This post has been a long time coming, and the time feels right now as October 10th is World Mental Health Day. We live in a time where it's much more socially acceptable to talk about mental health issues (as it flipping should be!), but there are still stigmas surrounding it and there's always room for improvement. Whilst I'm not usually the kind of person to overshare, I'm happy to share my journey if it encourages just one person to speak out or look for help.
Before nervously hitting the publish button, I asked one of my nearest and dearest to read through, and it made them a bit emosh! I haven't intended to make this a sad post, I just wanted to speak honestly about my experience in the hope that should someone read this, they may be encouraged to seek help. Also, I haven't written this to gain any sympathy, I have a wonderful life and I'm in a fantastic place - all thanks to the amazing support I have received!
As a child people would have described me as overly sensitive, I felt intense emotions where others perhaps wouldn't have. Through my teenage years I often felt very alone, and went through great periods of sadness intermixed with short times of elation. When you're a teenager though that kind of behaviour is put down to hormones and taken at face value.
Throughout my late teens I suffered bouts of low mood and was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. Throughout my young adult years I drifted from job to job, often unable to hold them down for a long time, and on more than one occasion simply leaving as I couldn't take the pressure. I tried various anti-depressants with mixed success, but still muddled through episodes of darkness.
In my mid-twenties whilst I was working in my previous job in healthcare, I was struggling with my emotions, I had lost around two stone, I felt like I couldn't eat, I was suffering with insomnia and I got to the point where I just felt that I couldn't go on. After a chat with my manager and a trip to my GP I was signed off with stress, I then met with an an Occupational Health GP and she had an inkling that there might be a little more to it than stress or depression. I was referred to a specialist mental health centre and I met with a Psychiatrist, we had long discussions and a diagnosis of Bipolar Type 2 Disorder was made. It was a strange time; I was so pleased that finally I felt like I had found the answer, but the realisation that this would be something I would live with forever was daunting and a really sad time.
I was still off work, and trying to recover but it was a horrible time. I took to not answering the door, ignoring phone calls and shutting myself off from family and friends. I wouldn't drive anywhere, I wouldn't go out, and on the rare occasion I went to the shop I hoped and prayed that no one I knew would see me there. It took a long time to recover from that episode, I returned to work after a couple of months but in hindsight I wasn't ready to.
I had to learn myself all over again, I had to assess signs and symptoms that might be clues that I was entering a depressive or a manic episode. I looked through my past years and analysed all the mistakes I felt I had made, had I done it because of the Bipolar? What might I have been without Bipolar? I am so thankful that I wasn't alone in this journey, I had the support of not only my family and friends, but also a Counsellor and a Clinical Psychologist who helped me by listening to me and teaching me how to put coping mechanisms in place.
In spite of the darkness, I want to tell you that having a diagnosis and having Bipolar has also helped me. I've learned to turn negatives in to positives, and the best thing I realised is that one of the many traits of the disorder is a high level of creativity. All those racing thoughts that kept me up at night previously can be channelled in to cohesive ideas, with my head so full of exciting ideas and possibilities it can only be a bonus! I see opportunities where others might see restrictions, and I've found that failure isn't the end of the road - it means that you've tried it, and you'll try again but in a different way.
My journey with Bipolar hasn't finished, I know there will be terrific highs and crushing lows. But I'm not going to live in fear, I will deal with them when they arrive. With my family and friends beside me, looking out for me and offering an ear when it's needed, I know I'll make it through even when I feel I won't. Having such a creative outlet in my business has been one of the greatest things to happen since my diagnosis, I have a structure to my life, I have my own office hours and I get to do what makes me happy every single day - and I know I'm fortunate, I don't take it for granted!
If you're still here reading, thank you for your time. Perhaps something reasonated with you, maybe something sounded familiar? With all my heart I wish that if you have felt or are feeling a great sadness, please take what feels like the hardest step and share your feelings with someone. A problem shared is a problem halved, and please don't ever think that you are burdening someone else. If you feel that you can't talk to a friend or family, then there are so many other options, like talking to a charity or a counsellor confidentially. If you would like to look a little deeper in to mental health illnesses then I would wholly recommend the MIND website, I have found (and continue to find) it a fabulous resource.
I know that this is a deeply personal post, and it may make for uncomfortable reading, but I honestly believe that the more we talk about mental health and share our experiences, the easier it will become to live with. My condition doesn't define me, but I accept that it is a part of me, and that I need to sometimes be a little kinder to myself, and remember to take care of myself. What I once perceived as my weaknesses, I now see as my strengths.
If you want to share your experience or if you want to offer some advice that you found helpful, I would love to hear from you and please feel free to comment below. Over the next few days I'll be publishing a post on wedding planning whilst having a mental health illness, so if that sounds of interest to you keep an eye out for that.
With wholehearted love,