What it’s really like to live with Bipolar Disorder
by Holly Fehily, See Change Ambassador
August 2019 is a time I will never forget; it was a time I felt like my world was falling apart. I had just been diagnosed with bipolar disorder – a chemical imbalance in the brain that causes me to experience episodes of hypomania, depression and mixed states. Being diagnosed with bipolar disorder was terrifying, it was something I wasn’t expecting. I felt like I had been somewhat ‘labelled’ and along with that label I felt shame. Some even said my journey with mental health was over and never spoke of it again but for me it was just beginning. I suppose there was a part of me that felt a small bit of relief; finally, there was an explanation for the way I was feeling but just a few weeks later the struggle really began. The mood changes with bipolar disorder can be overwhelming. I was feeling irritable and angry. No two people will have the same experience, behind every diagnosis there’s a different story to tell. I couldn’t come to terms with the diagnosis. I knew the stigma and misconceptions associated with bipolar disorder and I even started to believe them myself. I was patiently waiting for my life to do a 360, to be out of control like the way characters with bipolar disorder are portrayed in the media. It was like every day I was reminding myself that I was living with bipolar disorder. Even when I looked in the mirror, it’s all I could see in myself. I felt like it was written all over my face. I felt different, I classed myself as a weirdo.
I didn’t want to talk or share my diagnosis with anyone due to experiencing stigma in the past and I had a fear of what people would think of me if I did. Public stigma had a massive effect on me and made me not want to seek support. For example, when I asked a previous manager for a reference, he agreed but said he would have to tell them ‘I suffer with my nerves’. There had been other occasions too where a friend had spoken to others saying ‘I was gone in the head’ leading to the loss of some friendships. With no surprise this led to even more self stigma, I kept my struggles to myself. Stigma is something I still come across in everyday life. People using the term “bipolar” to describe the weather going from one extreme to the other or comparing those in a bad mood to be bipolar can be hurtful and dehumanizing to anyone who is actually experiencing it in their daily life. Bipolar disorder is not an adjective and society needs to stop using it as one.
Slowly but surely things started changing for the better. My mood was very low, and I knew I needed help, so I took the step to find it. It was the support I was looking for and for someone to help educate me about bipolar disorder, I still didn’t really understand it. Through my research I found Shine, a service I will be forever grateful for. While there I met Tian, we met on a weekly basis for one to one support sessions. It wasn’t long before my mood started to improve. I started to learn more about myself and that self stigma started to lift. I gained the courage to confine in friends about what was going on for me. I stopped labelling myself and started seeing myself as a girl trying to get through life with emotions a bit higher than others. I started to feel compassion for what I have been through. I’m proud today to say that I am on the road to recovery, I may live with bipolar disorder, but I am thriving. My GP and the team in his practice have played a major part in my recovery along with my psychiatrist and the counsellor I see from time to time. Katrina is somebody that knows me inside out. A big help in my recovery was educating myself and getting to know and be aware of my triggers. I know bipolar disorder won’t just disappear. There are still days that feel heavy to carry; but I always remember, the worst days in recovery are still better than the best days in an illness.
For anyone who may be struggling living with a mental health difficulty, know that you are not alone, and you are not just a diagnosis. Taking that first step and asking for help can be scary and daunting but it’s worth it. There is a world of support out there to help you along the way and most importantly be kind to yourself.
I hold hope that sharing my story can help others feel less isolated if you live with bipolar disorder or any other mental illness. For those of you that don’t my hope is that it helps build awareness.
Happy World Bipolar Day!
If you are having a tough time at the moment and need to reach out for support, please contact any of the following