In Our Own Words: Living With Bipolar
Mental health problems are one of the main causes of the overall disease burden worldwide and can affect people of all ages and from all walks of life. It is estimated that 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem in any given year.
I had the privilege of speaking to one man who wanted to use this platform to tell his story. He has opened up about his experiences living with Anxiety, OCD and Bipolar Disorder. Hoping his experiences will help and encourage others to speak out, he's shared his story below.
I've chosen to remain anonymous because I don't believe my name will make a difference to what I have to say - there are so many people out there struggling alone and I hope that by talking more about the subject, people will recognise that mental health is a real thing, and will take action to recognise this.
I wanted to be someone else. I wanted to love and be loved, to experience a normal relationship. I wanted to argue without feeling like it were the end of the world. I wanted to spend Christmas with my family without being exhausted with emotional confusion. I wanted to leave the house without doing a 50-point check of light switches and appliances.
Back when I was studying for my degree I was diagnosed with Acute Anxiety Disorder, OCD and a side order of Bipolar Disorder.
On the outside, I came across as a confident, 'happy-go-lucky' kind of guy, but underneath I was experiencing something completely different.
I was finding myself fighting my mind at every step; sometimes it could take me an hour to convince myself that the oven was off or the front door locked. Fighting my brain was exhausting - checking, checking and checking again. On top of this, I would experience days of elation where I would have awesome ideas and be full of love, closely followed by days where I would sit and convince myself that I was useless and that friend's affections for me were falsities.
My girlfriend at the time handed me a tough decision - either go get some help or this is over. Without passing judgment, I'm glad she gave me this ultimatum as it made me realise that I wasn't in a good place and there were people out there who could help.
After visiting a doctor, I was referred to a psychologist where I was diagnosed with a number of 'disorders'. At the time, I found this hard to take in as I wasn't ready to admit that there was anything wrong with me, although looking back I would say that admitting this to myself really was the hard part.
I was prescribed Fluoxetine (Prozac) and put onto a course of tri-weekly cognitive therapy sessions. Essentially, these sessions were aimed at establishing the causes and triggers of my problems - later moving on to learning methods on how to deal with them. I was advised to make lists of any triggers I recognised and when my anxiety levels were high to note down the cause. I was shown methods of remembering that appliances were off - the strangest being taking a 'photograph' with my fingers and forming patterns to remind myself.
The cognitive therapy was undeniably successful, showing me ways to ease my anxiety and compulsions, but I was finding medication confusing to me emotionally.
I found myself becoming numb and emotionless - unable to feel affection or enjoy the things I used to love. After 6 months on medication, I concluded that I couldn't live this way and have never been on medication since. I have learnt to love myself and my quirks as part of who I am - using the 'high' points to my advantage in my career and working out ways in which to deal with the 'lows' through writing things down and using cognitive techniques.
7 years later, rather than laying in the dark on the 'low' days like I used to, I now sit on the Wharf or take a walk - watching the seagulls and the tide, the boat sails jangling and the crabs scuttling across the sand. Getting away from the rush of modern society is refreshing and calming.
I still use cognitive methods to get through the day and as people who have lived with me will tell you, I have some strange habits but this no longer worries me - I am who I am and that's absolutely okay!
If I had to give a piece of advice to anyone struggling with a mental health condition, I would advise not to look at those 'strong' people as a benchmark for how everyone should be. Learn to love yourself for who you are and educate yourself on ways to deal with your unique mind; take a break, slow down and enjoy life for what it is.
It's okay to be you or to be different - behind closed doors, a lot of those 'normal' folk probably aren't so different. Keep an open mind and don't be so quick to judge that confident guy in a suit or that homeless 'addict' you think you've got figured out.
Get out there and seek the help you need, you won't regret it.