As many of you will be aware, the 10th October is World Mental Health Day. In order to mark the day I have decided to create a blog series to publish in the run up to World Mental Health Day with the help of contributors with lived experience. The series will run over 6 days, covering a variety of mental health problems. The aim of the series is to remove some of the 'clinical' feel behind the descriptions of mental health problems and humanise it by describing how it feels to those experiencing a mental health problem. Check back to see the next part of the series; borderline personality disorder.
Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks (NIMH).
"Bipolar is characterised by episodes of depression and mania, I previously discussed how depression feels to me here. During my first hypomanic episode I felt amazing, the best I had ever felt, I had come out of depression for the first time in 12 years, I could see the sun, the flowers had colour and I could smell freshly baked bread, everything was great, I had motivation again, but maybe it was too much. It feels like you are at a concert, lights are flashing everywhere, but these flashes are thoughts, constantly firing. The thoughts don’t give you a chance to slow down - everything is so fast paced. It feels like your entire body is running a constant 100m race that won’t slow down no matter how hard you try. You have a puzzle to complete; you have hundreds, and sometimes thousands of pieces but its impossible to remember how it all comes together. Despite not being able to complete the puzzle, you start 100 different puzzles at the same time, you feel on top of the world that you can achieve anything, be anything. Its feeling like you are on top of the world, you are invincible, from danger, from bank loans, and the world can’t touch you. It feels frustrating that people couldn’t keep up with your quick-paced conversations, or were not up to date with your latest and most often bizarre idea." - Jodie Goodacre
"Having bipolar disorder for me means that I am always in one of three states: depressed, hypomanic, or ‘stable’ – but that stability is never without an underlying anxiety that at some point, I will again be either depressed or hypomanic. And that one day that hypomania might turn in to mania. And that I don’t know when any of these things will happen. I can spend months living my life with no symptoms at all, but it is always there, following me like a shadow. The depression is suffocating; I feel like I am drowning and everything feels like trying to move underwater. The world feels incredibly slow, and thoughts start creeping in that I am a burden on people and that I am worthless. The mania is exhausting; I feel wonderful for a while but it very quickly turns to irritability that people are questioning me and that nobody else can keep up. I have a thousand and one thoughts that are all brilliant and I can’t process them quick enough. Sometimes I feel scared when I take the time to think about how my life will be affected when one of these episodes inevitably reoccurs; but for now I’m just trying to appreciate the times that I am well and able to do the things that my illness has stopped me doing so many times before." - Cara Lisette
"Cyclothymia- A type of bipolar, you don't know if you're coming or going, a cycle of the unknown. Days, weeks or months of the same feeling. It drains you, the constant fear of not knowing what is next. Constantly trying to reach the finishing line of stability. The lows consume you, engulfed by this anchor that weighs you down, you often wonder 'why bother?'. This cycle is not ending, round and round. I'm tired and not sleeping and my eye bags are dark. You want to hibernate permanently because this merry go-round won't end. The highs make you talk lots, you are confident and are full of ideas. You can be an artist, a campaigner...you can be anything. But then the anchor appears again, dragging you down but 10x worse and you wonder why you bother living in this repetitive nightmare when it's actually a reality." - Dee Dee
"Bipolar feels like I’m constantly in a battle with my own mind. Some people describe it as a rollercoaster, but I don’t feel that way. Rollercoasters to me are fun and thrilling, but Bipolar feels more like being on a cliff edge; sometimes my mind wants to climb higher, where it’s more dangerous and terrifying. Other times my mind wants to jump off that cliff because it simply can’t cope anymore." - Katie Conibear
"Depression is the inability to feel happiness anymore; the lack of hope for the future. It’s being surrounded by doubt in your ability to do anything. It’s grinding to a halt. Sometimes it took me over an hour to get out of the shower because I couldn’t convince my legs to move. It’s cruel, taunting thoughts about yourself: ‘You’re useless. You’re lazy. Look at you not even going to work, you’re a burden. You’re a lump. You’re wasting everyone’s time. How could anyone ever love you?’ It’s endless. There can be psychosis too: strange experiences, voices, terrifying and cruel. And then finally there’s the constant imagery of harming yourself. It pops up everywhere, even when you try to ignore it. Eventually you become convinced that it really is the right thing to do. Taking your life is the kinder option for your loved ones because you bring them nothing, you only hurt them and they would be so much freer, so much happier, without you there. And then there’s mania. So frequently this is seen as the ‘less bad’, even ‘fun’ side of Bipolar. Maybe it is for some but for me it’s often been worse. At first, in hypomania, it can seem fun, even exciting. I’ll be bouncing off the walls, out all the time, super generous and always constantly energetic and laughing. Then the balance tips, it slips into full-blown mania. I’ll be out making dangerous decisions, not realising I’m putting myself at risk. Last time I was manic I drained thousands of pounds from my savings and I don’t have a single thing to show for it. I vaguely remember handing out money on the street and buying round after round of drinks for vast groups of people I barely knew. The anger as well. No one can keep up with me, my brain and my thoughts are so quick and fragmented. To me I’m making sense, but to those around me I’m garbling and confusing, jumping from one thing to another, often completely unrelated things. I’d go for days without sleeping, not a bit of sleep, literally no sleeping. I’d be up all night creating business ideas and convinced I was making the world a better place. Often I’ve ended up sectioned, placed in hospital against my will because I am actively risking my life. I’d walk into traffic without looking because I thought that I was so important everything stopped for me. I also danced along bridges over the Thames, up on the barrier, because I thought it was funny. One wrong step and I probably would have died. It isn’t fun. It’s terrifying. The final part of Bipolar for me is the in between, because between episodes it should be better right? That’s how it feels and that’s what people think. But actually, your mood never goes back to normal. It’s always in a heightened range so lows are lower and highs are higher. This has its good points: a new depth and breadth of emotion that brings a real richness in experiences. But also it’s erratic, it’s exhausting and it’s hard to manage. The maintenance of mood is imperative and having to constantly police yourself day in day out- who would want that? Add in the cocktail of medication and it becomes a constant presence. I’m probably a kinder, more compassionate person because of everything it’s put me through. It informs many aspects of my life, my relationships, my volunteering and my career. So maybe I wouldn’t change the past, despite the years in hospital and the struggle to get my life back on track. It’s so intertwined in my experiences I don’t know who I’d be if it had never happened and many of the wonderful things I’ve done and incredible people I’ve met wouldn’t have happened either. But if I could take a pill and never get unwell again? Of course I would." - Katie Bambury
Hopefully reading the personal experiences from these wonderful people has helped to provide a more human understanding of what Bipolar is, what it means to those who experience it and how it feels to them.
Sending positive vibes,