Mental Illness has Made Me a Stronger Person

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It’s a bold statement and not everyone will agree with it but for me, it’s true. I wouldn’t have dealt with as much adversity if I didn’t have bipolar disorder. I wouldn’t have had to fight my way through difficult times. Still being here after so many years of struggling, is my biggest achievement. One statement I don’t agree with is being labelled as ‘brave’ because I live with mental illness. The idea that I’m stronger despite it I see as a positive and an affirmation that I’m not weak.

I’ve lived with mental illness since I was 14. I’ve had mental illness for longer than I’ve lived without it. It was my Dad that first told me how strong I was. I’d passed all my GCSE’s even though I’d missed six months of school. I had been severely depressed for months. I couldn’t concentrate, I hated myself and had no motivation. I hadn’t understood why I was living and didn’t want to exist any longer. I’d worked so hard to catch up and was determined to pass my GCSE’S. I’d never felt so proud when I got my results. I remember my Dad telling me,

“Katie, you don’t realise how strong you are. To have achieved what you have despite how ill you’ve been is incredible.” He was right, and that statement has stayed with me.

Dealing with stigma and discrimination has made me more thick skinned. I’m not easily ruffled by snide comments or abusive rants directed at me. I can laugh off a comment and I’m always armed with a number of comebacks, ready to go! I’ve been called ‘a nightmare’ and I’ll never find a boyfriend because I have bipolar. You can find my reaction to this and other experiences in the post, Conversations and Experiences of Stigma Against Mental Illness

I’m not as scared of being open about my feelings because of mental illness. It hurts when someone judges me, isn’t sympathetic, or simply doesn’t care. I’ve learnt this is going to happen. It’s unfortunate, but stigma exists and I will encounter it, especially as open as I am online. I’m able to brush it off now. Not everyone will agree with what I have to say, but you know what? I don’t really care. There will always be people that disagree and I’ll listen to their comments, as long as they’re constructive.

I know I’m not a weak minded person. I’m actually more resilient because of mental illness. I’ve battled my own mind countless times and won. Life happens, shit happens and I feel more than capable to deal with it all. Bipolar may scupper my efforts sometimes, but I’m strong enough to acknowledge when I need help.

To others struggling, I truly believe that you’re stronger than you know. You wake up everyday and keep going despite the traps and obstacles your mind sets for you. Every time you talk about mental illness, you’re educating others and fighting back against stigma. Each time you seek help and support, you’re making a huge leap that can often leave you feeling vulnerable and out of control. It’s a sign of strength, not weakness. Everything you’ve done in life so far you’ve made happen in defiance of your illness. Be proud and keep going.

 

Where to Start Talking About Mental Health

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Starting the conversation about mental health can feel overwhelming; but it doesn’t have to be. Someone struggling may need the smallest gesture to pull them through. You have  the tools to save someone’s life, even if you don’t realise it. Here are a few things that you can do to help someone in your life.

  • Ask someone how they’re doing. Simple right? If you have an inkling something isn’t right, really ask them if they’re ok, like you mean it. Like you’re not hoping and wishing for a simple “I’m fine.”
  • Ring or message someone you haven’t heard from for awhile. It could mean they’re  struggling and have isolated themselves. Knowing that someone is thinking of them could be what starts them talking.
  • Listen. So they’ve started talking to you, what do you do now? Listen attentively. Repeat back key phrases and sum up what they’ve told you in your own words. It will show that you’ve heard and understood.
  • Share. Maybe you or someone else in your life has gone through a difficult time? Share that experience so they feel less alone.
  • What can you do to help practically? Maybe they want someone to go with them to a doctors appointment. Maybe they want help cleaning their place or help making a meal.
  • You don’t need to fix them. Someone feeling like they’re in a desperate place doesn’t need to be told to “Take a bath.” “Go for a run.” or “Drink some camomile tea.” We as human beings want to fix problems and sometimes we can’t fix them completely.   If you’re not a medical professional then being there, talking to them and listening are the best things you can do.

It can also be draining to be there for someone struggling, so it’s important to look after yourself so you can be there for them. If you’re extremely worried about someone, it’s important you encourage them to find help. You can encourage them to ring their mental health team if they have one, make a doctor’s appointment, or go to A&E. There are also a number of helplines they can ring if you’re feeling overwhelmed.

UK Helplines 

Samaritans: 116 123

Mind Charity: 0300 123 3393

Anxiety UK: 03444 775 774

CALMzone: 0800 58 58 58

charitynopanic: 0844 967 4848

CharitySANE: 0300 304 7000

Papyrus: 0800 068 4141

Rethink: 0300 5000 927

 

What It’s Like To Have A Mixed Episode Of Bipolar

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A couple of weeks ago I had what’s called a mixed episode of bipolar disorder. What this means is that I was experiencing mania (the highs) and depression in very short succession, to the point that I felt both at the same time. In this post I wanted to write an account of what it felt like at the time, to hopefully shed some light on this difficult to understand symptom of bipolar.

I’m sitting at a table outside a restaurant, waiting to be served. I’m with my husband who is attempting to start a conversation. The air is warm and the sun is out and canal boats are drifting along the canal next to where we’re sitting. It should be an idyllic setting, leaving me feeling happy and contented, but I’m not. My head is abuzz with uncontrollable thoughts. The world around me feels very surreal right now, like I’m seeing it through a kaleidoscope. The images keep flicking backwards and forwards, never staying still. I’m restless and on edge, my whole body feels on high alert. Everything and everyone is irritating me. The chair I’m sitting on is way too uncomfortable. My husband is talking and right now I can’t stand his voice. The laughter from the table behind us is grating on me and I feel like screaming until my throat is hoarse,

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

My head is full of pressure, it literally hurts from all the thoughts racing in my mind. It feels like my head is going to explode. I can feel my hands and body trembling. It feels like I’m on the edge of a cliff  with a safety net below. I know I need to jump and if I do they’ll be a release from the ceaseless, building pressure. I can’t make myself jump. It’s like my legs are stuck and I can’t move forward.

Now, suddenly, I have an overwhelming feeling of dread. It feels like all the energy has been drained from my body and I feel utterly useless and completely broken. The pressure in my head is still there, and my mind is still racing away. The thoughts are negative and intrusive, telling me I’m worthless,  pathetic and don’t deserve to live. Ten minutes later our food has arrived and I can’t stop talking. My head is full of thoughts, mostly gibberish that I can’t decipher. I’m laughing but I feel like crying at the same time. I don’t like this feeling. I feel like I’m losing grip on who I am and the world around me. i can’t concentrate because I’m trying so hard to grip hold of some type of stability.

I feel like I’m at a crossroads and which ever way I go something terrible is going to happen, but I don’t know what. I maybe at the crossroads but some other force beyond my power is going to choose the direction I turn. Will it be mania? Or depression? Its a terrifying feeling to have seemingly no control over your own mind.

This had been going on all weekend and now it was Monday and I was mentally exhausted. We went home and I cried on the sofa, not knowing what to do with myself, as my body and mind continued to hum along with a relentless energy.

The mixed episode broke, eventually, but not to my relief. I found myself severely depressed, a depression I’m still trying to ride out. I hope my story helps others going through these experiences and shows people what it’s really like when someone says they’re in a mixed episode. if you want to help someone, listen and above all be patient with them.

 

The Problem With The Term ‘Mental Health’

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I’ve lost my connection to the term ‘Mental Health.’ It means different things to different people, and that’s a problem. I consider myself a mental health blogger, but I’m thinking of changing that. To be honest I’m a mental illness blogger. I’ll explain why.

For some people, myself included, mental health equals mental illness. It’s a term we use to write about our illnesses, to explain and engage with others about what we go through day to day. For others, mental health covers everything to do with the way we think and act. People proclaim,

“We all have mental health!” Which is true, and I have no problem with people discussing their individual experiences. My problem is that vital voices are being drowned out. ‘Mental Health’ has become this huge umbrella of different meanings. The ideas that are more accessible and easier to digest for the general public will undoubtedly receive more attention.

It feels that mental health is becoming more and more synonymous with wellbeing, mindfulness and self care. Again, all great if you struggle occasionally with the stresses of life or have mild mental illness. It’s not for everyone and it certainly isn’t a magic cure. I’m growing more and more concerned that these subjects will shift the idea of what mental illness is, and trivialise it. I don’t need to read anymore articles about mindfulness, I get it, I know what it’s about. I don’t want people to start preaching to me about how if I practised self care and had a hot bubble bath with some aromatherapy candles, I could break out of a manic episode. No, what would do that is a review of my medication and the support of my psychiatrist.

We need voices that talk about bipolar, psychosis, personality disorders and schizophrenia. Voices that have the right platform and are listened to, because these aren’t easy subjects to open up about. It feels terrifying to begin, the real fear of being judged and ridiculed, stigmatised for something you have very little control over. By using the term mental health, these important discussions are being lumped in with articles about adult colouring books and how to meditate. Self help articles in my opinion should not be compared with articles educating about severe mental illness. There is a vast difference in the two.

As an example I recently had a conversation with a friend of a friend. He asked about blogging and I replied that I was a mental health blogger. He instantly started talking to me about how he is sometimes anxious whilst travelling and how he’s managed it through thinking positively. That’s great and I was genuinely pleased for him. When I started talking about what I blog about and how I’ve recently started a series about psychosis I could see his eyes widen. He quickly changed the subject. This is the problem. Anything beyond being anxious on the train was too much for him to handle. By his response, that was what he was expecting and it was because I used the term ‘mental health.’ If I’d said I wrote about mental illness, I think his expectations would have been different.

We need conversations about the underfunding of mental health services in the NHS and to create that link to the general public of why so many people are struggling and ending their lives. We need conversations about how those with severe mental illness are not all dangerous, but are more likely to be the victims of crime. We need conversations about how poverty, housing, being an ethnic minority or part of the LGBT community can have a negative impact on mental health.

Maybe it’s time for a new term, or a shift in how people use them. If you’re writing about general well being, say that. If you’re writing about mental illness, then say that too. Don’t jumble up the two, it’s causing more harm than good.

Don’t let the Worry of Being Ill Ruin A Holiday

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Living with mental illness is tricky. It’s a sneaky bastard that creeps up on you when you least expect it. Often when we relax, mental illness barges its way into our lives and tries to take over. A prime example of this is when we go on holiday. We can’t always be 100% sure we will be well when we plan and book a holiday, it’s a risk anyone with mental illness takes. We can plan meticulously but still have a mental health crises. Or like me, forget something vital to staying mentally well.

Last year my husband and I went on holiday to Devon. It started off well, with us going to the beach and going for long walks in the woods around where we were staying. We’d relaxed and spent long evenings drinking, chatting and enjoying each others company. Three days in, I started feeling strange. I felt rundown, almost like I was coming down with the flu. I realised I’d run out of medication. Not only that, but it dawned on me I hadn’t taken medication at all since we’d been in Devon.

Shit, shit, shit was my initial reaction. The damage had already been done, and I knew by the time I’d organised emergency meds the holiday would be pretty much over. I had the shakes, a temperature, I felt nauseous constantly and felt dizzy and exhausted. I spent the rest of our trip in bed or under a blanket on the sofa, far too ill to do anything else. I felt incredibly guilty, like I’d let down my partner and ruined our time away together. It was our only holiday away, our only week just us together and supposed to be a week where we could totally relax.

This was when it all went wrong, and I let my anxieties about not enjoying my holiday ruin it for me. I have coped better, I’ve planned better and I was annoyed at myself. Being mentally unwell on holiday doesn’t mean it’s totally ruined. If you plan well and go in with a realistic outlook, you can still have a great time.

A few years ago we went to Croatia for a week away. We were staying near Dubrovnik, on a tiny island called Kolocep. I had been struggling with a persistent depressive mood leading up to the holiday. I was nervous, on edge. What if i was too ill to do anything I’d planned? Before leaving, I told myself so what if I’m ill? I’m there ultimately to relax. If I have a difficult day there’s nothing wrong with taking a break from our plans. I hadn’t scheduled to go somewhere or activities every single day. There were days when I wanted to just lay on the beach or sit by the pool and read. Trips could be moved. Personally I like to plan a trip myself, rather than be led by a tour guide. This gives me the freedom to see how I feel each morning and decide what we’re going to do there and then.

It ended up being one of the most memorable holidays I’ve ever been on. I didn’t allow the expectation that I must be on top form and enjoying myself every single minute of every day ruin my time away. I was depressed, but I still managed to explore the old city of Dubrovnik, go kayaking and discover hidden coves around the islands. I accepted the fact that I would have bad days, and there were a couple of afternoons when I went back to my room and went to bed or simply just sat and had much needed time alone. I didn’t feel guilty for doing. Most importantly, it didn’t ruin my holiday.

In a couple of weeks, I’m heading off to Cape Verde, for some much needed relaxation. This time I’m going with a much more positive frame of mind.

 

 

My Hearing Voices Journal Entry 2

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Yesterday I had a an episode of psychosis. It came in the form of auditory hallucinations, as it does with me. I’ve journaled my experiences before in the post My Hearing Voices Journal and felt as I sat in bed last night trying to sleep, but too anxious to do so, it was time to journal my feelings once again. It started as I finished my shift at work. I could hear a murmuring coming from all around me. These are my initial thoughts on the experience.

Hearing murmurs is something I experience often with psychosis. It’s frustrating more than anything. It’s like sitting in a busy restaurant or bar. As I’m a people watcher and yes, very nosy, I like to listen to snippets of people’s conversations. I find it fascinating listening to how people interact with one another. These murmurs are like not quite catching the conversation of the people at the table next to you. even with your best efforts to strain to hear what is being said. All you can hear is a low murmur.

It’s a constant background noise, like the hiss of an untuned radio, but I can’t turn it off or find another station. I’m stuck with the same incessant, nonsense sounds. The noise/murmuring follows me; it doesn’t dissipate if I move. That’s how I know it isn’t real,  that it isn’t coming from an outside source, but from inside my own mind. Trying to ‘turn off’ the noise makes me feel like I’m losing my mind. I’ll try to convince myself it isn’t a hallucination, pacing back and forth with more and more urgency looking for the source of the sounds. I begin to talk to myself, to firstly come up with a logical conclusion and secondly to calm down. It doesn’t work and I can feel the frustration rising. Why is this happening to me? Is it too much to ask for to just be normal, whatever that is. The noise after an hour or so, disappears, without my noticing. I’d grown accustomed to it and over the years during an episode I’ve learnt to carry on as normal when I’m out in public as much as I can.

Now it’s gone I feel on edge. I know I’ll feel this way for the next few days. What if a more sinister voice presents itself? What if it happens when I’m alone and there’s no one to comfort me and help me through it?

I’ve gone to bed, but I can’t sleep. I feel too emotional to sleep. I could burst into tears at any moment. I can feel my heart beating in my chest. Sharp pains streak across my chest, which suggests the beginning of a panic attack. All of this because I heard some murmuring. Psychosis fucks with your head in so many ways. It’s not just the actual experience, but the anxiety and the real fear that follows. I feel tense and uneasy like something or someone unknown is watching me, ready to shout and attack. I don’t like the dark. I was never afraid of the dark when I was younger, in fact I was a pretty fearless child. When you begin to hear auditory hallucinations, especially when you hear that first voice come out of nowhere in pitch darkness it is unbelievably terrifying. The fear I feel, the total vulnerability leaves me in a state of shock. Now I’m afraid of the dark. What if, just if, that voice is real this time. That there really is someone in my room whispering in my ear “I see you.” I will hear voices from what feels like all around me and for all I know they are very real. Surrounded by a wall of voices it’s easy to start to imagine what they look like. Eyes open, they start to adjust to the low light and play tricks on me. That shadow in the corner starts to form into the shape of a person, towering over where I lay.

All of this is circling my mind, so how could I possibly sleep? I know what I need to do. I need to get up out of bed and out into the light.

As I’ve made clear before in the post I’ll Keep Talking About Psychosis Whether It’s Relatable Or Not I won’t stop writing about my experiences of auditory hallucinations. It’s cathartic and journalling my experiences helps me make sense of them. If you know someone who is struggling with hearing voices, my post How to Help Someone When They’re Hearing Voices could be helpful. There’s also plenty of information out there, and I personally found MIND’s website to be full of helpful information.

Stress and Mental Illness: Are They One And The Same?

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In my previous post I discussed Is Stress A Trigger For Mental Illness? In this post I’m hoping to highlight how stress and severe mental illness are not one and the same.

We all go through periods of stress, where we feel run down, overwhelmed and generally feel like we need a reset button for life. It does have an impact on our mental health, but it isn’t a mental illness.

I have worked with colleagues that have misinterpreted my mental illness as stress, or the more important distinction that I couldn’t handle stress. Comments such as,

“Well, some of us can deal with stress better than others.” and “At least I’m here all the time unlike some people who are always signed off with stress.” Stress was a trigger for my mental illness, bipolar, and yes, I did have to take time off work because of it. It didn’t mean I couldn’t handle stress, it meant I had a severe mental illness that had not been properly diagnosed, or been provided with the proper treatment.

How we effectively deal with stress can be managed through self care techniques and adapting our work/life balance. If someone starts to show signs of mild to moderate depression or anxiety they can seek help such as CBT or other forms of therapy for a short period. Severe mental illness on the other hand, needs much greater intervention. A psychiatrist, hospital admissions, long term medication and therapy. Significant lifestyle changes such as cutting out alcohol may be not advised, but desperately needed. Can you see the difference? Stress in our lives can be managed, if we want to do so; mental illness cannot. Your lifestyle is a choice, mental illness is never chosen. I think it’s important here to highlight one glaringly obvious cause of stress; poverty. This can’t be eradicated by a simple change in lifestyle by the individual. It’s society at large that needs to work towards this. Is there a difference between the stresses of the upper and middle classes and those living in poverty? Yes, I believe there is. Are those in poverty more likely to have a severe mental illness? Again yes. According to the Mental health Foundation,

“Poverty increases the risk of mental health problems and can be both a casual factor and a consequence of mental ill health. Mental health is shaped by the wide-ranging characteristics (including inequalities) of the social, economic and physical environments in which people live.”

Many people with severe mental illnesses also fall into poverty because of being unable to work. This exacerbates already difficult to manage conditions and leaves the individual extremely vulnerable to self medicating, self harm and suicide.

When many people speak up about mental illness, often it’s from their own experiences. That’s fine, but when it’s highlighting stress and lumping it in as a mental health condition, it devalues the impact of severe mental illness. Bipolar, BPD, PTSD, Schizophrenia to name a few are long term, life altering conditions that need psychiatric intervention and expertise to assess, treat and manage. Stress is damaging, physically and mentally I’m not denying that. I feel though that there needs to be more room for conversations surrounding severe mental illness. Too much noise is made around stress, and mild to moderate mental illness. Already sufferers feel marginalised and isolated in society and need more spaces where their voices can be heard.

Talking About Mental Health Is Vital, But It’s Not Enough

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I often find myself saying,

“Talking about mental health is so important.” and “Just be open and honest and you’ll feel so much better!” I have done so many times on this blog.

But in my heart, I know it’s not enough. So many of us are being let down again and again. Services are spread thin and desperately underfunded. Recent reports that young people are being denied care until they’re at crisis point, and receiving little to no help unless they have attempted suicide, is disgraceful.

We do need to talk about mental health. Talking can save lives, but our friends and family are not experts. There is only so much that they can do to help and often unfortunately, it’s not enough. It puts a strain on our relationships which can further the isolation and hopelessness of our situation. I’m lucky enough to have a supportive family and group of friends. I do what I’ve been told helps; to talk. I’ve been talking and reaching out for years, but it’s not always enough.

I’ve sought professional help when I’ve contemplated suicide. I was given a number for the crisis team if ever I needed them. I was told they were available 24 hours a day and would help. I’ve had very different experiences to what I was told I would have. After the phone call I wished I’d never picked up the phone. Firstly, I was given the wrong extension number, and then when I finally got through to speak to someone they simply said,

“Carry on taking your medication and you’ll start to feel better soon.” I talk more about this in the post My Experiences of Mental Health Crises Care

GP’s need more training to identify severe mental illnesses and provide the correct referrals. I like many others with bipolar were misdiagnosed countless times, and it took 12 years for me to be diagnosed. Therapy needs to be far more accessible and not just a one size fits all solution on the NHS. Talking therapies is not always provided by a trained psychologist. In my experience it was a counsellor, who had been trained in basic techniques in order to provide talking therapies. It wasn’t enough and he wasn’t prepared to deal with the symptoms I was displaying. Specialist, long term therapy is still out of reach for many. The price tag attached is as if it’s marketed as a luxury rather than a necessity for those with severe mental illness.

Mental health has had budget increases, but they’re far smaller than budgets for physical health. It’s been five years since the government pledged to create “parity of esteem” between NHS mental and physical health services. People are suffering and we demand better. We need to recognise the role of poverty and discrimination in determining access to formal mental health services. We need to address the reasons why so many people from ethnic minorities, the LGBT+ community and those with disabilities suffer from mental ill health. There are still disgustingly long waiting lists. Having an assessment due in eighteen months when you’re suicidal is not only callous, but negligent. Still we’re seeing mental health services strained to their limits. Still people are told,

“You’re not ill enough” and “Come back when you’ve attempted suicide” Change is desperately needed right now.

In the end investment, not rhetoric, is needed to save lives.

 

Is Stress A Trigger For Mental Illness?

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For me, the answer is yes. However, it’s not the cause of my mental illness but a trigger for an episode of bipolar mania or depression. It’s usually coupled with other triggers such as; a lack of sleep, drinking alcohol, or not taking medication.

I’ve been through many occasions where stress has had an impact on my mental illness. When the pressures of work have become too much, I find myself spiralling. The most likely repercussion is an episode of mania. The stress will disappear and I will become a whirlwind of energy and activity. Misdirected this energy can lead to reckless behaviour and I’ll find myself in dangerous situations. Mania also leads to obsession. Either with my work, with colleagues I dislike, or on projects in my personal life. I talk about one example in detail in the post Unhealthy Obsession

Often I don’t realise I’m stressed until I start showing signs of mania and then at that point I don’t care that stress has caused me to feel so euphoric. Of course with bipolar, being so hyperactive and full of relentless energy, I have to come down sooner or later. I talk about this feeling in the post The Mania Hangover . Then the stress I’m under really hits me, as I fall into a depressive state. There have been many times when for whatever reason I am already manic or depressed when a stressful situation pops into my life. Depending on the type of episode I’m experiencing, my reactions and ways of coping will differ dramatically.

Although stress can make us feel ill, a mental health condition has to already be there, whether it’s known to you or not, to trigger a mental illness. We all go through times of stress where we feel run down, lacking energy and generally feel overwhelmed by life. If you’re susceptible to depression or anxiety, the stresses of life can definitely trigger these. I find with bipolar disorder, which I continually live with, stress exacerbates the condition. I’ve learnt that I have to manage the stressors in my life and face up to the causes. Whether that be my job, a relationship, or money worries I need to assess the impact they are having to my stress levels, and ultimately my mental health.

Workplaces in particular need to work with individuals to create an environment that eases daily pressures. Society needs to be more compassionate and provide aid to those struggling for money and living in poverty. I grew up in a household where both my parents worked, yet we struggled financially. I know firsthand as a child and then as an adult how much stress is caused every month when bills are overdue and you have no way of paying them.

If you go through stressful situations but don’t have a mental illness that’s great! But don’t judge those that do. It doesn’t make the person weak or less resilient because stress triggers their mental illness. In times of extreme stress those with mental illnesses suffer; it’s unavoidable.

 

How to Approach Your Doctor If You Think You May Have Bipolar Disorder

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Bipolar disorder takes a notoriously long time to diagnose, on average ten years in fact. Add to this that people with bipolar disorder are misdiagnosed three times on average, it can feel to many like a hard slog to finally receive a diagnosis. This happened to me, where it took twelve years to be diagnosed and I was misdiagnosed with depression several times. I don’t want to see anyone else go through this unnecessarily, so I’ve listed below what you can do before and during meeting with a GP.

Keep a Mood Diary

This is the number one thing I wish I’d done before seeing my GP. Keeping a mood diary for a few months, will give them a picture of how much you are struggling and the stark contrast in your moods. It can be difficult to explain how much your moods are impacting your life and keeping a diary of them is a definitive way to show them this. You may be thinking three months is a long time to wait before seeing a doctor, but believe me three months is better than waiting another three years or longer for a diagnosis. Entires don’t have to be long, you can make bullet points explaining you mood that day. Bullet points will make it easier for the doctor to read through.

Ask For a Double Appointment

Most doctor’s surgeries will have the option of making a double appointment. These are reserved for people with more than one ailment to discuss, or those with more complex needs. An average appointment is only ten minutes and can go by in a flash if you’re feeling mentally unwell and struggling to explain yourself. You may feel rushed and forget what you wanted to say and giving a clear picture of your moods is a vital step in receiving a diagnosis.

Write Down What You want to Say

As I’ve already said, feeling mentally unwell can make us forgetful and/or anxious, stopping us from explaining ourselves fully. You can’t show a doctor a mental illness; unfortunately we can only rely on what we say. Write down what you’re going to tell your doctor before the appointment. It will make it clearer in your mind what you need to explain and highlight important points. Take it with you and refer to it if you can’t remember what exactly you were going to say. If you’re feeling extremely anxious or upset and feel you can’t speak clearly enough, give your notes for the doctor to read themselves.

Take Someone With You

Taking a partner, family member or close friend will take the pressure off you during the appointment. Someone that knows you well and what you’re struggling with, not only provides you with much needed support, but can corroborate your symptoms. A doctor will be more likely to take your concerns seriously if someone with you is agreeing that they have witnessed your extreme moods and unusual behaviours. Their insights may provide information that you can’t, such as how your moods and behaviours are affecting those around you.

Be Assertive

This is a difficult one, but something I feel is important. You know how you’re feeling and how your symptoms are affecting you and you need to make this clear. Often those with bipolar disorder before they are diagnosed are misdiagnosed by doctors with depression and anxiety. In a short appointment a doctor may assess you as having depression as it’s the most obvious answer and much more common. If you feel something else is happening, and you’re struggling with manic, psychotic or other symptoms, you need to tell the doctor. Being assertive doesn’t mean you have to be aggressive or confrontational, only making your points confidently and articulately.

A good doctor will take the time to speak to you, and check your medical history. Your medical history may highlight patterns of earlier mental illness that link to signs of bipolar disorder. If your GP agrees with you this will lead to a referral for a psychiatric assessment. The assessment will be much more in depth with a psychiatrist and will give you a clear answer as to whether you have bipolar disorder or not.