On Saturday, an article about me was published in the local paper (link at the bottom) about living with being Bipolar. I’ve had lots of lovely messages, but also some worried about me. No need to worry – I’m fine.
I chose to talk about the issue as there is still so much stigma and confusion surrounding mental health and I just wanted someone to break through the noise – why not me? We see newspapers and other media constantly talking about criminals as having “mental health” issues but fail to be clear about the correlation between a diagnosis and the crime. Just because you live with mental illness doesn’t make you dangerous or wild, it just means that there is something in your head that needs attention. Seeing the world of Mental Illness in a negative light can only add to the stigma and problems that so many find themselves living with.
We don’t look strangely at someone who has a physically sore head, but an “ill” head is a different thing altogether according to some people. Am I different? Yes I am and over the last ten years or so I’d say my personality has changed in different ways. Those around me also point this out. How? Well here’s a simple explanation.
Imagine a graph with a line that flows between minus ten and plus ten. The minus numbers are when we feel low or sad, the plus figures are when you’re happy or excited. With Manic Depression those parameters are extended to plus and minus twenty. My mood can throw itself from one extreme to the other in a matter of hours and in that extra ten spaces live other moods that most people won’t experience. At the top there’s frustration with self, anger, anxiety, confusion, mania and forgetfulness. At the bottom there lives emptiness, loneliness, morbidity, helplessness and self-hatred. While most people will feel these emotions on occasions, they come round quite regularly for me.
I have definitely experienced a worsening of the condition over the last few years – perhaps the boundaries are widening – and because of that I went to get help. The depression was tiring and draining; I struggled to do basic things. Even now there are problems and that’s being on medication. I take antidepressants, mood stabilizers (to help with the wild fluctuations) and a sleeping tablet to help regulate my sleep. I’ll be on these meds – or ones like them – for the rest of my life.
Here’s the reason me deciding to speak out matters – if someone who goes through those emotions and doesn’t feel right hopefully from my experience they can see that there are others that live with it and still have a productive and full life. For years – and I mean back into my childhood – I was never “normal” I struggled back then with these emotional extremes. As an adult it was starting to impact on my personal life, work life and social life. If I hadn’t gone to the doctors then I really don’t know what or who would have broken first. Something would have given way and I’m always aware that it still could.
Having the support of my wife, family and friends makes every day easier. Medication makes every day easier. The knowledge that I have my Doctor and Consultant available at the end of a phone if I need them makes every day easier. You cannot get through it on your own and you cannot get through it without professional help. While there are great websites like See Me (Scotland) and The Blackdog Institute (Australia) you can’t just self-diagnose and sit at home hoping it will go away – it won’t.
There isn’t a magic wand – at the moment I’m in a bit of a dip and I have all the support & meds – but there are ways of coping. I have little tricks and techniques that get me through tough times, especially being a teacher. It’s a difficult job to have off days in but you manage, you get on with it because that’s just what you have to do.
Sadly for some people – a few I have known personally – they don’t get help, they don’t reach out, they don’t speak about it. They make a decision to stop the problem with a drastic measure. One in four of us will experience mental health issues in our lives; some permanent, some temporary; some chemical, others by trauma. All I ask is that you be honest about your mental health – it’s not brave to ask for help or to speak out, it should be the norm.
So my small piece in the local paper will hopefully hit home with someone who is living with a problem and it gives them the impetus to do something about it. If that happens then it was worth it.
Oh and let’s clear one thing up – I’m not battling bipolar disorder, I’m living with it. To fight with it would cause more issues in my opinion, I’d rather learn to work with it and learn from it and hopefully that will help me find peace.