Today is World Bipolar Day, so I wanted to write a little bit about what it has been like living with Bipolar. As I have spoken about before, I have Bipolar type 2, which is categorised by episodes of 'Depression', 'Hypomania' or 'Stable', though even with stability usually comes with some underlying issues, but when not at an 'extreme' or 'intense' level, for me, that is 'good'.
I am attempting to allow myself to be vulnerable when writing this post, because as a campaigner I have often found myself emotionally detached from my own experiences, I would go into schools, or talk to the media about my experiences, but doing so in past tense and not really connecting to it. There is a lot of stigma I attach to myself, and this self-stigma has led me to only talking about how I feel in past tense, and not really being open about what I am currently going through, despite constantly advocating for openness, honesty and reaching out. I guess I feel, and others have sometimes reinforced my idea that as a Mental Health campaigner I must be 'recovered', but to excuse the cliché, recovery is very much a journey and not a particular point, and we all have very different views on what recovery (or recovered for some) means.
"Vulnerability isn't the opposite of strength. It is a necessary part." -Meredith Grey
I am going to start with the 'hypomania' aspect of my experiences, I had what was described as a hypomanic episode, not that I realised that was what was happening at the time. People around me started to make comments about my change in behaviour, but I dismissed it and actually got quite snappy about people suggesting something was 'wrong', because to me I was just 'not depressed', the state that I, personally am most often in out of the different states.
At the start, I felt amazing, the best I ever had, everything had splashing colour, which is a hard experience to explain, but it was as though the saturation of colour had been increased, there was more vividness and purity of colour, colour being everything in my life. I felt an overwhelming sense of power, as though I would be the one to make a real difference in the world, and that I would be able to do that all by myself (spoiler: I wasn't). I had so much motivation, and it led me to starting a lot of projects and jumping around quite erratically between them, trying to complete everything, whilst at the same time leaving so much unfinished. Things like pulling out 100s of recipe books and magazines to read and then use them all to make my own recipe book, which 2 years after starting contains a lemon drizzle cake (which is actually pretty smashing), a pasta bake (also nailed that), and a fish pie (I don't like fish...). Creating a supermarket style stock rotation in my own house, which my family did not stick too, which I found incredibly frustrating, but in hindsight being made to tick off every item you removed/added into the cupboards on an itinerary I had made, would be quite annoying in a house of, at the time, five. I also thought I was adulting really well by creating an address book; however this involved me, quite demandingly asking a lot of people, not all of which I knew very well, on facebook for their addresses immediately so that I could put it in my address book - still pretty confused as to how I got so many responses from people I never really spoke to. I had so much energy, I didn't sleep for days, didn't eat and lost a lot of weight, yet I retained a huge amount of energy and was getting huge amounts done, at least I thought I was.
The thoughts that were racing. If I was to try and explain what it felt to have such fast thoughts, it would be like when at a concert and the strobe lights are flashing from every angle, constantly firing and you can't focus on just one. I became very erratic, quick-paced conversations, risky behaviour from spending a lot of money in a short period of time on things I definitely did not need, thousands just unaccounted for to having unprotected sex with different people. I just stopped caring how my behaviour would affect me. Eventually though, I crashed.
"There comes a point where it all becomes too much. When we get too tired to fight anymore. So we give up. That's when the real work begins. To find hope where there seems to be absolutely none at all." - Christina Yang
Time to get raw and honest on this next part. This past 6 months for me have been a struggle, that being an understatement. I found myself feeling low, and all of a sudden I was in a full blown major depressive episode. The worst I had in years, if not ever. So instead of telling you generally about how depression affected me in the past, I am going to tell you what the last 6 months have been like for me, which whilst not in as dark a place currently, is still very raw and difficult to write.
I could see myself slipping, I took the necessary steps for reaching out for support, but it was beyond difficult/impossible to access support, at points crying and begging on the floor for someone to help me, because I didn't feel safe and didn't know what else to do - constantly being told no, they couldn't help me and I 'just had to keep myself safe'. Life got incredibly dark, and for the first time, when a friend told me that she was worried about me, I found myself worried too. I could not see past the episode, I could not see myself ever surviving this episode, I felt more vulnerable than I ever had before. Whilst I don't know exactly why this episode was so bad, there was a definite mixture of university stress, the impacts of being in and removing myself from a damaging relationship, and the change in season, to one with less daylight. It was never really 'one thing' just an overwhelming sense of doom.
I have been going back and forward as to whether to include photos from the last 6 months, because they are unfiltered and really quite hard for me to look at, but the realities need to be shown. I have posted so many photos over the last year that make me look super happy, and like everything was going so well for me, but actually that wasn't the reality. I was guilty of posting heavily filtered photos to give off the impression that life was great, and yes in some photos that was true and I felt good, but what I don't show is the reality... so here it goes, the truth, the unfiltered, non profile picture worthy reality of my life. Yet even trying to be entirely open. I still remain hidden and protective of myself, only showing the ones that aren't the photos from the absolute rock bottom, because I hate what I did to me, my skin, my hair, everything.
I have spent the majority of the past six months in bed, on a good day making it to the sofa, but this was few and far between. I was, as I often described myself, a 'human burrito', wrapped in the safety of my duvet, and just existing, I wasn't living, it was almost too much just to 'simply' breathe. I wasn't looking after myself, not eating, drinking, washing, I just sat and existed. Lost and detached from the world. Days passed and nothing had changed, I was sat in the dark, staring at the ceiling just trying to stay alive to stare at it again the next day. There was nothing to distinguish one day from the next. I felt like I was at a stand still, everything around me was moving, seemingly quickly, the world carried on without me. I was frozen in time, in a void.
Whilst I felt so isolated and with little attachment to the outside world I am very fortunate to have some really wonderful friends, whom stood by my side and held my hand through it, who were prepared to take on the war with me, and it is without a doubt that, which saved my life and stopped me from feeling like I was alone - even when I shut the doors on the world, they kept knocking. Through phone calls, texts, and little reminders that they were there for me even if I just cried down the phone to them. But at points that almost became too much, I remember speaking to a friend and telling her that I almost wished people didn't care, because it would make it easier for me to slip away. My thoughts became very dark and I became increasingly suicidal, I struggled to 'fight back' the thoughts more and more as time went on. I was scared of myself, I no longer trusted myself and my ability to keep myself safe. I was withdrawn from the things that I loved, I basically stopped campaigning, and in my mind I felt like a bad friend, not being the support that people needed from me.
The one word I found myself repeatedly using was 'frustrated'. I was just so frustrated that I kept going in circles, that when I tried to 'help myself' by going out and trying to break the 'cycle' it would be followed by a major crash, frustrated that I wasn't able to fix it all, for myself or for others, frustrated that my brain was constantly trying to kill me, whilst I tried to fight and becoming more and more exhausted, losing the energy to fight. I felt like I was drowning in a river, constantly trying my hardest to gasp for whatever air I could find, trying to build a dam with 'coping mechanism blocks', but this just creating pressure, pushing down on my chest, holding me under the water. I was barely treading the water, becoming so exhausted that I didn't want to keep swimming, to let the currents take me.
To finish this post, I just want to say a massive thank you to the people that have supported me and are continuing to support me through such a difficult time in my life. Though I still have a lot that I need to work through, I am definitely in a less dark place than I was and I owe a great deal of that to those that made the time for me, that listened to even the hardest of words, and at times just listened to the silence. I cannot express enough the importance of reaching out to a pal if you notice they are struggling, because it honestly does make such a huge difference, and ultimately, you could save a life.