Living With... Bipolar Disorder

According to The Royal College of Psychiatrists, bipolar (also known as manic depression) causes severe mood swings, that usually last several weeks or months and can be:

  • Low mood, intense depression and despair.
  • High or ‘manic’ feelings of joy, over-activity and loss of inhibitions.
  • A ‘mixed state’ such as a depressed mood with the restlessness and over-activity of a manic episode.

It affects 1% of people, and often starts around the teenage years or early 20’s.

Caroline’s story

32 year old Caroline, who suffered with the illness since her teenage years, shares her story.

My problems started when I was about 15 years of age. I became depressed at school, feeling alienated and having suicidal thoughts. I began cutting my forearms as I felt it gave me a sense of release from the sadness that engulfed me.

When my parents saw my scars and realised what I had been doing they took me to the GP. Unfortunately, the GP didn’t seem to understand the severity of my situation and put it down to the usual tensions between a teenager and her parents. I was referred to counselling, but looking back I needed more than that. Mentally I wasn’t in a place where I could engage with the counsellor, and subsequently I didn’t find it at all helpful.

By the time I was 17 I had moved out of my family home and in with my boyfriend. We both started smoking cannabis, doing speed and acid and drinking heavily. I still felt incredibly down, but thought that my problems were because of the drink and drugs, and if I stopped my problems would be solved.

It was a very bleak time for us both, and resulted in my boyfriend having a breakdown. We felt we just needed to get away, so moved down south. It was at that time my boyfriend begun to get very possessive. I knew I had to get out of that situation, so I moved back to my parents’ house in Salford.

I had cut back dramatically on the amount of drinking and drugs I was doing, but still the depression was there, and I began to see that maybe my problems were because of a mental health issue, rather than the alcohol and drugs.

Once again I went to my GP, still sceptical about whether there was actually anything wrong with me, or whether they could help. The doctor said I was depressed and I started a course of Prozac. With hindsight I can see that this was a lifesaving move for me at the time, although the Prozac made me extremely high – the polar opposite to what I had been feeling previously. I felt so much better and started socialising again, and fell back into the bad habits of drinking and smoking cannabis.

Between the ages of 19 and 27 I seemed to have two mental states; either I was exceptionally low and depressed, or extremely high. I started a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), and my therapist suggested I might have Bi-Polar Disorder.

Finally in 2004, I was referred to a GP for the Salford Mental Health Directorate, and he diagnosed me as suffering from Type 2 Bi-Polar Disorder. I resisted going on medication for quite a while, due to misconceptions about the side effects, but when I eventually did start taking Sodium Valproate, I realised I had spent a long time feeling miserable when there was actually no need to. Admittedly I did feel a bit ‘fuzzy’ and indifferent at first, but I worked with the doctors to find a dose that worked for me.

I completed a BSc Sociology, and did a Correspondence Course and have had articles published in various magazines. At the moment I’m doing an MA in Literature, Culture and Modernity.

For the first time in years, I feel like I can actually plan for my future; my life is no longer a matter of coping with each day as it comes, I can now enjoy life and look forward to what the future holds. Once I have completed my masters degree, I plan to do a PHD and become a university lecturer.

If you can relate to my story and haven’t yet sought help, I’d like to encourage you to go to your GP and get a referral. It is scary to make that first step, but the results are definitely worth it – I’ve got my life back.

Liam’s story

Liam was 21 when he was diagnosed with Hyper Mania (now known as Bipolar Disorder).

It all began at the age of 14 when Liam’s personality changed and he felt different. Prior to this time he had been a quiet and studious child who worked hard and was well liked by teachers and his fellow pupils.

He became very disruptive in school and was rude to his teachers. Unfortunately, they did not realise that this was more than naughty behaviour and Liam was excluded from school as he was disrupting his fellow students when they were studying for their O’ Levels (now known as GSCEs).

It was at this time that Liam visited his GP to talk about the situation as it was concerning him, but he was dismissed as having normal teenage feelings that were just a part of growing up. He left school with very few qualifications which impacted on his career prospects. He found it difficult to keep a job for more than a few months due to lethargy and had difficulty sleeping.

In the months before his diagnosis when he was 21, Liam was behaving strangely in his local community. After being told he had Bipolar Disorder, he was admitted to the Trafford Mental Health Directorate as an in-patient for four months. Liam describes this period of his life as a very daunting time, particularly for a young man who was not very world wise.

During his stay Liam was given Lithium, which is a mood stabiliser used in the treatment of Bipolar Disorder. After his discharge, staff advised Liam that it would be better for his recovery if he moved to a hostel with more support. He moved into the hostel to continue his rehabilitation. He spent two years at the hostel and during this time worked in the onsite factory making party decorations. Liam described how, with support, he kept his job, managed his own budget and lived in a shared house.

It was after a conversation with his brother that Liam decided to leave the hostel. He was concerned that if he spent too long there he would be unable to integrate back into the community.  He explained his thoughts to his new social worker and she arranged for him to move into a shared house and attend New Way Forward (formerly known as Trafford User Group or TUG).

It was during this time that Liam became part of the ‘Monitoring Evaluating Reviewing Trafford Merit Project’. He was part of a recruitment panel which gave him valuable interviewing and communication skills.

Liam was kept extremely busy with his volunteering work and it was his inability to turn down opportunities which saw him relapse some years after he was first diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. Despite eating healthily and reducing his medication he had put himself under too much pressure and this, coupled with his mother’s deteriorating health, saw him return to Trafford Mental Health Directorate’s inpatient unit for three months.

After his time in the unit, Liam was able to move on with his life and he got his own flat through the Making Space Project. He continued to attend rehabilitation sessions at a community mental health unit in Trafford for a year.

Now Liam is passionate about breaking down stigma around mental health and volunteers for two organisations, the Trust’s user action team and ‘New Way Forward’ based in Trafford.

Liam is now able to recognise the signs and symptoms that could signal a relapse, and with help and support from his partner he is able to find a balance between volunteering and taking time for himself.
Liam’s advice to other service users:

“Look for a volunteering role, it will allow you to be involved and have your say but make sure that you respect your boundaries.

“If you are feeling unwell or depressed, make sure you contact your GP, it can be difficult but don’t be embarrassed about it, you are still the same person and you will get better.”

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