Living With Bipolar Disorder
Today is World Bipolar Day 2019. A day dedicated to creating world-wide awareness for bipolar disorder with the aim of eliminating the stigma surrounding the condition.
Bipolar Disorder, formally known as Manic Depression, is a condition that causes a person to experience extreme mood swings. Those suffering with Bipolar have periods or episodes of mania and depression known as high and low phases, known commonly as mania and depression. Mania is characterised by elevated feelings of happiness and high bursts of energy and can last between two weeks and five months. Depression is characterised by feelings of extreme sadness and low energy and lasts longer than a phase of mania, at around six to twelve months. To get a better understanding of bipolar disorder, we spoke to some of the people who live with the condition everyday.
John Poehler is 40 years old lives in Colorado, USA. John was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder around 20 years ago. Since diagnosis, John started a blog named theBipolarBattle with the aims of creating a support network for those living with Bipolar Disorder. John shared his story with us:
“It took about a year to find the correct diagnosis of bipolar type 1 but it was worth it.
Since my diagnosis I have always taken a proactive approach to manage my bipolar disorder. Along my journey, I have learned that proper medication management, along with therapy, daily exercise, aromatherapy, music, family time and a consistent schedule have all helped me to keep my illness under control. It has taken me years to get to where I am today but I'm the happiest and most content I have ever been in my life, that being said there is still a huge stigma attached to bipolar.”
John gets to enjoy the positive moments in life and as he said he keeps his illness under control, but this isn’t the case for everyone.
“People don’t understand the severity of bipolar disorder and how it can alter, destroy and end lives. Just because you can't see it with the naked eye does not mean it isn't real. I started my blog ‘The Bipolar Battle’ back in April of 2017. My hope was to share my story and help some people along the way. The Bipolar Battle has blown away my expectations in the best way possible! Recently, I started a movement to help others get rid of their shame with the hashtag #nomoreshame.”
You too can spread awareness through Johns Twitter campaign by using #nomoreshame.
Charlotte Walker has been battling mental health on and off for 25 years. She runs award winning mental health blog, Purple persuasion and has a large social media presence on Twitter under the account @Bipolarblogger. Charlotte’s diagnosis became complicated in the early days resulting in a misdiagnosis for 17 years.
“I was first diagnosed when I was 19 but I was scared of taking lithium, so I kind of ran away from the diagnosis and didn’t see a psychiatrist for years. Then I was misdiagnosed with unipolar from my mid 20s and it wasn’t until I was 37, in 2011, that the right diagnosis was restored and I could finally get on with trying more appropriate drugs and therapy.
When I got the diagnosis back in my 30s it was so much better, my consultant really listened to me, asked me what I thought was going on before he gave his opinion and offered me a choice of new drugs to try. I felt much more informed and supported then I did the years previous.”
Like many, Charlotte recognises there are still certain stigmas surrounding the disorder. The stigma surrounding mental health can make it harder to confine in the people around you. The disorder is often portrayed in a negative light in the media with TV and films stigmatising bipolar sufferers as ‘crazy’, ‘uncontrollable’ and usually involved in crime.
“I do feel that there is some stigma attached to the diagnosis - it feels less scary and controversial to say I have depression when I am in a low phase and I’m with someone I don’t know very well.”
Charlotte started her blog, Purple Persuasion, as a way of processing her diagnosis but now finds Twitter is her main outlet of expression.
“I started the blog as a means of processing getting the bipolar diagnosis back and starting new treatment, trying to work out what it all meant for me, as well as trying to deal with being too sick to work. I never expected anyone to read it! It used to help me a lot but these days I don’t blog very much, I have other coping strategies so I don’t need it is therapy so much. But I’ve stayed as BipolarBlogger on Twitter because that’s how everybody knows me. Twitter is my main source of self expression now, most people I interact with have some sort of mental health problem so we all support each other.”
Natasha MacFarlane is 29 years old from Manitoba, Canada. By day she works as a teacher at the local school. Natasha runs her own online wellness group with the aims of cultivating a community that can talk open and honestly about their struggles. She was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder at 28 years old and has told us about her experience with living with the disorder every day.
“My experience with bipolar disorder has been quite the ride. In my earlier adult years, I knew I felt things deeply and passionately, but there were many times when I felt like I couldn't control it. My temper was quite wicked, and it would feel like I was going to explode, literally. I have made quite a few impulse decisions that I am still paying for, but at the time they were great ideas to me. It has been a bit of a struggle.”
Getting a concrete diagnosis for bipolar can take some time and usually requires an assessment from a trained psychiatrist but with the right medications, episodes of mania and depression can be controlled. Natasha explains what the process can be like:
“The process of being diagnosed was sort of frustrating and long. I had been being treated for depression, and came off of that medication to help with the moods, and then the anxiety went so high I couldn't function. At that point we didn't know what was going on. I was sent to a psychiatrist where it was determined that I was bipolar type 2 and had generalised Anxiety Disorder. Then, I was able to start treatment for the right things.”
As both John and Charlotte both said, there is a huge stigma attached to Bipolar Disorder with many people assuming those living with it can be aggressive. However, statistics show that those suffering from mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than to be the perpetrators. Natasha went on to talk about her frustration with the stigmas surrounding the disorder:
“There is a stigma attached to bipolar disorder. It seems as if people think that you are going to be like Jekyll and Hyde. That no one will know what to expect from you just because you live with bipolar disorder, and that is not the case. My mood is definitely more all over the place, and flip flops probably quicker than someone who does not live with bipolar disorder, but it does not mean I am going to scream at someone one second and then be laughing and then be crying.”
“ I blog over at Thoughts with N, and it helps me so much. It helps me make sense of what is going on in my head, and what my feelings are surrounding some thoughts. It helps me connect with others as well who are experiencing similar things, or advocate for the same thing and create what feels like a supportive community. It helps me know that I am not alone. Which makes life with a mental illness much easier.”