts. It’s like if you have Bipolar you are a curiosity, or people think it’s a faze, or a fad.

 

There are many more things that shouldn’t be said to someone with Bipolar and I will explore them in part 2.

 

A Response to BBC Panorama – A Prescription For Murder

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The reporting of anti depressants was shameful in this programme. This show was only about scaremongering and hysteria surrounding medication and mental illness. It’s harmful towards people with mental health problems. The programme will increase the stigma of mental illness and taking medications, which is already a problem for so many sufferers. The damage caused could be irreparable to audiences views on anti depressants and their views of mental health sufferers.

I think it’s important to acknowledge people with mental illness are far more likely to be a harm to themselves than to anyone else. According to Time to Change, “90 per cent of people who die through suicide in the UK are experiencing mental distress.” and statistics show that “Only 1 per cent of victims believed that the violent incident happened because the offender had a mental illness.” That means 99 per cent of violent crimes were committed by people who were not suffering from a mental illness. People with mental health problems are also far more likely to be the victims of crime than the perpetrators. The Royal College of Psychiatrists report that people with a severe mental health problem are five times more likely to be the victims of assault, with women being particularly vulnerable. Substance misuse is a far bigger problem and has much more of a tangible link to violent crime than mental illness.

The title in itself is damaging, “A Prescription for Murder” and seems to be there to increase ratings. I’m not exaggerating when I say this programme is dangerous that could lead to people not seeking help who are in desperate need. Imagine you’re a young person or someone that has never taken anti depressants. After seeing this programme would you be put off taking SSRI’s? I think so. Even if you are extremely unwell this show could deter someone from seeking help, with consequences that could be serious to that individual. Its’ title is misleading in its’ insinuation that the prescription will cause people to commit murder, when they are focusing on a tiny proportion of the global population.

I am also offended by the online twitter team. The tweets completely missed the point as to why so many people were angry. Tweeting to “see your doctor if you’re concerned about side effects” is an example of this. People are upset about this show because it is stigmatising and harmful, not because of a lack of information of what to do if you’re concerned about medication you’re taking. There was also a link to a BBC article about support for mental health. The image of someone clutching their head used in the article is stigmatising. Both Mind and Time for Change have guidelines for reporting on mental health, and images that should be used. Here is a link to Time for Change’s Responsible Reporting section. The programme and the image used in the article show that these guidelines were blatantly ignored in favour of ratings.

As someone with Bipolar, I take a mixture of mood stabilisers, anti psychotics and anti depressants. I have written about how Psychiatric Drugs Saved My Life It’s true that if I was taking anti depressants they would alter my mood and I have become manic because of them. What’s also true is at these times I was only ever a danger to myself. I was misdiagnosed with depression and with the proper treatment I am now much more stable. Although the connection between SSRI’s and violence is played up, what is downplayed is the connection between misdiagnosis and how anti depressants alone can be harmful for people with severe mental illnesses such as Bipolar. This isn’t a new revelation.

What also upsets me is the rhetoric that medication for physical health is seen as a positive and very much needed. However, as soon as the media start talking about mental health medication it’s only seen as negative, and dangerous at that. This is more harmful to the majority of people with mental health problems than any medication could ever be.

The BBC has a duty to be impartial and fair. They have a duty to report respectfully and without bias. I don’t believe this has happened with this programme. The media needs to be held accountable for how they portray people with mental illness and it’s our duty to make sure they are. If you wish to make a complaint about this programme the link is here

Psychiatric Drugs Saved My Life

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I’ve been reading more and more accounts that are anti medication, anti psychiatry recently. As mental health awareness is being raised by celebrities, bloggers, media outlets and pushed further up the political agenda (supposedly), there seems to be an increase of those who seek alternatives to the advice of medical professionals. There are numerous conspiracy theories of how medication is forced on us only for profit. That the pharmaceutical industry works only to secure customers long term, or for life. That they purposefully create medications that cause difficult withdrawal symptoms, with the hope it forces people to stay on them for longer. That Psychiatrists are somehow ‘in on it’ and make money by pushing drugs on patients that don’t need them.

All of these conspiracy theories are harmful to those that need help. They create a stigma around mental illness that it isn’t a problem at all, or in fact, it isn’t real. This is pure unadulterated bullshit. This is just another example of people pushing their own agenda. Whether it’s the ‘healthy eating and exercise cures all’ agenda, or ‘mental illness can be treated by psychologists alone’ agenda, or even the ‘mental illness doesn’t exist because my religion tells me so’ agenda. With so many conflicting, loud, brash opinions bombarding us, no wonder so many people are reluctant to find help they so desperately need.

Of course, like everyone, I have an agenda also. The exception is that I have my own lived experience as evidence and current scientific fact to back me up. I have said to people on many occasions that psychiatric drugs changed my life for the better. No; actually they saved my life. Bipolar disorder was wearing me down, year after year. I have been suicidal without medication and have come close to taking my own life. Nothing was working for me; until I found the right medication. I am not ashamed that I rely on medication to stay healthy, the same as many rely on insulin to stay healthy for diabetes. And why should I be ashamed? Without medication I was a mess. I was either manic and a danger to myself, or severely depressed and a danger to myself. I lived a healthy lifestyle and exercised (especially when manic). I tried therapy before I was diagnosed with Bipolar, but it didn’t work. Being asked constantly,

“Why do you think you feel that way?” or “What made you act like that?” was not helpful when I had no clue why I was trapped in an endless self destructive cycle. I went to therapy for answers, but all I got were questions thrown back at me. I talk about my experience in the post, My experience of Talking Therapies

My own lived experience tells not just a story, but provides evidence that medication does work. With the right balance of mood stabilisers and anti depressants, I feel stable. I am able to not just live my life, but create enjoyable experiences and lasting, positive memories. Without it, and I’m not creating hysteria around my condition, I could easily die. It’s a fact. Anyone who has spent time with me when I have been depressed or manic will be extremely aware of this. I don’t deny that a combination of medication, enough refreshing sleep, therapy, a healthy diet and exercise helps to combat mental illness. These as a combination are the most successful treatment.

I am not Defined by Mental Illness

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Mental illness plays a major part in my life. I talk about it often. I do this because I’m desperate to raise awareness and for funding to be increased for mental health services. Both of these issues drag behind those for physical health. It’s unfair and discriminatory, so I feel it’s my duty to speak out on behalf of those whom are unable to. This doesn’t mean I’m defined by the illness I suffer from. I admit, there isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t think about it; I have to, in order to stay stable and healthy.

I am so much more than my mental illness; I’m a geek, with a passion for video games, science fiction and anime. Currently I’m writing a novel and I love to create, whether it’s sculpting, sketching or painting. I’m a vegan and every time I see a picture of a polar bear I cry.  (I can’t help it!) I believe in a fairer society for all and voted Labour in the general election. I taught myself Mongolian throat singing.

When a friend or family member speaks out about a mental illness they are suffering from, they need to be treated as they were before they said anything. Their illness isn’t the only topic of conversation you can speak to them about from now on. They are a person with an identity, personality, hopes and dreams, hobbies and passions. They are not just ‘the poorly one’ or ‘the awkward one.’ or even ‘the weird one.’ or the one you stopped speaking to because you didn’t know what to say or how to deal.

I know it can be difficult for family and friends to acclimatise to the idea of a loved one with a mental illness. It takes time for everyone to adjust, not just the person with the illness. Here are a few ideas that have helped me and my loved ones:

Talk to one another: If you don’t understand the condition ask, don’t stay silent. It can feel like it’s never the right time to talk but it’s important to make time to do this. It doesn’t have to be serious or sombre. It’s more than likely the other person has been waiting to talk to you or ask you questions. Be the first to strike up a conversation. I have found my relationships have been able to move forward to a more positive place after talking.

Invite them to appointments: After talking to a family member, and you can see they’re still struggling to understand, invite them to your GP or Psychiatrist appointments. When I see my psychiatrist, I will have part of the session one on one. I invite my partner or family member in before the end of the appointment. It gives them a chance to hear about how I’m doing, and to ask any questions about my condition. My psychiatrist always asks me if there is anything I wish to keep private between us before bringing family into the room.

Find a support group: Most support groups welcome carers and supporters. These have been vital for me when I needed to connect with other people with Bipolar. The group I attend splits the session into two parts. The first, focuses on an aspect of Bipolar already picked by the group, or invites in a guest speaker. The second part is an open forum, to ask questions and share experiences with the group. For family that have attended, it has given them a real insight into the disorder.

Learning and educating yourself about a condition can be freeing. You realise it can be managed and that it doesn’t need to consume your life. You are more than your mental illness. When you invite others to share your knowledge it gives them an opportunity to see past the illness and see the real person behind it.

Am I ‘faking it?’ Thoughts on having an invisible illness

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I look perfectly well.

I can get out of bed. I shower, I wear clean clothes. I apply make up. I smile and chat and laugh.

But I’m not ok, I’m far from it. This picture was taken when I was severely depressed in March of this year. My medication had been lowered and it wasn’t working as it used to. I was left feeling like I was on the edge of a precipice, and I was barely clinging on. At the time of writing, my medication has been reviewed and increased, and I’m feeling more stable, more like myself. But I still look the same. I look as healthy as I did when I was struggling. Having Bipolar, or any mental health problem, means understanding what it’s like to have an invisible illness.

I have good days, good weeks, and if I’m lucky good months. These are the times I can get on with life. I can go out and enjoy living without the ogre of Bipolar looming large. Although, there is a voice. A voice that at first irritates and then consumes my thoughts,

“There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re faking it.”

It tells me I’m just lazy, or attention seeking. That I’m making all of this up. Even when I’m depressed, or in the midst of a psychotic episode or panic attack, the voice is there. Sometimes I believe it. It’s a dangerous voice, because on more than one occasion I’ve stopped taking my medication when I believed what it was telling me. That has never ended well. Missing Medication: Withdrawal and Side Effects

I know I’m not the only one that lives with this voice and the fear that they’re faking. For me, it comes from years of misdiagnosis, and the worry that maybe this diagnosis is wrong too, and actually, really, there was never anything wrong. Even after nearly five years of being diagnosed with Bipolar I still compare myself to others with the condition and convince myself I’m fine. Deep down though, I know Bipolar is a complex disorder, and everyone has a different experience of it.

It comes from people misunderstanding mental illness, believing sensationalist ideas, or making sweeping comments such as,

“I don’t believe in mental illness.” or,

“Medication and psychiatry is all a lie.”

To be told that everything you know is happening in your mind, that you feel so intensely is fake, a lie is suffocating. It’s wrong of these people to make such judgements. It’s strange to me that although mental illness touches 1 in 4 people in their lifetime, it is still so widely misunderstood and underrepresented in society. That leads back to the beginning of my post. Because it’s invisible, mental illness is difficult for people to relate to or understand. People often want to find an explanation for behaviour and because they can’t see mental illness as a cast or bandage on someone’s body, or on an x-ray, they look for other ways of defining what it means. As humans we want answers. We want to fix what is broken. There aren’t always answers for where mental illness comes from. There aren’t any quick fixes, and for some it’s a life time of mending over and over again what’s broken.

I know that seeing a psychiatrist and taking medication has saved my life. I know that I wouldn’t be here without the intervention of medication. No amount of exercise, calming baths and cups of tea would’ve had the same effect. I have to remind myself of this fact on a daily basis. I know I need to educate and inform friends, family and strangers about Bipolar and mental illness in general. The more people I talk to, the quieter that voice becomes.