‘Bipolar disorder doesn’t need a trigger or trauma that ordinary life can bring. It has a mind of its own’
‘If someone were to ask me to describe bipolar disorder, I’d rename it to its former name, which is manic depression, as it is exactly that. It’s a feeling of mania and sadness, on an extreme level. It’s living with a racing mind — one minute you feel euphoric, on top of the world, invincible… and the next, you are smacked by a black cloud of depression that makes you feel sick to the pit of your stomach.
t’s not a day-by-day illness. Your internal thoughts can switch a hundred times in a day. It’s exhausting and it can feel hellish. Bipolar disorder doesn’t need a trigger or trauma that ordinary life can bring. It has a mind of its own. It’s a chemical imbalance in the brain — but it’s an imbalance that can be helped.
I was 24 and living in London, the city that sets my heart alive, when I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I had just started a master’s degree in writing in a university that’s ranked second in the world for creativity and design. It was a huge deal for me, as I was the kid in school that did her Leaving Certificate on a laptop because I had dyspraxia. I left school with a few detentions, suspensions and barely enough points for jam making, and here I was, one of only two people on the course who had been accepted for a master’s programme without an undergrad degree. A 4,000-word application, a number of writing examples, a sit-down interview and I got in!
I should have been happy now, finally. I should have felt worthy and proud of myself, finally. But it was the opposite. One of my mottos in life is: ‘Be brave.’ So I went to the doctor one morning and told her my head felt like it was going to bleed. Following that appointment, I sat through a number of psychiatric reviews and medical appointments, after which I was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
I could have cried that day for the little girl I was — if only we had known more about mental health back then. Growing up, I always knew I handled things differently to my friends. Everything would knock me that little bit harder. Rationality didn’t exist. OCD, self-harm, extreme anxiety and sleepless nights were all familiar feelings and experiences to me as a little girl.
I used to spend hours unknowingly trying to regulate myself on the swing outside, and this continued into my teens. No matter what the weather, I was out there at least once a day, just swinging with music in my ears, trying to come down or pick myself up. I realise, with what I know now, that even back then I was a fighter. I wasn’t going to cave to whatever was going on in my head. I had to find a way to survive.
Some months after I started taking the medication, I had a moment that I’ll never forget. For the first time in my life, I heard silence. I was sitting outside and I was hit by tears when I realised nothing else was going on in my head. I could hear silence. The birds in the distance were singing and I could actually feel the warmth of the sun on my skin. For the first time in my life, I was living in the moment. I realised then that one of life’s simple gifts had been stolen from me.
When writing about mental health, to me it’s important to pass on pearls of wisdom that someone out there may find some comfort or strength in. I believe we need to start seeing our mental health the way we see our physical health. They are equally important. Everyone has a body they need to take care of by eating well, keeping fit and taking vitamins. Likewise, everyone has a mind that they need to take care of. After all, if we aren’t feeling well mentally, what is our drive to look after ourselves physically?
As much as bipolar disorder has been a burden, this over-active mind has blessed me with a lifetime of reflection and wisdom. I’ve been forced to teach myself coping mechanisms and how to truly reflect. Give yourself the time to ask: ‘Why do I feel like this? What emotion am I feeling? What’s really stressing me?’ If we don’t reflect, our head gets so overcrowded that we actually forget why we became bothered in the first place.
So instead of being bothered about 1,000 things, do yourself a favour and recognise what’s bothering you and why — one at a time. Journal it. Journalling often leads to reasoning. Get a pen and a notebook, open your page and just write about it. Remember, nobody is over your shoulder reading this. This is only you and only your feelings. If it makes you feel better, once you feel ready, tear the page out and burn it.
I’m an organiser by nature, so this to me is like organising my worries, putting them into boxes and knowing where they are, so I can work on them without mixing them up with the 1,000 other stresses life throws our way.
Another beauty in life that helps me is having faith in something higher. No matter how low you get, if you have faith in something higher, you will always have that to fall back on. This higher thing could mean trusting in your lost loved one and knowing they have your back from afar; it could mean trusting in your star sign; studying manifestation; your religion; your belief in karma; your faith that everything happens for a reason; or even something as simple as seeing a shooting star. Whatever gives you hope, recognise the massive comfort it can give you. Truly believe in it and you’ll always have something to fall back on, even in your lowest of times.
Also, find what makes you happy. I once read a book where the writer described her grandad as a man who listened to folk radio, built bird houses in the autumn and collected stamps all his life. He knew who he was and what made him happy. Life is so busy nowadays that we forget to find our passions. We get caught up in making dinners, keeping the house tidy and making sure everyone else is okay.
Find your passion. Try that recipe, learn that language, study that course, build that bird house, even go buy an easel and start to paint — who knows, you could be the next Picasso!
Let’s not let life take over who we are. After all, we only have one life. So choose your circle wisely. I’m fortunate to have an amazing family and an incredible circle of friends. I feel safe and I know when my mental health is failing me, my people are worth their weight in gold.
If somebody makes you feel worthless, fearful or wasted, ask yourself why you are letting them disturb the quality of your life. Take a step back and recognise that nobody is worthy enough to disturb your zen. If you’re feeling stressed about a situation, recognise that you’re a little overwhelmed and that you need time to come down — or should I say, level up. Take an hour away from the situation, or a day, or a few days… Others can wait. After all, no situation can be resolved when it’s resolved irrationally.
Therefore, recognise the importance of taking time out. Most importantly, spend time on your self-worth. Force yourself to believe you’re worthy and you deserve love and to simply be happy. Take some time to reflect on how worthy you truly feel. You may be surprised when you realise your self-worth is lower than you think.
If I can wish anything for others, it’s that they feel worthy of this life. If you’re struggling, be brave and remember you’re too precious for mental illness to ruin your time. Give yourself the time to reflect, and if you think you need to, please go and get help, as this too will pass.”
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