I wanted to talk about how it feels to experience different mental health problems, so I decided to do a little series where I’ll be talking about depression, mania, anorexia and OSFED. This is the second post in the series, where I’m talking about mania.
Having bipolar disorder for me means that I am always in one of three states: depressed, hypomanic/manic, or stable – but that stability is never without an underlying anxiety that at some point, I will again be depressed or hypomanic. And that the hypomania might turn in to mania. And that I don’t know when any of these things will happen.
There is a common misconception about mania; that it’s fun, that you are the life of the party. To some degree that is true, but let me tell you – mania is exhausting. I feel wonderful for a while but it very quickly turns to irritability that people are questioning me and that nobody else can keep up. I have a thousand and one thoughts that are all brilliant and I can’t process them quick enough. Not everyone thinks they are brilliant because they are are stupid and I am smart.
I’ve had many half finished projects; a children’s book, a half blitzed house that I lost interest in cleaning, pages and pages of revision that make no sense. I’ve spend thousands and thousands of pounds on things I can’t put my fingers on; in the height of my eating disorder my mania would result in hundreds of pounds worth of food that would end up in the toilet. An eating disorder and a hypomanic episode are not a good combination.
At the very beginning of my worst episode in 2016, I started to become very blasé about things – crashing my car, not going to uni, spending money. I felt completely carefree and happy, but looking back it’s clear that it was the start of something brewing. Within the next fortnight or so I had spent nearly £2000 on goodness knows what, tipped my house upside down and written half a children’s book that I thought would change the world (I’ve not written another word since). I invented a profound saying that I thought was genius and was convinced would catch on – I can’t recall what it was now. I thought there was a man shining a torch into my lounge at night and I didn’t eat. I didn’t sleep. I didn’t wash. But not in the same way as with depression, where I didn’t have it in me. I just didn’t have time. There were far more important things to do, although I have no idea what I actually spent my time doing. It flew by and I achieved very little; it felt like a whole night awake alone would pass in just a few minutes. I didn’t have a wink of sleep for over 100 hours – that’s enough to affect anybody’s mental state, but those 100 hours felt like just a few. After writing a bizarre letter to my GP and running to the surgery in the middle of the night to deliver it, I had an urgent appointment, a prescription for zopiclone and a massive crash. I slept for days. I could hardly keep my eyes open. My cat had an operation and anyone that has ever met me would tell you that he is pretty much the most important thing in my whole life, and I couldn’t even get up and take him to the vet. I remember crying in bed thinking he would die and I couldn’t even get myself up to go with him because my body was too exhausted to move after the medication and the fact it had been running at 100 miles an hour for days on end.
That’s when I got my official bipolar diagnosis.
In hindsight I can think of many times that I wasn’t myself, even back into my school years. I’ve got diary entries spanning over the last 15 years that every now and again become bizarre and rambling. People notice my early warning signs before I do. My sleep falls by the wayside first. I talk a lot – all day and all night – to my friends. I start creating constantly but rarely finishing anything – cross stitch, colouring, painting, sewing. Everything and everyone is either hilarious or infuriating. But I am especially hilarious.
I cried so much after I was diagnosed. I am a mental health nurse, I understand what it means for my life. My lifespan is 10 years shorter than someone without this diagnosis. I will probably need to take medication for the rest of my life. I have, what my consultant described as, ‘a severe and enduring mental illness’. This isn’t going away, no matter what I do. The most I can do is keep myself as healthy as I possibly can.
I’m proactive now. The lure of hypomania is tempting; the elation it brings, the confidence, the freedom. As I get close to it, I start to feel its benefits. I’m fun, I’m productive, I’m creative. I’m happy. But it doesn’t stay that way. I try my very hardest to look after myself. I’m not always the best at taking my meds, but I try. I don’t always eat well, but I try. I’ve tried mood diaries. I notice my sleep and I take meds if it’s slipping. All I can do is try.
Sometimes I feel scared when I take the time to think about how my life will be affected when one of these episodes inevitably reoccurs; but for now I’m just trying to appreciate the times that I am well and able to do the things that my illness has stopped me doing so many times before.
As with my depression, all I can say is that I have a mood disorder, and that means I will have episodes throughout my life. Statistically bipolar episodes, particular mania, get more severe with age. I’ve certainly noticed that to be true. However, I’ve not been in hospital for 13 years and I hope to keep it that way.
All I can hope for is that the episodes are few and far between, and work as hard as I can to notice them.