Up till now I haven’t told many people about my diagnosis, it’s not that I’m ashamed of being bipolar in fact quite the opposite it does feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders knowing that I have the illness rather than wondering if this is how life should be. I’ve not felt the need to tell anyone before now, having the piece of mind that I have a diagnosis and taking medication that can help to smooth out the peaks and troughs of the highs and lows has been enough for me.
So why broadcast it now then, well because I want to help raise more awareness of the illness, unfortunately over the years Bipolar has been misrepresented as Manic Depression which gives people the wrong idea about the illness. So what brought this about, while I was out to lunch with a couple of colleagues from Manchester City Council we got onto the subject of mental illness (they didn’t know that I was Bipolar either at this point) Manic Depression then came up in conversation and it made me realise that unless you have some exposure to the illness through suffering with it or knowing some who has it then it is still very misunderstood, this is despite the fact that there are a number of celebrities who suffer from it and the illness characterises them as who they are for example Richard Dreyfuss or the late Robin Williams. When I say characterises them, I mean that when you think of both performers you think of their manic bursts of energy that they bring to a film or show, lots of slapstic comedy, talking quickly building up to a crescendo (I’m thinking of scene’s from Mrs Doubtfire for instance). This is obvious manic episodes the more extreme end of the spectrum, however for me I have had more of a mania for particular things such as sport, tech or petrol head stuff (anything with an engine), it tends to take the form of pouring all my energy into my work or a specific project I’m doing for example the Full Circle Podcast, through most of 2013 I put most of my free time into editing, production and thinking up ideas for the show, at times I pretty much lived and breathed it. While you are having your manic bursts of energy you tend to be on an emotional high and life feels pretty good, it’s a delicate balance however and you can quickly slide to into the depression side, this tends to be when you start to run low on energy and you are unable to sustain the high, this can be quite severe for some people it can be a “crash” were you are thrown into a deep depression, to the point were getting out of bed in a morning is a struggle. For me it was a gradual slide into depression which started in the late summer of 2013 and by late Autumn I was having major problems.
When I went to see my GP I hadn’t been diagnosed and the belief was that I was suffering from Stress and Anxiety because of the pressure I was under at work, it certainty didn’t help. But I had been up to that point fringes of what is categorised as Bipolar II which is very difficult to detect as there are fewer manic episodes and the mood swings are more a character trait.
So how did I get my diagnosis then you my ask, well I was sent for counselling to help reduce stress and learn how to control anger at a new unit that had been setup at Leigh Hospital, on my second visit I saw one of the psychologists who thought there was more to it and arranged for me to see a consultant at Wigan Royal Infirmary,we went though every event in my life from year dot to the present, I also did a psychological self-assessment questionnaire. Another key indicator is weight fluctuation which has gone from skinny bordering anorexic to when I was in senior school were for most of time I had an athletic build, finally to morbidly obese and I’m currently still trying to get back to something near a normal weight, this usually happens in a depressed episode fro bipolar sufferers. Since I my late 20s I have gone from one event to another without being able to shed the weight again.
Until 5 years ago I hadn’t had a very good impression of the NHS based on my earlier experiences as a child and a teenager, certainly through my young adult life I tried to avoid any further contact with it if I could help it. In the last 5 years I have had 2 events in my life that have altered my view on the Health Service, without some very skilled people I wouldn’t be able to have a relatively normal life without them, my Bipolar diagnosis is the second of these important events. I have a mixture of medication and what the psychologists call “Life Training” to help myself come to terms with the illness, this includes the basic stuff that you would naturally say “Well…Yeah” like: form a daily routine, regular exercise, plenty of sleep, a good diet to psychological stuff such as mood checklists and diaries (one of the reasons I started blogging again) and various mental and breath exercises. You’ll also see crisis cards tucked in the back of my wallet for when I feel things are starting to slip away again. One of the most difficult things I need to do but still haven’t done yet is tell my Father, he’s not the most approachable people and talking to him about stress and mental issues just isn’t the done thing!! It was a couple of months before I got the courage up to tell my Mum and we are very close.
So what is bipolar and why do we not call it Manic Depression anymore, well it more adequately describes the symptoms suffered, you in effect see-saw from one extreme to the other (going to polar opposites) of euphorically happy to deeply depressed in the most extreme form. Mind is a mental health charity which work to support people who suffer with mental health issues and campaign to raise awareness of mental health, their president is Mr Stephen Fry another very famous sufferer of Bipolar Disorder, have put together a guide to Bipolar on their website if you want to get some more information other than my slightly cobbled together explanation of the illness.