Following on from my blog post about Borderline Personality Disorder / Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder; I was thrilled to bits when a good friend, B, offered to write a companion piece. If anyone would like to contribute a guest post on mental health, I would be absolutely delighted to publish them here.
Over to B…..
Hello there. I’m B, and this was written as a companion piece for J for World Mental Health Day. J threw out a suggestion that others might want to write down their experiences. Here are mine, and I hope it will help others to perhaps share their own/ relate to someone they know dealing with a mental health issue.
My diagnosis is bipolar. Actually it is bipolar and anxiety, with a few random characteristics of OCD, BPD and Asperger’s thrown in for good measure, which just goes to show that people cannot be neatly packaged, but for today I’m just going to talk bipolar.
Bipolar is one of those diagnoses that people think is hideously over-diagnosed. Have a few mood swings, bingo, you’re bipolar. It’s trendy, a cool status to have. It’s a side effect of being a bit creative, and when it becomes a bother pop a few pills and you’ll be fine dear.
It isn’t like that. Really it isn’t. Admittedly, bipolar is vastly more common in creative types. Mild manias and even mild depressions can be fantastic muses. Highs come with increased energy, channelled this can make for fantastic productivity. Sounds great, doesn’t it, and in all honesty I do enjoy this aspect of it. But the death rate for bipolar is 15-20%, a statistic which is no less scary when you remember it is death by suicide. Several people I have met since diagnosis are no longer around today. Suddenly it starts to sound a bit more serious.
It can be elusive, hard to diagnose. Despite two spells in day hospital and multiple crushing depressions throughout my teens and twenties, I was only diagnosed accurately because one of my three-monthly psychiatric appointments happened to coincide with an elevated mood. I sat in the poor man’s office laughing and talking non-stop at three times my normal speed. I couldn’t stand, or sit, still. I then walked home, singing, stopping to have a long and rambly discussion with a complete stranger about trees. I was on about three hours sleep a night. Deep depressions often follow highs, the body is totally worn out. It has to be observed though, and be rather more than just a wobble. It was only chance I got my diagnosis, over 15 years after I first received psychiatric attention. This is common.
The most intrusive part for me personally, hardest to deal with, are the elements of psychosis that so often accompany depression. That’s a scary word isn’t it, psychosis? It’s little talked about, and it isn’t the same psychosis, in some ways, as in, say, schizophrenia. When I am deeply depressed, even at its worst, I know logically that my bed isn’t filled with spiders and if I move they will bite, I know there aren’t zombies in the hall waiting to jump at me when I go to the toilet, but nevertheless they are real in my mind at that point. I can’t see them, I can’t hear them, there’s no hallucination but… still. I do, however, truly believe I am bad and hated and people would be better off without me, in pretty much the way Jac describes in her piece. All of that, including the self injury, something I haven’t done for several years now.
When not actively ill, the psychosis settles to a quiet annoyance. ‘Oh, do shut up’ I say, to the voice in my head telling me to drive very fast at the barrier in the multi storey car park and plunge five floors to certain death because I’m so wicked I don’t deserve to live and wouldn’t it be better for everyone if I was dead?, and it subsides, but it’s there, it’s always there popping its ugly head up at the most inopportune of moments, even when, actually, I’m feeling OK. It sucks the joy out of everything, or it tries to, happy events, treats, compliments are swiftly repackaged in my mind to mean something quite different. These days, after many years of therapy and practicing CBT and so on, I’m quite adept at sitting on such nonsense and reasoning it out but bloody hell it’s hard, constant, weary work. Solitary work too, given I’ve been a freelance loon for several years now, after cuts to the local budget decreed even my three-monthly appointment would be no more.
Psychosis can happen with mania too, but I am fortunate in that I have bipolar type 2, characterised by the same crushing depressions as type 1, but only mild, or ‘hypo’ mania. Mild is of course relative, but I am spared, at least, the disruption and chaos a bad manic phase can leave behind, although I have got into debt before. And slept with the next door neighbour. Despite depression being the usual phase in which people take their own life, mania remains the most feared, for me. Even when deeply depressed, I am in some kind of control, when manic I’m not, and that scares me.
I take pills, of course. Mind-corralling medications mean I can function from day to day but with a certain level of exhaustion. They are, after all, highly sedative, and in calming the mind they also calm the body- one medication I was on I slept for 16 hours a day and was only half awake the rest, amazingly I managed to work part time from home during this period! I have no idea how, I have very few memories from that 18 months, they are lost.
On medication, motivation- for anything- is hard. Pills cause weight gain and make it very hard to lose it again, I have just lost a stone and I have had to fight it every inch of the way. They have other side effects, often bizarre ones. I now have regular unpleasant bouts of IBS and stomach issues; at higher doses my hair started coming out. I take them, It’s still better than being unmedicated, but it’s not the cure-all solution people think it is.
So yes. Bipolar. As an old teacher of mine used to say, it’s not big and it’s not clever. But it’s me.