World Bipolar Day, Questions and Answers

Today is World Bipolar Day. A day to raise awareness of this illness, and reduce stigma. Well, you know me an my feelings on stigma, so when I saw that the lovely Blahpolar and Raeyn from the Scarlet B both completed this questionnaire in light of World Bipolar Day, I thought I would join in. Check out both of these awesome blogs, and feel free to complete the questionnaire yourself.

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1. What does bipolar disorder mean to you?

I always see bipolar disorder as a lack of balance. I swing one way, then overcompensate and swing the next. Living with bipolar disorder is a quest to maintain that balance.

2. What was your life like before you were diagnosed with bipolar disorder?

Turbulent. I’m lucky in that I don’t tend to rapid cycle. In fact I can go months or even years without a full-blown serious episode. This may sound positive, but it means that when the shit does hit the fan it is basically a shitplosion that takes months to clean up afterwards. In between major episodes, before diagnosis, was constantly anxious, mild to moderately depressed and sometimes self harmed. Oh and I heard voices. Every day of my damn life.

3. How old were you when you were diagnosed?

I was 26 when I was diagnosed – less than a year after the birth of my first child. I was an involuntary patient at a mother and baby unit and had been for around six weeks. My medical team suspected bipolar disorder because of the extent of my depression and psychosis. They actually thought I was having a mixed state as I was completely wired. But I didn’t talk much and they couldn’t get a full medical history out of me. Also I really didn’t know that the periods of high energy and not sleeping in my past were hypomanic/manic episodes so never thought to mention it.

Then one day in hospital I woke up and wouldn’t shut the hell up. Seriously. Unsuspecting trainee nurses would be lured into listening to me rabbit on about completely random nonsense before they could say “It’s a trap!”. I proclaimed  that I was cured and felt so good. Then things started to get weird… I started going on about how I had superhuman powers because I didn’t need to sleep (oh. if only), and that my dreams could predict conflict in South Korea. Round about the point where I told Hubster I wanted to dance around outside naked my doctors slammed their clipboards shut. “Gotcha! Bipolar Disorder! Kaboom.”

Good job team! It only took 10 years to get a diagnosis 😉

4. How do you manage your symptoms?

Day to day, week to week, sometimes hour to hour. I take medication. I see my doctor regularly. I try to limit stress. I watch my diet. I write. Hands down best treatment I have had was ECT. It may have its controversies, but I now no longer hear voices every day. Which gives me so much more time to ponder world peace and what to watch on Netfix.

5. What is life like for you now?

Interesting. I’m not sure really. I’m recovering from pretty much the worst episode of my life, so I’m a bit anxious about my mood. I analyse every up and down and if I have a bad day it’s all “HOLY CRAP IT’S COMING BACK!”. I’m like a mood meerkat. Since ECT my psychosis has gone which is awesome. But I still have to work really hard to keep my mood stable.

6. Has having bipolar disorder affected your friendships, personal life, or professional life?

Undoubtedly. Friendships – not so much. The people in my life who choose to have a problem with an illness I do not choose to have are no longer in my life.

Personal life – yes. I would agree that being separated from my family for months while being in hospital had a distinct negative effect on my personal life.

Professional life – yes. It took me years longer to finish high school and university due to episodes. I had to suspend my PhD months after starting, and I had to cancel a presentation I was due to present at a conference because I was in hospital.

7. How do you think society treats people with a mental illness, especially bipolar disorder?

Not great to be honest. I think society has more understanding than say, the 1950’s, where we all got locked up in an asylum. But there is a lot to improve on. I would like mental illness to be treated with the same respect as physical illness. It frustrates me that I knew nothing about World Bipolar Day until I came on WordPress. Nothing in the news. Nothing on Facebook. Nothing on the radio. But when it is, say, a day to recognise Diabetes, it is so widely promoted and respected. Mental illness kills too! (Also, I’m not dissing Diabetes. It is a serious illness – and I, myself, have a physical illness too. This is just one example of how mental disorders are looked past within the general community).

8. Have you ever felt discriminated against or looked poorly on because of bipolar disorder?

Yes I have felt discriminated. While I was in hospital I was denied treatment by dieticians because I was in the psychiatric ward. But apparently I could access this treatment if I were on a medical ward. Yeah. Doesn’t make sense to me either.

I was also left for 8 FRIGGING HOURS in severe pain on a psychiatric ward, with the nurses calling every half hour for a doctor to assess me. When he finally came it was evident that I was ACTUALLY really sick (and not just making it up), and suddenly everyone was rushing around and I was having an emergency CT scan. I get that hospitals are busy places. But you don’t leave someone in severe abdominal pain, without assessment, for 8 HOURS, when even the nurses are extremely concerned. I wouldn’t have been left that long if I presented to the ED. And when I have been on medical wards and in severe pain I have been seen to very quickly. Good job I wasn’t having a heart attack, because I would have been dead by the time I got any help.

And yes I have felt that I have been looked poorly on because of bipolar disorder. I think a lot of it comes from a lack of understanding. But it still hurts.

9. Do you have any words of advice for people in the world suffering with bipolar disorder, or other mental illness?

Seek help when you need it. Don’t do what I did and struggle on until you are hiding in bushes and convinced the police are after you. Don’t be the bush girl!

Reach out. To anyone you can – friends, family, doctors, hospitals, help lines, bloggers, anyone. You are important. And you are not alone.

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12 Deadly Sins: Secrets behind Self Harm

Warning: Some people may find this post triggering. For help with self harm please refer to resources such as Headspace, Helpguide, Lifeline, or call your local crisis helpline. 

When I was 15 I was diagnosed with major depression, panic disorder and an eating disorder. Because I wasn’t confused enough, later on I was also diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, borderline personality disorder, and numerous other unpleasant sounding things ending in “disorder”. Basically, no one knew what was going on.

It was a bit of a shithouse time really, culminating in a hospitalisation, threatened subsequent hospitalisations, and a fair amount of general chaos. Medication never worked because, obviously, I actually had Bipolar disorder, and prescribing anti-depressants without a mood stabiliser to someone with Bipolar disorder will usually just make things worse. But the doctors never picked up on that. So…one of my coping strategies was self harm.

I remember the first time I hurt myself. I had just come home from lunch at a cafe. I was freaking out over what I had eaten – not because I was afraid of becoming fat, but because I thought the kitchen staff were trying to poison me (and despite telling the doctors this concern every single frigging week, the professionals never picked up on my psychosis either. Probably because middle class, skinny, teenage, perfectionistic, high achieving, introverted girls don’t have psychosis. They have Anorexia.) Anyway, I tried to make myself puke. That was a fail. So out of pure frustration I grabbed a pair of scissors and scratched myself.

Immediately I felt relief. And about 10 seconds after that; shame.

Harming myself was like a weird drug. I started doing it more and more. I became addicted to it. I am not going to go into morbid detail because I know how triggering this kind of stuff can be. But hurting myself felt like the one control I had in my life. It felt like I was externalising all the pain inside and making it visible. It was my punishment. It was my reward. It was my secret.

This topic is not something I have ever really written about on here. To be honest with you, I don’t really like thinking about what I did to myself. But I think this is a topic worth discussing. There is so much controversy over self harm. And so much disrespect. Those who self harm are mocked, seen as attention seekers, and dismissed.

I can’t speak for others, but I never self harmed for attention. Attention was the last thing I wanted, even going to the extent of self harming in places only I would see, or wearing long sleeved tops on even the hottest of days. I self harmed because I didn’t know what else to do. I self harmed because it was a release. I self harmed because I was unwell.

That’s another thing: there is a myth that self harming is a kind of suicide attempt. I didn’t want to kill myself. Well, I did, at times. But my self harm wasn’t a symptom of suicidality. My self harming behaviour was a tool, a destructive tool, that got me through some of the most difficult days of my life. For me, it wasn’t a step towards ending it all.

Then one day I realised that I was running the risk of permanently scarring my body, in a way that would be eternally difficult to explain. I realised that I wanted to wear a bikini. That one day I would walk down the aisle and may want a sleeveless wedding dress. That I might have a kid who would ask what I did to myself. That it just wasn’t a healthy way of behaving. So I stopped. I say it like it was easy. It wasn’t. There was a long period after I self harmed regularly where it would be my “go-to” strategy if I was upset. It took a long time to change my behaviour. But I did it. And aside from the freak out I had in the locked ward last year, which I don’t tend to count as I was rampantly psychotic and actually set on killing myself as opposed to harming myself , I haven’t self harmed in years.

Luckily I don’t have many noticeable scars. But the ones I do remind me every day on how far I have come, and the path I have walked.

When I was a teenager I wrote a lot of poetry and songs. Today I came across this poem, and it stuck out to me. For me this explains perfectly the allure, horror and truth behind self harming.

12 deadly sins

Feels like fire

My opened flesh

Secrets exposed

How I like it best.

Razor sharp

Indulge my skin

But it’s never enough

To purge my sins

1 because I’m not good enough for you

2 for all the wrongs I do

3 for keeping back the truth

4 for the way that I treat you

5 for my ugly face

6 for this unwanted space

7 for the lies I’ve told

8 for this razor I hold

9 for the pain inside

10 for my hopes to die

11 because I can’t stop now

12 because I don’t know how.

12 purple scars

upon my thigh

I keep them well hidden

So you won’t ask why.

12 deadly sins

my punishment kept

12 000 tears

my cruel hands have wept.

My Time

It was a fairly normal Monday. I had a long to do list and, what I considered to be, a fairly bad case of indigestion. It was a burning, griping kind of pain, that after a half hour quite literally had me at my knees. For some reason I decided to get it checked out before heading into uni, and I arrived at my medical practice in somewhat of an alarming state, clutching the reception desk and announcing that I felt like I was going to collapse.

I was shuffled away into a back room, assigned a bed and a nurse who (typically) I went to school with. A doctor came in, they poked and prodded and told me I needed hospital evaluation. I was in agonizing pain, but had a horrible suspicion that it was indigestion…or worse…trapped GAS. I tried to convince the white coats that I just needed some pain killers, I would not..COULD NOT go to hospital for a humble fart! But my pleas were ignored, my husband was called, I was wheelchaired into the car, and after that my ability to give a fuck was seriously compromised.

The pain was akin to being in labour, without the sliver of relief between contractions. I began to panic because I literally could not do anything to get through the moments. I lost all control in the waiting room, groaning, writhing, losing snatches of consciousness, telling The Hubster – in all seriousness- that I felt it was time to call an ambulance. Nurses scurried over, took my obs, gave me some pathetic excuse for pain relief and told me I was next.

“Next for what?” I wondered. “Next to DIE?!”. In fact death would have been preferable at this point.

Finally I was taken in and hooked up to the good stuff. While the doctor syringed morphine into my vein I understood, just for one moment, the allure of narcotic intoxication. I heard them talking about me, checking my breathing, but it was all above me and I drifted up into somewhere far more pleasant.

I tested negative for the main culprits, and once the Ob-Gyn team got a whiff of my history of endometriosis I was diagnosed with endometriosis (who conveniently can only be diagnosed through surgery) and sent home.

Of course it wasn’t endo. And of course I was back again less than 24 hours later. Vomiting my guts up and unable to stray from the toilet.

A doctor came in and I was told how mighty unlucky I was to have endo pain ONTOP of a case of viral gastroentroitis and told I could go home. As the doctor left our room Hubster let out an enormous fart that he’d obviously been harboring for some time. Almost simultaneously I lurched forward and puked into a plastic bag. Yes. We’re that classy.

And this doctor dance went on for a few weeks. Back and forth, back and forth to the point where I seriously considered the possibility that I was experiencing some sort of stress reaction. Or, I WAS MAKING IT ALL UP. IT WAS PSYCHOLOGICAL.  But my wonderful GP pushed and pushed and eventually found what she was looking for.

You know its bad news when your doctor calls you at night. I sat on the bottom of the stairs  in the midst of a family dinner and listened as I was told I had something called Oesinophilic Gastorentoritis. My GP sounded quite pleased with herself as she described the illness. And so she should. This weirdo disease has only been diagnosed around 300 times worldwide. Confirmation of my condition probably gave a distinct edge to her mad diagnostic skillz.

And that was the start of it. I walked back into the living room. Announced “I’ve got that weird disease the doctor was talking about” then promptly burst into tears. Partly from fear, and partly from sheer relief. THANK GOD! There is a name for what I am experiencing! I’m not mad! (well not yet! That comes later).

That night I slept fitfully, and this time it wasn’t only the nausea keeping me awake. 1 of 300, I kept thinking. 1 of freaking 300! What is up with that?! How could I possibly have something so stupidly rare. No one knows about this disease. Even my supposed specialist had never heard of it. There is limited research. Few routes of treatment. This was beyond a joke. This was, quite literally, a kick in the guts.

Meh. Sometimes you kick. Sometimes you get kicked. Everyone has their time, I’m told. It seems this is mine.