So. My last mental health post went down pretty well. For that I just want to say a huge thank you to everyone who took the time to read what I had to say, and for the amazing messages of support I received. Any doubts I had about sharing my story have well and truly been put to rest.
For todays post I wanted to talk about what Bipolar actually is. Before I was diagnosed myself, the image I had in my head was of Sally Fields character in ER going off on one. (I’m really showing my age there!). Other TV shows have also included characters with Bipolar Disorder, such as Silva in 90210, and Stacey and Jean in Eastenders. But that was the one that really stuck in my mind. Once I’ve gone over the different types of Bipolar, I will explain more about how it affects me personally.
Right. Where do I even start?! Well, Bipolar is a mood disorder. People with this condition may suffer from manic or hypomanic episodes (feeling ‘high’), depressive (low) episodes, and possibly even some psychotic symptoms during either type of mood. These different mood states can often be referred to as ‘relapses’, ‘mood swings’ or ‘episodes’. Personally, I refer to them as ‘having a moment’. For example, if I’m experiencing an extreme mood of some sort, I will say to my husband ‘I’m not feeling too great today, I think I’m having a moment’, and he will know exactly what I mean.
Before I was diagnosed myself, I had an idea of what Bipolar was, having worked in the healthcare sector for some time. But what I didn’t realise was that there were different types of the disorder. People’s personal experiences of Bipolar can differ greatly. A close relative of mine, for example, experiences predominantly low moods. Whereas I experience both high and low moods, with neither being more predominant that the other.
There are a number of different symptoms for both high and low moods, which I will list below. Please bear in mind though, that this is not an exhaustive list, and people may report other symptoms too.
Depression/Low mood symptoms: –
• Lack of energy
• Difficulty concentrating
• Feeling empty
• Feeling worthless
• Disturbed or illogical thinking
• Lack of appetite
• Difficulty sleeping
• Suicidal thoughts
Mania/High mood symptoms: –
• Feeling overjoyed
• Fast speech
• Full of energy
• Feelings of self-importance
• Full of ‘great ideas’ and making big plans
• Easily distracted
• Disturbed or illogical thinking
• Not wanting to sleep
• Not eating
• Doing extreme/dangerous things.
• Making decisions or saying things that are out of character
There are two different types of Bipolar Disorder, Bipolar type 1 and Bipolar type 2. Bipolar type 1 presents itself as at least one episode of mania which has lasted longer than a week. People with this type of Bipolar also experience depressive episodes, but not everyone will. Bipolar type 2 presents itself as at least one episode of severe depression as well as symptoms of hypomania.
As well as these two types, there is also another that comes under the banner of Bipolar, which is Cyclothymia. People who suffer from this will have experienced both hypomanic and depressive states over the course of two years or more. Although the symptoms for this condition are not deemed severe enough for a diagnosis of Bipolar type 1 or 2, the impact on the patient’s life should not be underestimated.
So, where do I fit in all of this? Well my diagnosis is Bipolar type 1, as I experience a range of symptoms from both the mania and depression lists. My type of Bipolar is also rapid cycling. This is not recognised as a separate type of the condition, just a more specific type. Rapid cycling in its simplest terms means that my moods change often, and sometimes quite quickly.
The longest cycle I have experienced was around a week long. I tend to start off with symptoms of mania which build in severity, then I suddenly crash into a depressive state. I can also experience this over the course of a couple of days. On my old medication I used to regularly experience these cycles, as often as one a month. I have recently changed my medication (something I will go in to in another post), and these cycles are no longer as often, or disruptive.
It can be difficult to identify your own symptoms of mania, as during this time, in all honesty, I can feel fantastic! It is often more problematic for those around me. For example, my enthusiasm levels jump to 200%. This can be useful if I get lots of things done, such as housework etc. However, it can also make me somewhat irrational. For example, I may get a strong opinion on something, it doesn’t matter what anyone says, I will not change that opinion and will quite literally talk at people. My mind would be going a mile a minute and my speech would reflect that. To those who are not aware of my diagnosis, I can come across as arrogant and obnoxious.
This is literally the thing I HATE the most about my condition. I pride myself on being a kind and open-minded person, and I hate to see people upset, let alone be the cause of it. There have been occasions where my family, in particular, have caught the brunt of it, then once I’ve calmed down, I’ve felt so ashamed of myself. I’m so fortunate though that I have incredibly supportive and understanding people around me in both my personal and professional life. They will always accept my grovelling apologies and move on. I know that not everyone is as lucky, so this is something I do not take for granted.
It can be very difficult for me, let alone those around me, to differentiate between what is my personality and what is my Bipolar. By nature, I am a chatter box, and I always have something to say. I can get carried away and talk quickly at the best of times. I come from a large family so know how to be heard in a crowd! I also think I can be quite firm in my opinions, because I pick my battles. On a ‘normal’ day I don’t tend to push my point unless it is something I am really passionate about. All these things can sometimes be mistaken for me having a moment, and it can be very frustrating! As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become calmer in nature though, so its not as much of an issue as it has been in the past.
Overall, I find depressive states easier to deal with. Mostly because it’s more me that suffers personally, as opposed to those around me. When I am experiencing a low mood, I can be incredibly lethargic, unmotivated and very anti-social. During this time, I suffer from extreme anxiety, which often see’s me take to my bed for extended periods of time. Although this does not directly affect those around me, I do have to cancel plans sometimes. Sadly, this has affected friendships in the past, and I have fewer friends now than I used to. However, the friendships I do have are solid as a rock and I know they are people I can always rely on. Again, I know how incredibly lucky I am.
When I am in a state of hypomania, I tend to have more physical symptoms, such as headaches, dizziness and digestive problems. I also get very itchy skin and have drawn blood in the past when I haven’t been able to stop scratching. I treat these symptoms as and when they come and try to power through. I have found that the best way of dealing with these things is to be prepared, hence why I have a mini versions of boots pharmacy in my handbag at all times!
When I am experiencing mania, I can also become very anxious, but for different reasons. My senses are heightened, so things can become intimidating and sometimes frightening. I find myself becoming overwhelmed, particularly in large groups of people. My biggest nemesis during those times is the London Underground! It can also make flying in an aircraft, quite frankly, terrifying.
Over the years I have been able to identify my symptoms and find ways to manage them. I find that knowledge is power, so I always do my research before heading into any situation. This means that quite often, I can be mid cycle, and people will not even realise.
Not everyone is a fan of medication for mental health problems, but for me it has been a lifesaver. In my next post I will tell you about the treatment I am undergoing to manage my condition. If you have any questions relating to that, or anything else I’ve mentioned, then please do not hesitate to ask.