A Life Lived Vividly Series – Psychotic Doesn’t Equal Dangerous

A Life Lived Vividly

Evil

Nasty

Freak

Bitch

Jealous

Dangerous

These are all words that people relate to psychosis. We all need to stop using it as a derogatory term. So often I hear people described as psychotic when they’re being cruel, or acting unpredictably. Recently I saw someone on twitter describing an ex as a ‘psychotic nazi.’ Politicians, especially a certain orange American one are constantly being described as psychotic. It’s lazy and ignorant to use a mental illness to negatively describe someone.

Psychosis is a mental health condition that makes you feel;

Scared

Confused

Vulnerable

Alone

I have psychosis. I hear things that aren’t really there. I’m a danger to myself when I hear voices. Those living with hallucinations and delusions are some of the most vulnerable in society. Feeling detached from reality and not being sure what you’re seeing or hearing is real can be terrifying.

Once I’d just turned the lights off and got into bed. Out of nowhere, I heard a voice, as if someone was speaking right into my ear. The voice whispered in a slow, assured tone,

“I see you.” I sat straight up in bed, my heart thudding in my chest. I couldn’t move, I felt paralysed with fear. I couldn’t sleep for the rest of the night. I couldn’t calm down and kept hearing that voice whisper in my ear. Even now when someone says that phrase I’m transported back to that night and I feel deeply uncomfortable.

People with psychosis are far more likely to hurt themselves than others. According to Time To Change   

‘Over a third of the public think people with a mental health problem are likely to be violent.’

Psychosis doesn’t make you a ‘psycho’. It doesn’t make you a freak. It doesn’t mean you’re scary. It doesn’t mean you’re dangerous.

How do you think it makes those feel that have psychosis to keep hearing the word used to describe murderers and violent criminals? Hearing it in tag lines for horror films and descriptions for Halloween costumes? It hurts. It makes a tiny piece of you feel that maybe you’re actually evil and dangerous, because you’ve heard it so many times.

I’m in a place now where I understand my condition, and I’m learning to manage it. It wasn’t always this way and for me and many others like me I was terrified of opening up about my experiences for years.

Too many people mix up the meaning of psychosis with other disorders. They use the term psychopath to describe those with psychosis. They aren’t the same thing. Psychosis means a person will hear, see or feel things that aren’t really there, or a combination of these. It doesn’t mean you’re going to go hurt anyone.

We’re ill not dangerous. We deserve compassion, understanding and to be listened to without judgement. Please think about the language you use and how harmful it can be. Your words can cause more harm than you realise. They could cause someone to remain silent and not look for help that they desperately need.

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.

A Life Lived Vividly Series – The Voices Are My Friends; Mania And Psychosis

A Life Lived Vividly

 

Not everyone realizes that some sufferers of Bipolar Disorder also have psychotic symptoms. These could include delusions, auditory and visual hallucinations. For me, I hear voices. This happens during periods of extreme moods, so when I’m manic or severely depressed. 

During mania, the voices can be comforting. I have many ideas racing through my head during a manic phase, and the voices I hear add to the jumble. They give me ideas and fill me with confidence that then elevates my mood further. I often speak out loud to them and they reply very audibly, as if they were in the room with me. I remember instances when I’d been in my bedroom alone and I would run downstairs extremely excited, like I had just spoken to a friend on the telephone who I hadn’t seen for a while. I’ve had conversations with people where I’ve become distracted or ‘zoned out’ because there is a voice speaking to me. Sometimes I might make a joke that no one understands but myself and the voices, or laughed out loud for seemingly no reason. Over the years the voices have become my friends and I think I would miss them if they were gone. If my mood becomes very elevated I know they will be there and I look forward to hearing them.

When I’m severely depressed I have heard screaming and shouting in my head. It’s often incoherent with a few words and sentences scattered about and all of it incredibly loud. The loudness of it all makes it an extremely intense experience, like being at the cinema with the sound booming all around you. Sometimes if feels directed at me and at other times the shouting feels intrusive, like somebody is ranting and raving at nothing or no one in particular. The worst part of this is not knowing how long it will go on for, and knowing I can’t escape it. It often happens when I’m in bed and can’t sleep, but it has happened during the day too. I’m sat or lying in the dark when the screaming starts. The screaming is constant and then there is a voice shouting “Everyone hates you”, “You’re worthless”. It frightens me immensely. I’ve found myself covering my ears to escape the noise. I’ve curled into a ball and cried on the floor or in bed as the screaming continues. Very occasionally, I hear tapping. It usually happens when I’m extremely irritable, which can happen when I’m depressed or manic. 

When I was younger I thought having someone who talked to me in my head was normal. I know people have conversations out loud to think through a problem, but the difference is they know exactly what the next sentence is going to be. As I’ve got older I’ve realised that my experiences are not the same. Now I find it embarrassing and I don’t like discussing it with anyone.

I have been caught out a couple of times; I was on a train with my partner when I answered a question out loud. He said to me looking confused “Who are you talking to?” I remember turning red and saying “Oh sorry, I thought you asked me a question.” and left it at that. I also felt that if I told anyone about the screaming and shouting they would think I was disturbed and crazy. I’ve tried a few times to reach out to people but I can never seem to articulate exactly how it feels, or even to admit to the problem. I find writing and blogging to be therapeutic and it’s an easier way to explain how I feel. 

At the moment I am taking Lamotrigine a mood stabilizer, and Aripiprazole, an anti psychotic. They have helped balance my moods, giving me stability. It’s not perfect, and I still have manic and depressed phases where I sometimes hear voices. I’m learning more about how to deal with these episodes, such as trying to rationalise what is happening and ignoring it when I feel able to.

Managing Bipolar Disorder can be daunting at first, but there are many tools you can utilise:

  • Find support as soon as possible.  At appointments with your Doctor, try to be confident and assertive, to ensure you receive the support you need. This can be incredibly difficult when you’re ill, so take a family member or close friend with you who understands your illness. 
  • If you have psychotic symptoms, it’s important to be able to stabilize your moods. When stable, the symptoms should subside. 
  • Become an expert on your illness. The more you know, the more you will understand and find solutions to combat Bipolar. 
  • Find a Bipolar support group near you, or online. Hearing other people’s experiences and struggles, and how they have overcome them can be inspiring and informative. They are often a great resource to find advice. 

 

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.

 

 

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.

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.

Taking Medication For Your Mental Illness Doesn’t Equal Weakness

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Every evening at 10pm, my husband’s phone starts to beep. It’s a daily alarm to remind me to take my medication. I go to the kitchen drawer where the tablets are kept, and rustling around (because it’s our lets shove everything we don’t know where to keep in this drawer, drawer) I’ll find them. I’ll take the 100mg Lamotrigine, 50mg Aripiprazole and 50mg Sertraline. They’re a combination of a mood stabiliser, an antipsychotic and an anti depressant. Taking medication is a part of my night time routine, as much as washing my face and brushing my teeth. I never hesitate to put them in my mouth and swallow them with a gulp of water.

These tiny pills keep me stable. They allow me to function and get up in the morning. They counter the negative thoughts that lead me to feeling desperately depressed and suicidal. They stop any manic episode from emerging and causing me to become a whirlwind of self destructive hyperactivity. They silence the cruel and vicious voices in my head when I’m depressed, or the delusions that make me believe I can do anything when I’m manic. With all that in mind, why would I not take them? Why would I choose to be poorly? I’ve learnt that I can’t live without medication, otherwise bipolar completely overruns my life. It sweeps in like a high tide, submerging my true self, and the low tide never arrives. It controls my life, and I’m resolute that I’ll never knowingly let that happen again.

It’s not a weakness, or a flaw in my character to take medication. I’m not naive, I haven’t blindly allowed a doctor to prescribe them. It took a long time to come to terms with the fact I needed medication to survive. Long discussions with my psychiatrist allowed me to make informed decisions about what approach I wanted to pursue with my treatment. I didn’t settle for meds that left me with debilitating side effects. I tried a number of meds and combinations of them to find what worked for me. It was a long process but ultimately more than worth the time and effort.

I’ve always prescribed to the idea that those living with long term mental illnesses are strong. We manage to live through our struggles everyday and emerge stronger than we were, whether we realise it or not. Part of our strength comes from admitting we need help. It takes someone of a firm and resolute character to come to the realisation that their mental health is having a marked effect on their life. To take medication when there is still shame and stigma surrounding it proves we can withstand the negativity.

Of course, the choice is there for us. I fully support and understand when someone doesn’t want to take medication. Therapy and lifestyle changes is enough for some. What I disagree with is being shamed or not seen as being as strong as these individuals. I am. Every evening when I take those tablets I’m not seeing them as a sign of weakness. I haven’t failed. With them I’ve achieved so much and become a healthier version of myself.

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.

So, What Is Bipolar Disorder?

 

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Bipolar disorder is characterised by extreme lows, and extreme highs. What I mean by this is extreme mood swings. Lows can lead to suicidal depression, and highs resulting in mania. Bipolar is extremely difficult to diagnose, as it affects people differently. Not everyone has extreme mania, which can result in reckless behaviour and delusions and hallucinations.

Depressive Symptoms 

If you’re depressed, it often manifests as being tired all the time, crying over little things or for no reason at all. You’ll find yourself losing interest in hobbies and activities you used to enjoy and not wanting to socialise or leave your home. Depression can leave you feeling worthless, hopeless and fill you with dread. The most serious aspect of depression is having suicidal thoughts, planning and possibly acting on them.

Manic/Hypomanic Symptoms

Hypomania begins with accelerated speech, where you talk very fast and people find it difficult to keep up with what you’re saying. You’ll not need to sleep or eat as much as you used to. Thoughts are uncontrollable and constant. With mania, your judgement may become impaired and you start to act impulsively. The most serious aspects of mania are characterised by a complete lack of control and putting yourself in dangerous situations, as well as delusional thinking (believing wild ideas about yourself or others) or hallucinations (seeing, hearing, feeling things that are not really there).

According to the charity Bipolar UK;

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

Below is a mood scale that explains the extremes of Bipolar. Most people will usually find themselves between 4 and 6 on this scale. With Bipolar, mood swings could leave you falling anywhere on the scale.

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My Experience

As  I’ve already mentioned, Bipolar unfortunately can take a long time to diagnose. I first became very ill when I was 14 and was misdiagnosed with depression. It took until i was 27 to finally have a definitive diagnosis of Bipolar. The problem I have found is many people misunderstand it and only ask for help or are given support when they are depressed. Bipolar in young people can sometimes be misdiagnosed as ADHD, because of the manic symptoms they are showing.

I was on antidepressants on and off for years. Initially I was given counselling as a teenager, and took antidepressants in my twenties. They didn’t help me, but made my mood what I would call hyper. I couldn’t stop talking, I did reckless things, drank too much, took drugs. I would feel amazing and full of confidence on anti depressants. I would often become very angry and upset people and get into arguments and fights.

Now I’m doing really well, I’m stable and I’ve found the right combination of medication that helps me manage Bipolar. It’s taken four years to find the right combination of drugs that help me stay relatively stable. I need to be very strict with myself and take them everyday and limit how much I drink, or they won’t work how they are supposed to. I’ve been told by my psychiatrist that it is a life long condition, and I need to learn how to manage it.

So where did your bipolar come from? 

To be honest i have no idea what the cause of it was. I came from a happy family, although we struggled with money and had arguments, nothing traumatic happened to me during my childhood. My Dad believes that my Grandmother had it, but she was never diagnosed that we know of, and we think I may of inherited it from her. As a child I was quite quiet and would bottle up my emotions, and then I became very depressed as a teenager. It wasn’t until I was about 16/17 when my behaviour changed and now I realise it was probably mania. It was like my whole personality changed overnight and I became very loud, talkative and hyperactive.

Advice on what to do next

I think it’s important to be careful before diagnosing someone with Bipolar. It is a severe and life long condition and the medication is serious stuff. Doctors I understand want to be careful before referring patients. To be diagnosed, you have to have a psychiatric assessment with a psychiatrist, but you first have to be referred by a GP or counsellor. Often it helps to take someone with you to an appointment. Sometimes a doctor needs to see supporting evidence from family or a partner before you are taken seriously.

My advice if you are worried that you or someone you know may have Bipolar is to keep a mood diary. Track how you are feeling everyday over a period of a few months and take it with you to see a doctor. I know that seems like a long time but it’s better than waiting years to be heard. It might also help to sit down and write a chronology of your problems from when they started up until the present day. Both of these can then be evidence to show a doctor, and will show if there is a pattern of depression and mania.

 

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.