Believe In Progress, Options, Laughter and Recovery: Some Thoughts on Bipolar and Life.

(image: Hannah Blum)


Hi everyone,

I havn’t done a personal blog for a while because things have felt pretty…. the same. We are all going through such a difficult year where we feel in limbo, stuck with the dark, cold nights and little to distract ourselves- we can’t travel, go on holiday, see friends indoors in person . It can all feel bleak and frustrating with Covid 19 and this new world we find ourselves in.

I am lucky that my mental health hasn’t taken a nosedive, although there have been days where I have felt low, anxious and overwhelmed. I love my work for the Body Shop and my writing, but there are times when I just want a break. We were planning on maybe going away somewhere in the UK, but then Tier 3 restrictions hit London, so we will be at home over the Christmas break. Instead, I have made sure I have taken time for myself and rested- so that things don’t get too much.

I opened my book Bring me to Light this morning- I don’t often read it as I wrote it. But, it fell on this page- a poem about Bipolar that a fellow friend and patient wrote when we were on the hospital day unit in 2014. She also had bipolar disorder and was in there for her recovery.

It said,

Believe

In

Progress

Options

Laughter

and

Recovery

She kindly let me keep her poem- at the time, I needed hope, healing and faith- that I could get better. That Bipolar wouldn’t ruin my life.

I did get better. I have been so much better on my new medication. I met an amazing man who is now my husband. I found a career I am able to do with my PTSD and new friends and a team of people around me who are wonderful. Life is good.

However, a small part of me is scared. Scared to get ill again or be hospitalised. Scared of the psychosis that wrecked my life. Scared of whether or how I can become a mother whilst on Lithium or whether we will need to look at surrogacy as the meds can cause birth defects and there is a strong risk of post partum psychosis and pre or post natal depression for me with my bipolar. I am scared that if I carried my own child, I could end up on a hospital ward again- but a mother and baby one. I don’t want that to happen.

In my book Bring me to Light I wrote, ‘ Sometimes I still feel like the scared sixteen year old, sitting in that psychiatry room at the Priory North London, being given a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. …I have learnt that thanks to Lithium and therapy, bipolar disorder does not have to be my life.’

But knowing Lithium’s impact on my physical body too is scary. Weight gain. Acne. Water retention. Potential issues with kidney function/diabetes in future. Not being able to breastfeed on it or possibly carry a baby due to the severe risk – I have the most acute form of Bipolar and become very ill without medication.

These issues are so personal and I and Rob have been processing them for a while. We lost Robs dad to brain cancer in July and I didn’t feel able to blog about children before now. But, when the time is right and we speak to a perinatal psychiatrist and plan for a child, I want to write about it- maybe even a new book.

In the mean time, I am excited for new births in our family and I am just living and enjoying being well, being healthy.

I never see myself as someone with a disability- I always look for the Light. But, there are limitations and drawbacks to having this illness, even when it is in remission. It is biological and impacts on things I never realised when I was diagnosed in 2004. At the age of 32, these are becoming more real than ever and its scary. But, I want to smash the stigma and so I will write about what I can.

I wish you all a wonderful , relaxed festive season with good mental health- Happy Chanukah and Christmas.

Love,

Eleanor x

9 Years Undiagnosed: My Life with Bipolar Disorder, for Time to Talk Day: Guest blog by Mike Segall

timetotalkdaydad1

(image: Time to Change)

*Trigger warning: discusses thoughts of suicide and mania, please read with care *

This blog has been courageously written by my Dad, Mike, about his journey with bipolar disorder and the hurdles he faced in getting a diagnosis. For those of you who have read my book, you’ll know some of this. This is the first blog that Mike has written for us and I want to share it on today, Time to Talk Day by the charity Time to Change.  So here is Mike’s story….

 

My experience of Bipolar 1 Disorder was that I was undiagnosed for 9 years. I was never sent to a psychiatrist and was put on the wrong medication (I hadn’t heard of mood stabilisers and seemingly neither had my doctor).

So- What is Bipolar Disorder? (formerly known as Manic Depression)

To me, Bipolar symbolises the two extreme poles of mood- mania and depression. The North Pole is Mania. Mania is wonderful for me- you think you can be anyone, you think you can do anything, achieve anything, You are flying. You think ‘why can’t everyone be like this and experience everything?’. You are much more uninhibited. You may shop more, you spend more money, You think you can FLY!

But you can’t fly and you fall, you fall off a cliff into varying degrees of  deep, dark depression, which can last for months.

Bipolar disorder is  a chemical imbalance in the brain that causes periods of depression and periods of abnormally elevated mood, mania. The elevated mood is significant, known as mania or hypomania depending on its severity and whether symptoms of psychosis are present. Psychosis means when your mind lose touch with reality, with delusions or hallucinations.

During mania, someone feels abnormally, happy, energetic, irritable and not requiring sleep they often appear to be bouncing off the walls, starting new projects, trying to achieve too much. In some cases, addictions during mania may also present.

During depression, someone with bipolar disorder may be crying, experiencing negative thoughts and giving poor eye contact. You will notice this if you ever have a conversation with someone who is depressed. They may also be suicidal or talk about self harm.

My Story:

My first manic episode occurred in 1991 and I went to the doctor and was prescribed Valium (an anti anxiety calming medication), which was handed out like sweets in those days.

The Valium didn’t do me any harm but they certainly didn’t do me any good. In the next 9 years, I had three manic episodes followed by three increasingly devastating depressive and suicidal episodes, the last of which lasted 5 months.

In my first manic episode I was going out a lot late at night to clubs and bars and spending too much money. My second and third manic episodes were much more controlled as I recognized what was going on but I was still much more outgoing than usual and spending too much money.

My depressive episodes were serious and eventually suicidal and lasted 3, 4 and 5 months respectively. I often stood on the edge of a London Tube platform thinking about ending it all. I would drive down the motorway at speed not turning the corners until the last possible moment. I would stand in the bathroom with hands full of tablets thinking about overdosing and ending my life. Mostly, I was at home in bed doing nothing but sleeping , eating and surviving.

The person you would meet today is not the person you would have come across at that time.

Looking back there was no real connection made between these episodes and I wonder 1. Why I was never hospitalised and 2. Why I wasn’t diagnosed more quickly.

First of all, 30 years ago far less was known about Bipolar Disorder so the doctors weren’t quick to diagnose it. Secondly, it was only after 9 years that my GP reviewed my file and noticed that I had never been referred to a psychiatrist.

This was the breakthrough that changed and saved my life.

I went to The Priory hospital to see a psychiatrist, describing my episodes. Within 45 minutes I had a diagnosis,

”You have a mental illness. It has a name, It is Bipolar 1 Affective Disorder. You have it for life and it is treatable with the drug Lithium.”

Lithium balances out the chemical imbalance so you end up between the poles and mood is then stabilised. I am pleased to say that in the past 20 years, the medication has worked for me and has stabilised my bipolar disorder, so I no longer get episodes of mania or depression.

I am also pleased to say that as quite an emotional person I still experience the normal feelings and emotions that come with everyday life.

Starting on Lithium is not easy as you have to be weaned onto it. There are side effects, the most common being weight gain and you have to have regular blood tests to make sure the level of Lithium in your bloodstream is correct (non toxic) and it is not affecting your kidneys.

I do wish that I had been diagnosed earlier and not had to suffer manic and depressive episodes as I did.

These are the 4 takeaways I would like you to have from reading this, this Time to Talk Day:

1. With mental health it’s good to talk about it , It’s good to fight stigma and it’s good for your own healing.

My journey started in 1991 and I would hear things like ”you’ve got a weakness. Why don’t you pull yourself together?”, which were unhelpful

2. Think about how you can help people in your community by recognizing the signs that someone has depression or mania.

3.  Live a positive life- I am an example of a bipolar sufferer who can maintain a positive life. Bipolar is an illness that needs treating. It is treated with medication but it can take time for the medication to be right as each person has individual brain chemistry.

4. Listen to those who are struggling. Most of us listen to reply. If you watch two people deep in a conversation or you are in one yourself your focus will be very much on the other person and you will be listening at 90%.

But if you are listening to understand and you are feeling and sharing their emotions then you are truly listening at 100%. Check out the Samaritans help line too.

 

mikesegall

(image: Mike Segall)

Mike Segall is a professional speaker and mental health advocate, sharing his lived experience with bipolar disorder to groups in the UK. He is also the father of the founder of this blog, Eleanor.