Lucy

This post was written by Lucy, who got in touch wanting to share her experience with bipolar. It’s so eloquently written, too! This post was written as part of my #MentallyWealthy series, a series of blog post with the aim of sharing what it’s like to live with a mental health condition and how we cope. You can find Lucy on Instagram

 

For me living with bipolar is about thriving and not just surviving, it’s a condition I have but it doesn’t define me.

I suppose I had my ‘epiphany moment’ in early 2010 when I found myself in A&E at midnight in an incredibly distressed state with strong suicidal thoughts. The doctor on call said something incredibly profound to me…”just remember that you are braver than you believe and stronger than you seem”.  Little did I know he was quoting Winnie the Pooh to me until years later, but I credit that doctor with saving my life.

I was subsequently diagnosed with type I Bipolar Disorder, and upon reflection it had probably appeared in my early teens but it took over fifteen years to diagnose.  Once I had the diagnosis, I engrossed myself with learning as much as possible about the condition and how I could tackle it, as I believed it to be something I could “beat”.  I now know differently, I can’t beat a chemical imbalance in my brain and instead I embrace it.

To me, my condition is often a rollercoaster and one I have learned to, dare I say it, enjoy, which may seem slightly odd when one reads the pessimistic and gloomy views often associated with bipolar.  Yes, I am on daily medication to take away the extremes of the manic and depressive states but I have to say that now I have come to terms with it, I wouldn’t change it for the world.  My manic episodes have led me to travel and live in some incredible countries along the way, and I feel like I have lived. Bipolar can sometimes be a cruel mistress, but also one to embrace.  I feel so much more, and experiences take on a whole new dimension for me.  I can smell the fresh scent of a peony and it lights up my soul; on the flip side I can also put the best fake smile on known to man and hide the pain I feel inside. Would I trade the highs so I wouldn’t have to experience the lows?  Not in a million years.  The lows can be crippling and indeed terrifying, but now I have changed how I think about bipolar, it makes me feel alive as I am actually feeling something.  Often with the depressive state, I used to feel empty, numb and worthless but now I know I can turn a corner and soon it will be ok again.

Developing an early warning strategy to deal with the onset of a high or a low episode was key for me and I was fortunate to take part in the early trial of a monitoring programme (True Colours) run by a team in Oxford. Diet and exercise has been absolutely instrumental for me, even if some days I couldn’t walk further than the garden gate as I couldn’t bear to face the world.  At that time, I lived in a cottage in an incredibly rural spot with no neighbours so I’d have more chance of conversing with a deer than a person, but that’s how debilitating it was.  I have to credit my rather amazing husband with his endless research into the effects of diet and exercise on mental health, as it was something that wasn’t really talked about 8 years ago, it was medication or bust.  He noticed how much better I was if I had a diet consisting of lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, a consistent sleeping and waking routine, how I felt after I took our dogs for a long walk across the fields and even when he coaxed me into trail running (I am not a natural athlete, I can assure you). Sometimes I still need that reminder and even a bit of tough love when I’m heading on a downward path and I tell him that I’m struggling – he gives me a hug and then tells me to put my trainers on and that whilst I probably hate him at that precise moment in time, I’ll thank him later.  He’s usually right.

In October last year, I switched to an organic, whole food, plant based diet for a multitude of reasons, but the main focus for me was to see how it affected my mental health and it was incredibly positive.  Caffeine can trigger a manic episode for me, so out went my Diet Coke obsession and my ability to drink a phenomenal amount of tea in a day.  I also ditched alcohol as I noticed that had a negative effect on my mood.  I joined a gym to keep my exercise going through the winter as running round country lanes at 6am in the pitch dark can be slightly lethal, even when lit up like a Christmas tree.  I mix up my routine with HIIT sessions, weight training, yoga and my favourite still has to be going for a run in the great outdoors.  I’m following the ‘One You Couch to 5k’ plan again, and Sarah Millican keeps me going.

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Why did I ask Flora if I could write about bipolar? Well, largely because I finally want to speak out about it – I’m tired of having a condition I felt ashamed of for years and dealing with the social stigma surrounding it can be a minefield for everyone involved and quite frankly, it is exhausting.  I wanted to highlight the fact that it is not all doom and gloom, bipolar can be life changing and not actually for all the wrong reasons.  It has taken me a while to get to this point, but now I can embrace it and actually enjoy it.  Being able to truly understand my condition and thus subsequently manage it, is rather empowering. It has certainly been a journey so far, and it is a life I wouldn’t swap for anything.

Embrace it, nourish yourself, thrive in the experiences life throws at you, seek out adventure in everyday life and don’t just survive as you are worth so much more.

 

I love Lucy’s positive outlook on her condition. I, too, have developed a quasi ‘thankfulness’ for my depressive episodes, because they made me the person I am today, and whilst neither of us would probably wish these ‘disorders’ on others, there’s no reason not to accept and even celebrate the positives they can give us. Thanks so much to Lucy for sharing this with me. 

If you’d like to get in touch to write for this series please email florabeverley@gmail.com. Please hashtag #MentallyWealthy in any Instagram/twitter posts and spread the word!

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Rose W

This article was written by Rose W as part of a series to raise awareness of mental health issues and break down the stigma that surrounds them. Rose started to suffer from depression and anxiety whilst at university, and shares her top tips for coping. You can find her on Instagram.

I thought I understood mental illness and I thought I was too strong to ever be affected by it. I was wrong. Throughout my teenage years, I watched as some of my closest friends battled various mental illnesses and eating disorders. I was determined to help them and support them for however long it took and I will never regret that. Being so close to mental illness growing up, I thought I had a pretty complete understanding of it by the time I went to university, but going into my second year, things started to change. I want to explain my experiences of poor mental health at university so that more people can recognise when to get help for themselves or their friends. Too many people suffer alone and it can have devastating effects.

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Around August 2016, I started to feel disconnected from my life. Things that would normally make me happy, such as seeing my friends, would make me feel tense and uncomfortable. Everything felt wrong and I convinced myself I just needed to get back to uni and everything would be fine. However, when I returned to uni in September, nothing changed. The more I struggled to feel happy, the more upset I became with myself. I would wake up convinced that something was seriously wrong. My heart rate was constantly elevated, breathing was hard, my skin felt wrong and I wanted to cry all the time. Despite watching my friends struggle with mental illness in the past, I didn’t recognise it in myself. I couldn’t focus on my work without feeling sick, I would sit with my friends and smile whilst feeling nothing but sadness. The longer it went on, the more I just wanted to sit in my room alone. Acting like I was happy was exhausting and I didn’t know how to tell my friends how hard it was to be around them. By the time I went home for Christmas, I was having panic attacks so severe I would throw up. Luckily my family saw instantly that something was wrong and took me to the doctors where I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and depression.

Through my experience with mental illness, I have struggled the most with maintaining friendships and my studies. So here are my tips for making the most of your university experience whilst fighting your mental illness:

  1. Talk to someone. That is so much easier said than done and there are still times when I cannot face having to talk to people but I promise you, it helps. Explaining to your friends and family how you are suffering will be a weight off your shoulders. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to people you know, try reaching out to a therapist and access the mental health services at your university. Fighting mental illness with the support of friends is so much easier. I’ve been so lucky to be surrounded by a fun and supportive group of people, and whether or not they have been conscious of it, they have all made my battle easier.
  2. Plan out your studies and give yourself time to relax. Getting too behind on your work will probably cause greater anxiety. Try to do as much as you can but if you find yourself unable to focus, then breathe and walk away. Work is important, but it is not more important than your mental health.
  3. Tell your university. They may be able to offer additional help, or at the very least, grant extensions on assignments. Often at least one of your professors will be more than understanding and having a member of staff willing to support you and speak to your other tutors will make your life easier.
  4. See the doctors. Having an official diagnosis helped me so much. I was able to learn more about my specific mental illness and how to start on the road to recovery. If the doctors suggest using medication, take it and do not be ashamed. You wouldn’t tell someone who needs glasses that their eyes could see perfectly fine without them, so if your brain needs some extra help to balance out, take it.
  5. Remember you are still worthy. You might feel like you are a burden, and that no one wants to be around you, but you’re wrong. Good friends will understand that for now, you’re struggling and they won’t leave you. Even if you are battling yourself, and find yourself hard to love, others will still love you. I met my boyfriend four months after being diagnosed and I was open with him about my mental illness. Almost a year later we are still together and going strong.

For anyone watching their friend suffer, please tell them you care. It seems simple, but when your own mind is betraying you, it is hard to see that people around you want to help. Today, please take the time to reach out to your friends, especially men, who suffer alone disproportionately. Do not let your friends suffer in silence. It’s time we ended the stigma surrounding mental illness.

Thanks so much to Rose for sending me this post. Mental health issues can affect anyone, regardless of their knowledge of the issues themselves. Being self-aware is the first step towards acceptance and recovery, and there is no shame in getting help from others. I really like these tips for managing a mental health problem whilst at uni, a time when a lot of us suffer. 

If you’d like to get in touch to write for this series please email florabeverley@gmail.com. Please hashtag #MentallyWealthy in any Instagram/twitter posts and spread the word!

Abi

This blog post was written by Abi as part of a series to raise awareness of mental health issues. Abi has anxiety and has suffered from various eating disorders and writes about why we need to start thinking of mental illness as similarly serious as physical ailments. You can find Abi on Instagram

I just want you to take a minute and think about someone you know, a friend or a family member who’s been physically hurt – maybe a broken leg or a sports injury – where you could visually see them in pain. Now imagine being that individual suffering, but suffering in silence – on the outside you may be smiling, but on the inside everything is shutting down.

The reality of mental health vs physical health is that they are just as important as one another. However mental health is overlooked due to the absence of physical symptoms. As a sufferer myself of anxiety, eating disorders and perfectionism, my mental health hit such a low that I couldn’t see a day I would smile again, laugh again or simply be happy in my own skin. Just because I may be smiling on the outside, it doesn’t mean the voices, rules and overpowering anxious thoughts aren’t crippling me from within. Just because I can’t put a plaster on it, or a doctor can’t visibly see my pain, it doesn’t mean I don’t lie in bed at night planning my meals, planning new rules, listening to this so called best friend in my head over-ruling my life, giving me the illusion of control but slowly taking everything, including control, away.

Apart from rambling on and explaining my personal journey – one which I am still travelling through today, the messages I want to get out of this are as follows…
  •  You, yes you, the person reading this. You are worthy. Worthy of help, worthy of happiness and worthy of everything you desire.
  • A problem shared is a problem halved – talking is the best medicine for mental health. You may not be able to put a plaster on it or stitch up the wound – but the more you talk, off-load and express your thoughts, the lighter, more at ease and less anxious you will feel.
  •  I like to describe my journey through anxiety, eating disorders and perfectionism like physiotherapy. It hurts, but the issue will only get better if you are persistent and battle through the pain. Ignore the voices, scrap the rules and ask for help.
  •  Finally, remember. It’s okay not to be okay.
Let’s break the stigma and all call out. Mental health is so important – never be afraid, because one day mental health will be just and important as physical health.
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Thank you to Abi for sending me this post. It’s so important to remember that just because your illness isn’t visible, that doesn’t mean it’s not there. Slowly I think the tides are changing, but it takes brave people like Abi talking about their struggles to really make the change. 

If you’d like to get in touch to write for this series please email florabeverley@gmail.com. Please hashtag #MentallyWealthy in any Instagram/twitter posts and spread the word!

MHAW