I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in December 2012. I can’t say I was shocked but the reality of the diagnosis jolted me. After my assessment I burst into tears. There was an overwhelming feeling of relief that finally someone had listened. Someone had affirmed how difficult it must have been living without knowing what was wrong. I also felt anger. Anger that it had taken so long for a professional to say for definite “Yes, I know what’s wrong.” I believe that I was living undiagnosed for over ten years.
Over the years since my diagnosis, I have had a chance to absorb and process what this means to me. It explains my manic, self destructive behaviour. I’ve realised that stress is a major trigger for my manic episodes. Stress in my personal life and at work culminates in a flurry of creative activity, incessant talking and obsessive, intense behaviour that no one can redirect me from. Then, the inevitable crash into desperation at the crushing depression I suddenly experience.
Having a routine and sticking to it is paramount. Routine is a Bipolar sufferers best friend. During the week, I go to bed at the same time every night, and have an alarm to get up each morning. This also reminds me to take my medication, which I take at the same time every morning. Sitting down every evening and planning what I’m going to do the next day gives me purpose when I’m depressed, and stops me from over exerting myself when I’m on the cusp of mania.
I have never been very good at putting myself first. I am by nature a caring person and have a need to help others. I have realised that I have been dismissive of my own feelings. Being as ill as I have, I have had to be a bit more selfish in order to start getting better. It has always been easier to sort out other people’s problems, rather than face up to my own. Before anything I need to be on a level kilter; I need to help myself first. Knowing I have to live for a long time with this diagnosis means my health now outweighs other aspects of my life. This is a scary realisation for me. My work and looking out for others has always played a major part in my life. It still can, but I have to manage my health before helping others.
I have been so wrapped up in my own recovery, but I am looking now at how these extreme ups and downs have been affecting those closest to me. I know that I can be very difficult to be around sometimes and that my moods can be very unpredictable. This isn’t easy for my family and husband, who I know sometimes feel like they have to walk on eggshells around me, but I am trying to be more aware and mindful of my changing moods. I often feel guilty for being unwell, that I am a burden and a strain on my loved ones. Well, yes, sometimes I am but I have to start believing that nobody resents me for this. I have been open and honest as much as I can with the people closest to me.
Sometimes I find it easier to write down my feelings than articulate them. I blog regularly which has become a therapeutic experience. It is an outlet to express my feelings that I can’t always vocalise, but need people to understand. My husband in particular has told me he is now more aware and has a greater understanding of Bipolar by reading my blog. This has only strengthened our relationship and he has become more confident in how to support me.
I am accepting that it isn’t selfish to want to be healthy. That I can’t always be responsible for my erratic behaviour but I can become more aware and explain it to others. My family, friends and husband love me unequivocally, regardless of my health. I can’t change my illness and it can be incredibly draining to hide it from others. I have resolved not to paint the mask on, no matter how difficult it may be.