This blog post was prompted by a blog I had written a few months ago for Rethink Mental Illness about living with Bipolar 1 disorder. I received a message from a mother whose teenage daughter was suicidal and very unwell and was receiving treatment from CAMHS child and adolescent mental health service . This same mother has stayed in touch with me and updates me with her daughters progress.
I was the same age as her daughter is now when I became unwell. I was only 16, still a child but on the brink of adulthood, at a time where teenage life can be confusing, even without a mental illness! Being diagnosed at 16 changed my life in many ways. I had to come to terms with having a chronic illness, with being ‘different’, with taking medication daily for the rest of my life, with not drinking alcohol, with feeling insecure about my own mind and self for a long time. Its a lot to take in, at that age in particular.
Being Bipolar is not the end. Yes it can cause havoc and play with your sense of self, cause insecurities about your mind, make you psychotic or manic/ hypomanic, make you depressed and suicidal, make you anxious and terrified and many other symptoms. But it is not the end. With help from support networks and professional medical teams, you can recover. You can get better. You can achieve.
What changed everything for me was taking Lithium. It has stabilised my moods and they don’t fluctuate as intensely, so I am not symptomatic. It was a gamble taking it, as is taking most psychiatric medication, its trial and error. But, as Bipolar runs in my family, I knew having the right chemical balance was key because my moods were all over the place.
I still have bad days and panic and anxiety from time to time. However they are no way near as bad as when I was on the wrong medication.
At 16, I had a very uncertain future. The Doctors told my family I wouldn’t get my A levels (despite having got good grades at GCSE) or go to university. I proved them wrong. I went to university and got my BA, I went travelling to India and Ghana where I volunteered and I went to drama school to do a Masters degree which I attained, despite the difficulties in my mood and the stress it did create. This wouldn’t have been possible without the support network and amazing family in my life. And of course, my need to do things despite the illness!
Achieving these things made my self esteem increase. There are times when I am not confident but having a severe mental illness is not the be all and end all. You can live with it, there are times which can be hell- but these make the sweet times better. I am back at work as well after being in hospital in 2014 and have tried to rebuild my life.
So today I am thinking of the teenage girl who is currently unwell at 16 and her family. And praying for her as we go into Shabbat (Jewish Sabbath).