These days: Living with Bipolar disorder, by Russell Myers.

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  “What do you say when telling people about your mental health problems? How much do you reveal? Do people really want to hear your life story? Will they think you’re looking for sympathy? Do they want to know how your birth Mother left when you were young? How you always felt different and isolated from others despite the appearance you put up? You know what though it’s just all so bloody Freud isn’t it? I can see myself on Freud’s couch as he asks me to tell him about my Mother before prescribing me cocaine to alleviate the on-going madness in my head. Thing is that’s all in the past and I learnt a while back to not let that control my life. So instead how about I tell you about what it’s like to live with it.

I have bipolar, manic depression, extreme moods or whatever else you wish to refer to it as. It’s a funny condition bipolar not funny ha ha but in that it’s a maelstrom of conflicting emotions and ever changing moods.

It’s certainly interesting living with it each day and I’ll be honest there are some days I can’t bear it. Some days I just want the pain to stop, the noise in my head to just be quiet for a few moments. I want that solitude of silence but I know that silence is alone and in the dark. A dark place where a thousand voices whisper inside my head. A place where my own voice struggles to be heard above all the others.

The paranoia creeps in and a numbness begins to crawl over like a black cloud of hopelessness. The voices continue to whisper, turning over and over in my head “you’re worthless, pathetic, a waste of space, nobody wants you, needs you, you should die, nobody will notice or miss you”. The voices are convincing to because it’s your own voice, one your familiar with but it’s lying. It tricks you, deceives you, convinces you and it takes all of the little strength you have left to not cave into their lies. They want to drag you into their pit, that hole of despair, the place where depression dwells and it wants to suck the life from you. I hate these days.

Hang on though there’s something else……

Bipolar can take you another way. A place of excitement, fun, laughter and joy. Bipolar can bring you mania and wow that’s just fantastic in every way. The need to start a business selling unicorn tears, learn guitar, buy a boat, walk to Spain, become a Shaolin monk or learn to unicycle so you can get yourself to Edinburgh or any other random or unachievable idea you can create in your head. Thoughts race through my mind at a thousand miles an hour and logical thoughts have no place there. It’s not about what I can’t do but about what I can do and that I want to do it now. It feels great, amazing, fluid, beautiful, exciting yet erratic, destabilising and narcissistic. A cycle begins of promiscuous behaviour, excessive spending and in the past drug use with no sense of danger only a hunger for adventure.

There’s no room for manoeuvre, no patience for those that don’t understand what I’m trying to say, achieve or those who don’t think I should follow my dreams. I am too important for others not to get it and I never understand why they don’t. This lack of understanding by others gives birth to something else, a monster that is the most difficult to control. The monster that is rage and anger that builds up quickly and manifests in a way that is both terrifying and uncontrolled. I become something I am not, verbally abusive and aggressive towards myself as I punch myself around the head and face with my fists or any heavy object that’s nearby before collapsing exhausted and crying. Then I feel it again, that dark place, those pitch black claws grabbing me and pulling me back down. I really hate those days.

However there’s the other days. The days when I can go out with my friends, I can cook dinner, study for my degree, look after my son, laugh, love and live because despite those days I am not my condition, I am not bipolar, it’s just part of me and something I live with. For despite it all and regardless of those days I am above all of this; a Father, a Son, a Friend. I am strong and brave and stubborn and it’s due to this; that these days are the ones that I keep in my thoughts when I’m having one of those days; because it’s these days that I cherish the most, and it’s these days that will be my strength when I need them most of all.”

-By Russell Myers.

Stories are still needed!

Do you have a mental health/recovery story of your own that you’d like to reach out and share to others? Whether it be overcoming depression to addiction to eating disorders… no matter what your area, there will be a chance that your experience will touch someone elses life.

Send your story with your name to themanicyears@gmail.com and i’d be happy to publish on the Blog.

Sharing saves lives –

M x

A life with Depression, By Andrew.

“My name is Andrew. I’m 44, married with two lovely kids. I have suffered with depression since my early teens. This is my journey.

The depression came about because of an accident, not to me but to my Father. We jokingly say that he fell off the back off a lorry; actually he was leaning against a support on the back of a wagon when it collapsed, he and a fellow worker fell, and my Dad was left with a fractured skull and an altered personality and has never worked again. I can’t remember exactly how I was told, I think it was by my friend’s Mother and I vaguely remember having to stay with them for a few days.

I do remember walking into the living room when my Dad got out of hospital; I was warned to be gentle as he was quite fragile. He had two black eyes and looked very frail. At the age I was at the time your Dad is Superman! He wasn’t supposed to be like this! I seem to remember vowing that I would have to be the man of the house. I say dad never worked again, he did work for a little while because he had another accident at work when he cut his head open!

As I said, I believed I needed to be the man of the house, a role I was not ready for, although no one else had any expectations of me. There is something else that prayed on my mind at this time. When my Dad was 16 his father died, I was paranoid that history was going to repeat itself especially how ill he was. I remember being very relieved when I turned 17, we had cheated history.

When I left school I went to Art College to do my Btec in fashion. I had been ‘well built’ for most of senior school, I decided I was fat so pretty much stopped eating. I’m not going to say I have anorexia but it was pretty close. I went from a 38” waist to about a 24” at my worst, I collapsed in a bathroom in Paris on a college trip, and I wasn’t well. It got to the point where it hurt more to eat that it did to not eat. I have a picture of me during that time, wearing a baggy jumper to hide my body; I look like I could snap if I bent over.

After college I started working in the fashion industry, probably one of the most stressful environments to work in. I lasted about 15 years with various episodes of the dog but I still didn’t know what it was, I had talked about suicide with my then girlfriend (now wife) but I thought that was normal! Eventually the first glimpse into what was actually happening to me came about. We were told the company I was working for wanted us all to move to Leicester as that was closer to head office, this was never an option for me as my wife worked here and we had just had a baby and moved to a new house we loved. Of course the alternative was redundancy. I became ill, I would sleep up to 22 hours a day, I became dehydrated as I couldn’t stay awake long enough to drink. I kept going back to the doctors who kept sending me for tests, diabetes, thyroid, all sorts. I asked if it could be stress related. He then asked if I was stressed. I explained that I was being made redundant; we had just had a baby and moved into a house that was about twice the mortgage of our previous home (in our previous house we had been broken into 4 times over 2 years including twice in one week). After three months on the sick the doctor decided I was ill because I was overweight!

After I left the fashion industry I started a business making clothes and soft furnishings, my wife went back to work full time. I also started a part time degree in textiles, this had become a pattern for me; taking too much on so I would fail, this would then prove to me how useless I felt; how much of a failure I was and why I was not worth knowing or loving.

Eventually of course it all came to a head.

My wife had to go to Austria with work and it would be over a weekend, it would have been almost impossible for her to come home so her company paid for me to meet her in Saltsburg. We had a long chat as things had not been great between us for a while, we decided I needed to go and see a different doctor and tell him what was going on. I flew back home and my wife went back to work. I didn’t eat while Nicola was away, I was punishing myself; food felt like the one thing I had control over. I sat one night, kids in bed and took every pill I could find and quite a lot of whiskey, and sat back, feeling calm for the first time in years. This was it, my time to clock out.

Of course it suddenly struck me that it would be my kids that would find me, I was a horrible person but I couldn’t do that to them! I took myself to the toilet and made myself throw up until I had nothing left then stayed up all night in case I fell asleep and didn’t wake up. It’s funny but shortly after this we had a party for my daughter’s birthday and lots of people commented on how well I looked! I had shaved my head as my hair was falling out; I had a hunted look in my eyes.

We went to the doctors and told him how I felt; he asked Nicola if I ever hit her or the kids. I was horrified at the time but I can see he was asking all the right questions. My life was in freefall and I had absolutely no control. I was prescribed anti-depressants and sent home and told to wait for the crisis team. They arrived at our house not long after us, two ladies, one went and spoke to Nicola and the other sat and let me talk. They visited a couple of times until I was relatively stable. I’m not sure if it was a complete nervous breakdown but it’s as close as I ever want to be!

The doctor recommended MIND to me, they were great and dug into what was causing the depression as well as giving me coping strategies. The first time I went there I felt like the world was in colour and not the black and white I had seen it for years. I went on to see MIND several times after that as the depression would find its way back.

I finally felt strong enough to ask the doctor if I could have some counselling which he arranged. I remember sitting in the waiting room with Nicola; everyone had various nervous twitches, no one would give eye contact; and when you caught a glimpse of their eyes it was terrifying, I wondered what they saw when they looked at me for sure I had the same.

I felt terrible about the amount of medication I was on, largest dosage of anti-depressants plus another type to help me sleep – all of this just to help me feel ‘normal. I had told my Therapist that this felt like the last chance for me as I couldn’t go on feeling the way I was, I realise how melodramatic that was now but I meant it at the time. I think I realised that this might work and I was ready for it too when the therapist asked what I wanted, previously when asked I would say that I just wanted to be like everyone else, this time I said I just wanted to be comfortable being me! I can see now what a huge shift that statement was.

I had a full course of CBT which I feel gave me the tools finally to get to grips with my issues.

I’d like to say that that is the end of my journey, I had hit rock bottom and over the course of about 7 years I had crawled my way out of it, from near death and self harm to loving life. Growing up I could never see myself growing old, I was sure I would be dead by 37! I started to become ill again a few years ago and after a lot of tests I was told I had Ankylosing Spondalitis (a form of arthritis that affects any joints) but the medication was often worse than the illness. Earlier this year my diagnosis was changed to Fibromyalgia which can apparently be brought on by depression. I have been unable to work since my latest flare up in January, at the time of writing this it’s the end of July.

For people who don’t know what Fibromyalgia is, it’s basically constant pain, all over. I can’t walk far; I have no upper body strength any more, can’t lift, can’t even put my arms above my head without pain. So of course the depression is back. I’m waiting to be referred for more counselling as I type but I at least know what is happening this time so I feel better placed to cope.”

-By Andrew.

Stories are still needed!

Do you have a mental health/recovery story of your own that you’d like to reach out and share to others? Whether it be overcoming depression to addiction to eating disorders… no matter what your area, there will be a chance that your experience will touch someone elses life.

Send your story with your name to themanicyears@gmail.com and i’d be happy to publish on the Blog.

Sharing saves lives –

M x

A tribute to those suffering from Schizophrenia, by Jeremi.

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A tribute to those suffering from schizophrenia:

I wake up in darkness
I feel the eyes looking at me
Others say ignorance is bliss
But they can’t see!
I strap on my knife
They are out to get me
This blade will save my life
Take a toll or three

I argue with my thoughts
Why do I refuse to listen?
Why can’t I see thought’s roots?
Tormented by thoughts of poison
I predict their steps
Wish I knew how I do
They can’t explain this
Nobody has this ability too

My solace doesn’t solve
I feel so tired of the chaos
I plead myself for escape
My skin on myself feels gross

A taste in my mouth lingers
A tap on my shoulder from someone absent
The air entwining my fingers
Death’s sweet scent

You better run, my blade is thirsty

I saw you, you want to get me
I will take you with me!

Then she stops my arm
Looks at me with loving sadness
“You need help I assume”
Her soothing words all bliss

They gave me pills
My world changed
No more of it’s chills
I never knew that I was derranged

I lived with madness so long that I never knew what life truly is… I never saw my own fatal flaw

– By Jeremi.

Stories are still needed!

Do you have a mental health/recovery story of your own that you’d like to reach out and share to others? Whether it be overcoming depression to addiction to eating disorders… no matter what your area, there will be a chance that your experience will touch someone elses life.

Send your story with your name to themanicyears@gmail.com and i’d be happy to publish on The Manic Years.

Sharing saves lives –

M x

Hypomania in Bipolar disorder, by Samantha Pottinger

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“When I went to my GP I described my behaviour and feelings. I was expecting to be diagnosed with Bipolar disorder, given that I’d gone from one extreme to the other in such a short space of time. The best way I could describe it was like the feeling of an overexcited child at Christmas.  My favorite foods and drinks tasted amazing, music sounded better, I would be overwhelmed by the beauty of scenery, my nephews and niece looked cuter, colours would look more distinct. I would get fits of the giggles and struggle not to burst out laughing whilst walking down the street. My mind would be racing and instead of having no business ideas I had so many I couldn’t switch off.

Hypomania does not mean that one feels happy all the time, it’s more like an obsession with engaging in hedonistic activities and an intolerance of displeasure. It can result in serious irritability and impatience. Although being overwhelmed by positive emotion is certainly more pleasant than being overwhelmed by negativity, it’s still uncomfortable. In a hypomanic episode I feel overstimulated and overexcited about everything, I really resent my job for taking up my time up and stopping me from doing the things I enjoy (whereas in a depressive episode my job is one of the few things keeping me going).  At work I get over excited by all the interesting books I see and take out several but then I don’t read them because I’m too restless and can’t sit still. I can’t watch films either because I have too much energy. I end up spending too much money because I get overexcited about everything I see and then end up getting frustrated for having to wait so long for the next pay day.  I have lots of pent up energy and get really frustrated if I can’t release it. I can even remember being jealous of people saying they were tired!

Although hypomania has its disadvantages, it can be quite a pleasant feeling. I think my hypomanic episodes are the reason I’ve never had any interest whatsoever in taking illegal drugs, I see my ability to feel high naturally as a blessing. I become more creative and my brain is a lot sharper and I’m sure my hypomanic phases helped give me the energy to fit my studying in with work and are responsible for some of my good marks.

Depressive episodes are certainly unpleasant but for me, the fact that I went for the therapy meant that I’m left with useful mind tools for when I see it recurring and I can empathize with and help others.

My doctor mentioned (but didn’t diagnose me with) a milder form of Bipolar disorder called Cyclothymia. Some people find labels helpful, others don’t. Personally, I feel that we are all prone to fluctuations in mood as we go through ups and downs and transitions in life, (who feels ‘neutral’ all the time?) I think that being a HSP or ’empath’ as I’ve talked about in my blog just means they are a bit more pronounced in me.  It can make life a bit more challenging to deal with but as you become more self-aware, you can learn to manage better and stop your condition from over-ruling your life.

If you have or think you might have a diagnosable mental health condition, don’t be afraid to seek support from your GP, mental health organizations or read some mental health blogs. But remember there is nothing wrong with or ‘freaky’ about you and having a mental health condition does not make you not inferior.

You are not alone.”

-By Samantha Pottinger.

Samantha incorporates her experiences with mental health and bipolar disorder in to her health blog Samantha the Sane Vegan.

Do you have a mental health/recovery story of your own that you’d like to reach out and share to others? Get involved! Whether it be overcoming depression to addiction to eating disorders… no matter what your area, there will be a chance that your experience will touch someone else’s life.

Send your story with your name and location to themanicyears@gmail.com, and i’d be happy to publish on The Manic Years.

Sharing saves lives.

M x

When you feel wrong, write – By Charlotte.

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“The first time I knew for definite that something had gone wrong in my brain was in the middle of a GCSE exam.

“You’re going crazy,” a random thought popped into my head. “You’re about to have a breakdown.” Now up until this point I’d been answering questions about photosynthesis, happy as Larry. But this thought just wouldn’t shut up. “You’re losing it,” the thought said. “You’re about to go completely batshit crazy.”

“Eh?” I tried to think back. “What are you going on about?”

Long story short, I ended up having my first colossal panic attack – or a whatinthenameofarsingarseholeishappeningohmygodimdyingoratleasthavingaheartattackwhatthefuckpleasesparemebabyJesus– in front of everyone and after that I had to sit every single exam for the rest of my education in my own little room like Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs.

There had of course been signs leading up to this. My mum had recently been diagnosed with cancer and I’d managed to convince myself that if I got A*s in everything then she wouldn’t die (side note: God let me off with 6A*, 2A, 2B, the absolute babe). I’d started writing endless lists which I’d rip to shreds if the colours didn’t match; organising my DVDs into genre, age certificate and alphabetical order; brushing my teeth six times per day; and genuinely believing that if the green man on the traffic light flashed quickly after I’d pressed the button, it meant I was going to have a good day. LOL.

I’d also completely stopped talking. To the point where I could quite easily go a day without saying a word. To the point where I haunted the school corridors like a silent, creepy ghoul. I just couldn’t talk about how I was feeling or what was going on at home so I shut down and ultimately focused my efforts on being an anxious, obsessive little weirdo.

I was eventually referred to a child counsellor, who confirmed I was depressed and prescribed me medication – which my parents decided I was too young for. The ‘talking about my feelings’ thing wasn’t really for me, so I pretended I’d gotten better and spent the next six years swinging between feeling fine and feeling distinctly not fine, occasionally dabbling in anti-anxiety medication and half-arsed counselling appointments.

During this time, I started writing seriously. I’d always written stories, and it became the one thing that made me feel good about myself. I knew I had a knack for it, and seeing something through to completion – even if it was a weird-ass story about a tomato plant – gave me both a distraction and a sense of purpose.

Somehow I managed to turn this into a career and I now work as a professional writer. And for me, this has been the best therapy. There are lots of things I am horrendous at – small talk, parking and being on time for stuff to name a few – but I am a good writer, and being able to write every day is essential to me feeling okay about myself.

Don’t get me wrong, writing isn’t a magical elixir for anxiety. There are times when I feel absolutely shit and I’d rather throw my laptop out of a window than write another word. There are times when I stress-buy £30 worth of chocolate and crisps from Morrison’s and then have to gradually smuggle them into work as office treats so I don’t put on five stone. There are times when I lie in bed and sob and sob and then idly think ‘Hey, I’m actually pretty amazing at crying, maybe I have the potential to be an Oscar-winning actress’ and then get a grip and wash the snot off my face.

Mental health doesn’t have a beginning or an end. At the moment, I am fine. And I have been fine for a long time. Tomorrow I might not be fine. But I don’t wallow in what might be. I know I can write my own future.”

– By Charlotte, Birmingham.

 – Do you have a mental health/recovery story of your own that you’d like to reach out and share to others? Whether it be overcoming depression to addiction to eating disorders… no matter what your area, there will be a chance that your experience will touch someone elses life.

Send your story with your name and location to themanicyears@gmail.com and i’d be happy to publish on The Manic Years.

Sharing saves lives – M.

Bipolar; The rollercoaster I didn’t pay to get on, By Allison Padgett

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“You’re crazy! You’re a bitch! You’re a mess! I wish you’d just get your shit together! Why can’t you be normal? Just get out of bed! It’s like you’re two different people! It’s all in your head! You’re just lazy! Good for nothing! Worthless! Pathetic!

These are just a few of the things I’ve heard over the years in my struggle with my mental health. Some of these things have been said by friends. Some of these things have been said by loved ones. And some of these things I’ve said to myself.

Have you ever had a bad day? I mean, a really bad day. You wake up late. Forget the most important thing that you needed for work at home, but you’re already late, so you have to make up and excuse not only about your lateness, but about your not bringing that important thing. Your boss calls you in the office to “discuss” your performance or lack there of. You then begin to cry, but it’s only eleven AM, so you have to keep working and act like someone didn’t just make you feel like an idiot, when you know you’re not. Then, you start doubting yourself and start believing what was said. Next, no one asks you to join them for lunch because you look like you’re having one of your “days”. You try to work, but the thoughts play in your head like a CD stuck on repeat. You accomplish nothing, but more failure and your closest coworker gets mad at you for not holding up your end of the bargain. You try to tell them that you’re sorry. You try to tell them that you’ll do better, but they don’t believe you and you start not to believe yourself either. Finally, you go home only to think more about being worthless and wishing you could just die. You think that you’re probably just a burden on everyone and should just quit. Quit your job and life, itself. You’re hungry. No, you’re not hungry enough to fix anything, so you sit in silence and try to go to sleep early. Ha! The Sandman laughs in your face. Sleep doesn’t come because you continue to listen to that CD. Over and over. You believe it. You know you’re just a pathetic human being. Then you finally fall asleep miraculously, only to be awoken by a nightmare that you’re being thrown in a dumpster filled with other people “just like you”. Then, much to your dismay, your alarm goes off and it’s time to start the struggle of life for one more day.

Sounds like hell, doesn’t it? It sounds unreal.

It was a day in my life. On my “down” days, I felt like this. Sometimes even worse. So your worst day, is a day in the life of someone with bipolar disorder when they cycle down. Oh sure, I cycle up, too. Here’s what that feels like…

You are woken up by your alarm and today, you don’t feel like throwing it across the room. Could it be? You’re not sure yet. You get ready for work and today you feel like listening to the radio. What? You get to work and say hello to everyone you see. Good Morning, everybody!! You start your workday and do your work without interruptions of doubt. All of the sudden, while chatting with your favorite coworker you both realize that it’s almost time to go home. Already? Awesome! You drive home, windows down, singing your favorite song and thinking that sunlight is pretty great. When you get home, you cook your favorite meal and enjoy it in front of the TV, watching your favorite rerun of Friends. (The Prom Video, obviously) Then you take a nice warm bath, look in the mirror one last time and smile. Today was your day! Today was an amazing day! You pick up that novel you’ve been meaning to read and then fall asleep easily, without the constant feeling of worthlessness.

Sounds like a pretty good day, right? Sounds like what most people would call a normal day. For me, these days are precious. They are coveted. I yearn for these days. I beg for these days and when they come they’re gone too soon.

I haven’t always been bipolar. I’ve been to so many doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists. I’ve been told I’m depressed. I have anxiety disorder. I’m just hormonal. I need to exercise more. I should just eat better. I have toxic people in my life and if I rid myself of them, then I’ll be fine. Fine, they said. But, fine never came. Fine felt a million miles away.

So, I started doing research. I listened to some of those closest to me. One ex said I acted like two different people. He named them “Allison and Callison”. It took 10 years before I knew what that meant. I’m not two different people, but my brain just might be. So, I called an emergency mental health hotline. No, I wasn’t having a true mental health emergency, but I needed someone to listen to this epiphany. I needed someone to listen. I needed some one to listen to ME. Not judge me. Not try to over analyze me. And not throw the latest pill at me and tell me it’s been a miracle for other patients. So, he listened while I explained what I knew in my heart was finally right. I think I’m bipolar, I said. I had actually said it. Bipolar.

The next step was making an appointment with yet another psychologist. But this time was different. I had an idea of what to say. I’d never been completely open with any provider before, but this time I was. I explained my lifelong battle with my brain. And she listened. She gave me a test. It wasn’t long. I had to answer about twenty questions. I answered all, but a select few, with a resounding YES. I didn’t know what the test was for, but I knew whatever it was, it understood me. The results? Bipolar Type 2, with hypo-mania. YES!! I knew it. But, wait. What the hell do I do now? Another pill? No. That’s not why I came. Pills don’t work for me. I should know. I’d been on every single one. But, she was adamant that this pill was for bipolar disorder. This pill was “right” for me. I gave in. I went to the pharmacy and filled it.

Then, I waited. They always say to wait two to three weeks before you give up.

I waited three days. Yes, three days. On day four I woke up different. Good different. Something felt good. Not high, good. But, I just felt good. What? No self loathing this morning? No hatred of all things morning? Ok. That’s great. Now, I’ll need to go on and get up. I have things to do. I got up. I showered and dressed and then I had an errand to run. I hopped in my car and immediately turned on the radio. I rolled the windows down and began driving. About three miles down the road I came to a stoplight. One of those looong stoplights that if you don’t hit at just the right time, you’ll sit forever. So, I sat. I looked around at all of the other people in their cars. Some just sitting. Some on the phone. And some smiling at me. Why were they smiling, I thought. Oh, shit! I’m smiling, too. Then, it hit me! I’m happy. And I began to cry. I cried because I was happy. I cried because I felt what most people call normal. And right there at that stoplight, I knew my struggle had just gotten a little easier. So, I cried some more. I cried for the years I’d missed not feeling this way. Then, I stopped crying. I stopped because I wanted too. I stopped because I could.

So, what now? I had a diagnosis and a medication that managed it. I felt like someone or something had given me back my life. No, wait. I felt like someone or something had finally given me life.

And, so goes the beginning of my life with bipolar disorder. Is it always as easy as it was that fourth day? No. Is it ever as bad as my worst day? No. I still cycle up and down. Just not as frequently and not as high or as low. I’ve had to add some medications and I’ve taken a few away, but right now I’m managed. I still deal with the stigma. How many times have I heard someone laugh at someone else’s expense and joke that they must be bipolar? A lot. I just kind of look down and smile to myself. They don’t know what they’re saying. They don’t know what it’s like. They don’t know that every single day is a battle. But, they also don’t know that I’m finally winning.”

– By Allison Padgett

Thank you to Allison for submitting her story. To read more of Allison’s journey upon Bipolar, homeschooling and living with her Husband’s Brain tumour diagnosis, please support her blog at https://immamabutimstillme.wordpress.com

WE NEED YOUR STORIES….

– Please drop me an email on themanicyears@gmail.com if you want to take part and be featured in “Sharing Stories”, if you have a story to tell or you just want to share your thoughts about your experiences with mental health. I am so proud of everyone who has contributed and who has joined me in this journey so far, and I do hope our army gets stronger. A bigger voice. A fight to speak louder. – M

The Beginning, by Hazel Hillboro.

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“I don’t really believe in mental illness,” I said.  This is always a great way to start off a conversation with psychiatrists.  You can almost see the smoke come off of their pencils as they try to write fast enough about how crazy you are.  I wasn’t joking, though.  I was on psychiatrist #4, and I still didn’t believe in mental illness.

I perched on the edge of my comfy blue chair and eyed the kleenex box next to me.  I wondered if psychiatrists get immune to people crying sort of like kindergarten teachers do.  Kids cry all the time, so I’ll secretly think things such as, “I’m sorry Timmy took your cookies, but actually I don’t care.  Stop crying.”  I wondered if psychiatrists have also become jaded and learned not to care.  I made a mental note not to cry, just in case.  I looked around at the “calming” decorations: beach scenes in frames and a random fake plant in the corner.  A plethora of degrees on the wall behind the psychiatrist’s desk were hung proudly to make me think she knows what she’s talking about.

“It’s like this,” I continued. “I see people all the time posting on facebook and twitter and such, ‘love me because I have an anxiety disorder,’ or ‘how to love a person with depression,’ or ‘my depression is really bad today, so everyone be nice.’  I mean, it seems like they wear their ‘illness’ as a badge of honor, a way to get attention.  It’s an excuse to be an asshole without having to apologize.  That’s dumb.  I’m a teacher, and the teachers at my school offer around xanax like tic tacs.  I realize we have a stressful job, but come on.  We’re not all mentally ill.  People just need to learn how to deal with their lives better.  People who broadcast their ‘mental illnesses’ drive me nuts.”

My psychiatrist stopped writing to look me straight in the eye.  “There may be people like that in the world, and they may be annoying, but I would rather work with someone like that than someone like you, because you just tried to kill yourself and still refuse to believe you have a problem.”

Oooooh snap.  Shut down by my shrink.

I mumbled something along the lines of “good point” and sank back into the chair.  I wasn’t going to get out of this one easily.  My vision blurred, and I grabbed a kleenex.  Stupid psychiatrists and their stupid kleenexes.

“What kind of meds have you been on?” she asked.

“All of them,” I answered.  “I don’t remember them all.  Name one.  I’ve probably been on it.”

I’d been diagnosed with depression and anxiety multiple times over the years, I’d taken medications with varying degrees of little to no success, and I’d given up on ever getting better.  I’d just tried to kill myself the day before, and I’d been dragged to this psychiatrist pretty much against my will.  I mean, not literally kicking or screaming or anything, but when one doesn’t have any will to live, it’s basically like, “Fine.  Another doctor? I don’t want to go, but I also don’t actually care.”

She ran down a standard list of medications.  Prozac?  Yep.  Zoloft?  Uh huh.  Klonopin?  Of course.  Xanax?  Got a collection.  You get the idea.  So many pills, so little time in a one hour appointment.

Finally she asked if I’d been on oxcarbazepine.  Umm…no?  Is that even English?  Did she just make that one up as a trick to say if I’d say yes to everything, even random made-up words?  The answer, however, was no.  I had not been on that drug.

She asked if I’d be willing to try it.  That’s like when the teacher asks you, “Would you like to give the answer to #5?”  You can’t very well just say, “No.”  I said fine, that I would take it.  I can’t say I had a lot of hope that it would be any different (my resume of drugs taken was impressively long with very little results, as you may recall).  I took the prescription, got the pills, and immediately googled two things:

  1. Can I overdose on this drug?  (No)
  2. What is the success rate for this drug? (Pretty good…for bipolar disorder)

Bipolar disorder?  What?  I obviously didn’t have bipolar disorder.

(If you haven’t already figured this out, I was also a pretentious idiot)

If I had anything (which I didn’t believe), then it was depression, not bipolar disorder.  I was incredibly uninformed about this disease.  I thought it just meant that people got really moody – happy one minute and furious the next.  Basically PMS on steroids.  I had no idea that bipolar people could sometimes go days without sleeping for no apparent reason (which I had absolutely done) and be super productive.  I didn’t know that it made them act completely out of character for themselves sometimes for weeks on end, and that they could then crash into a horrible depression.  I didn’t know that bipolar disorder can go undiagnosed for an average of ten years before stumbling on a correct diagnosis.  No one goes to a doctor to say, “My life feels absolutely perfect and I just solved a bunch of problems by staying up for a week straight.”  They go to a doctor when they feel depressed, hence the misdiagnosis.

My psychiatrist is very smart.  I think she knew that if she told me I had bipolar disorder, I wouldn’t have believed her.  I would have refused to take the drugs and decided she was the crazy one, not me.  Only a few days after I started taking them, though, I felt like I woke up from a years long coma.  For the first time in a very, very long time, I could think clearly.  I could be rational.  It was strange.

Isn’t that sad?

I started blogging as a way of reaching out to two groups of people.  The first is to people who have a mental illness or love someone who does.  I am just starting down this road, and it’s scary as hell.  I hate knowing that my brain can’t function properly without drugs.  I hate thinking that I will probably have to deal with this for the rest of my life.  I guess, selfishly, I’m looking for anyone out there who can give me a “me too” or a “been there” or a “you can do this.”

I’m also writing this for people who are like I was only a few months ago. I fully subscribed to the “ignore mental illness and it will go away” philosophy, and I am now a true convert who knows firsthand how damaging that view can be. I almost lost my life over it. I would like to help other people know that mental illness is serious, it should be taken seriously, and they should stop shaming those of us who have to struggle silently.”

-by Hazel Hillboro.

You can follow Hazel’s experiences on living with a Bipolar life here at Behind these Hazel eyes.

– Please drop me an email on themanicyears@gmail.com if you want to take part and be featured in “Sharing Stories”, if you have a story to tell or you just want to share your thoughts about your experiences with mental health. I am so proud of everyone who has contributed and who has joined me in this journey so far, and I do hope our army gets stronger. A bigger voice. A fight to speak louder. – M

How Bipolar type II has affected my life, by Jenna White.

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“My personal story with mental illness begins when I was 13 years old. I began to feel different than the rest of my peers and I showed signs of both depression and mania. I was put on mood stabilizers, anti-depressants and sleeping pills to quell the mood shifts. I began to self-mutilate, choke myself with scarfs and pop different pills in the medicine cabinet. Neither my Mom or Dad understood mental illness and chastised me endlessly with a hint of concern.

I began high school and in grade 10, and found the worst boyfriend I ever had. He was mentally, emotionally, sexually and physically abusive to me for a year and a half. I had grown up with abuse so I knew this was over the top but I knew how to handle it…or so I thought. I began to snort hard drugs like cocaine and speed. The boyfriend, Kyle, didn’t want me taking my medication because he didn’t believe in it. I was being broken spiritually and not getting proper help for my mental state.

At 15 I attempted suicide for the first time. I had “tried” before by popping handfuls of random medication from the cabinet but it wasn’t a serious gesture. This time I was in the bath, note written, a full bottle of Tylenol in my stomach and I was on my way. But suddenly I changed my mind and threw the bottle at my mom, evidently she made me throw up and we never spoke of it again.

Fast forward to when I am 19. My mental state was so terrible I was having black outs with a different personality. I had been a drug addict for 4 years at that point and it was all getting to be too much. I quit drugs and moved to Toronto Ontario with a boyfriend and his kid. In Toronto I was admitted to a hospital ward for 2 weeks for a final diagnosis: Bipolar II.

From then I’ve been admitted 3 more times in two different cities. I constantly struggle with medications and dosages which cause me to go into manic and depressive states. My family, social and professional life suffers from my disorder.”

-By Jenna White.

Jenna writes about the personal struggles with having a Bipolar type II diagnosis on her blog, Brandnewbipolar.

Please drop me an email on themanicyears@gmail.com if you want to take part and be featured in “Sharing Stories”, if you have a story to tell or you just want to share your thoughts about your experiences with mental health. I am so proud of everyone who has contributed and who has joined me in this journey so far, and I do hope our army gets stronger. A bigger voice. A fight to speak louder. – M

Living in Fear, by Marco.

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“I never quite appreciated anxiety when I was younger. I always figured it was just a feeling of nervousness associated with something, like an interview or a presentation. It’s only now that I realise how serious a mental issue anxiety is.

My name is Marco and I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression some 9 months ago now. I have since dealt with my depression, however my anxiety still lingers. It affects pretty much everything I do, from work to social situations to family life.

Since my diagnosis, I have been through a low intensity CBT course to try and help me out (I didn’t want any kind of medication) and have now moved onto high intensity CBT. Not only has CBT helped me recognise my thought processes that contribute towards my anxiety but it’s also made me realise that anxiety has always been present in my life. I can now look back at my childhood memories through to present day (I’m now 27) and recognise the same anxiety-influenced thought processes and behaviours. The amount of times I avoided certain situations because of fear is… well I don’t think I can put a number to it to be honest.

And that’s what anxiety is like for me. It’s like living in a constant state of fear. Fear that something will go wrong. Fear that I’ll make a fool out of myself somehow and be ridiculed. Fear that, no matter what I do, I will never be able to break out of this anxiety cycle.

Unfortunately, I think a lot of people don’t realise just how much of an effect anxiety has on everyday life – an opinion I’ve more than likely formed based on my own complete ignorance to the issue in the past. For me, it affects my work, not only because I find it incredibly difficult to focus on what I’m doing, but also because I find it incredibly difficult to form relationships with those I work with. It affects my social life in that I find it almost impossible to truly be myself in social situations unless the people around me belong to my absolute closest of friends. It affects my ability to relax because I constantly feel like I’m running out of time and that, if I don’t do something with my time, everyone I love is drifting away from me. It affects my health because it’s both mentally and physically exhausting – most of the time stopping me from sleeping properly. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Nowadays I write for my blog called Never Mind the Cancer where I talk about my life with anxiety, depression and cancer, which I had almost 5 years ago now (something I think also contributed towards my mental health issues). I write not only to help myself, but also to help those with any of those conditions realise that they’re not alone and to give them something to relate to.

I also write because I want to change the way we think about these conditions. If we talk about them, our understanding will grow and our fear and the stigma surrounding them will slowly diminish.”

-By Marco.

Please drop me an email on themanicyears@gmail.com if you want to take part and be featured in “Sharing Stories”, if you have a story to tell or you just want to share your thoughts about your experiences with mental health. I am so proud of everyone who has contributed and who has joined me in this journey so far, and I do hope our army gets stronger. A bigger voice. A fight to speak louder. – M

Let me tell you my name; I have a mental illness: I will not be ashamed, By Amanda Rogers.

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“The Mood Disorders Clinic where I have an appointment is nearly impossible to find. It is housed in one of a series of dilapidated buildings that look every one of their 135-plus years. They are currently being renovated, which means that the hospital, originally accessible only by a dirt road, is pretty well only accessible that way again. This narrow road (a stand-in while the real entrance is being rebuilt) winds through creepy old buildings, abandoned but for construction workers, overgrown with ivy and peppered with signs proclaiming dire warnings of danger due to overhead wires, but lacking a solid plan about how best to deal with that.

It is virtually impossible to figure out where to park. There are little parking lots here and there but nothing to indicate what services they are adjacent to. I finally pull into what I believe to be the staff lot. Getting out of my car I meet a nicely suited man getting out of his, and I ask him where patients are supposed to park. He scratches his head looks around, and admits that he really doesn’t know. “I only work here,” he offers with self-depreciating good humour. I return an affable smile, but inside I’m frosty. I didn’t ride in on a camel, after all. I can’t be the only crazy person ever to arrive by car. I want to ask where the Mood Disorders Clinic is but I have lost confidence in this gentleman so I move on.

A briskly walking woman with a lanyard around her neck looks like a plausible guide. She stops at once and gives me clear directions to my destination. “Who are you meeting with?” she asks me, squinting in the bright May sunshine. “I have an appointment,” I reply. “I’m a patient.” I should sing it out: I’ve been waiting more than six months for this appointment, but I mutter it breathlessly. Her face changes subtly. Her eyes linger on the lanyard of keys around my own neck — I forgot to take them off when I left work. Sheepishly, I slide them off and stuff them into my pocket. I am not one of us. I am one of them.

The Mood Disorders Clinic is up a flight of stairs and is strangely empty. A nurse in a small kiosk takes my OHIP card and tells me where I can get coffee. It sounds like a complicated journey and I decline. I sit down but I am too nervous to read. After 15 minutes the nurse directs me to another corridor to meet with a psychiatric nurse.

This nurse isn’t quite ready for me so she invites me to sit down in the corridor in a low vinyl chair which is belching out stuffing through a couple of rips. The hallway is strangely narrow and painted a colour so vile that it is difficult to imagine that was not the intent. A sign on the wall reminds me that violence is not acceptable.

My ex-husband is a surgeon. His waiting room, as I recall, is bright, clean and nicely furnished, featuring an aquarium I once maintained and several rather valuable prints I once took for framing. His patients are beneficiaries of the same OHIP that has paid my way here, but they are clearly a classier variety of patient than I am.

Soon the psychiatric nurse invites me in. She greets me pleasantly, takes a brief history and then we launch into the interminable questionnaire-type interview that is going to reveal the state of my mental health. The questions, by necessity, are very personal and we pretend that she does not hate asking them and that I do not hate answering them. On a couple of occasions her face betrays her boredom with this process. I know she has probably done it a billion times but I still fear that I am a boring psychiatric patient. She cocks an eyebrow judgmentally at one point, something which I counted on being verboten here. I hastily rein my account of myself. Boring and nasty would be too much.

An hour later she takes me to see my new psychiatrist, who turns out not to have arrived yet. He is probably off doing something terribly important, but I am peeved just the same. His secretary speaks only to my nurse. I smile at her and she looks at me, but her neutral expression never wavers. I work in a busy, friendly place: I am used to having my smile returned. Now it sticks onto my face like jam left over from breakfast.

While we wait, my nurse encourages me to join a CBT group. “What’s that?” I ask.

“Cognitive behavioural therapy. They meet from two to four on Tuesdays”.

“I work Monday to Fridays from eight-thirty until five,” I tell her. She frowns slightly, and tells me that many people find the group very helpful. She gives me a small card about it. I look like the sort of person who lies about their work hours.

I stuff the card in on top of my keys. A week later and two weeks after that I receive phone calls reminding me about the CBT group. I finally ask the woman on the telephone why they don’t hold groups in the evening as well as the day. I can’t be the only person who has both a mood disorder and a day job. She has no answer for me.

Finally the psychiatrist arrives and, after he meets with my nurse privately, we all sit down in his office. He is on one side of a vast uncluttered desk and I am on the other. He looks over my interview and asks a few questions. At one point he asks me about my brother who committed suicide a few years ago. Out in the real world I have learned that reference to a sibling’s suicide has a similar social impact to letting out a loud fart in a crowded elevator. People don’t mean to judge but they are, by and large, frankly horrified and they don’t know what to say.

Here in my psychiatrist’s office, however, we all deal with the excruciating intimacy of our subject matter by remaining so studiedly impassive that we might as well be exchanging recipes for pasta salad. I am a little tempted to profess an interest in cannibalism or a desire to smoke firecrackers, just to stir things up.

He seems like a nice man and he is doing his job and trying to help me, but he has a brand new diagnosis for me and it’s taken me 15 years to get used to the last one I was given. He recommends a medication I have never heard of, which I will, in time, start taking and which has improved my life significantly. He warns me that the medication can have side effects and that he will be monitoring me closely, and he gives me a requisition for a blood test. I have not yet got around to having that blood test and, despite two calls to the Mood Disorders Clinic, he has not yet got around to monitoring me closely, but I’m sure we will work that out in time.

There appears to be no counselling attached to this service. There is, of course, the CBT group, which I cannot attend, and private counselling in the community, which I cannot really afford. There are books in Chapters on CBT and how to use it, but I suspect that in counselling, as in many things, doing it alone is no substitute for the real thing.

I wend my way out of the mental health hospital and back to work. I have not been the easiest patient, but it has not been the easiest experience.

One in five Canadians has, or will have at some point, a mental illness. It is the mammoth in the room. On bus shelters I see posters of dedicated professionals and loving parents, all of whom apparently have mental illnesses and all of whom have overcome them with an obnoxious degree of success. Magazine articles declare that this or that celebrity has a mood disorder and, with the help of millions of dollars, is dealing with it in an inspirational way. Between the articles are advertisements for psychotropic medication. Depression seems always to be characterized by a pretty woman with a pinched expression and a cloud over her head, who becomes a joyful nurturing mother to her children with the aid of this or that antidepressant. Schizophrenics always seem to appear as men in these ads and are turning pots on a wheel or painting great pictures with expressions of concentrated fulfilment.

Once in a while a friend or acquaintance will mention, sotto voce, that they have been treated for a mental illness, usually depression, and, like an immigrant from the same disgraced motherland, I will whisper that I have, too.

“I’m going to write an article about it,” I tell a friend. She frowns skeptically. I am always going to write an article about something.

“Go for it,” she says. “Just don’t use your real name.” The irony of this washes over us both, but she is adamant.

“You know I don’t judge you,” she says, “but the world is the world. Some people will.”

Some people will. And I would like to use an alias — perhaps some elegant literary name. Lots of literary people seem to have had mental illnesses. Signing my name to this article will feel like signing off on my car loan — irrevocable, scary and a little exhilarating.

Having a mood disorder is something that is true about me. It is also true of me that I lose my keys and glasses almost every day, that I will forget your face in five minutes but I will never forget something important that you tell me, that I am woefully untidy and that I like to pile my bills in a secret stash behind the clock on my mantelpiece. It is also true of me that I am fiercely loyal, that I love and respect animals, that I am profoundly dedicated to the well-being of children, and that I always champion the underdog because I know what it feels like to be one.

I have a mental illness called Bipolar Disorder Type II. Sadly, this is the only thing I have in common with Catherine Zeta-Jones. I am better off than many if not most of my fellow mental patients. My illness is treatable and I have resources at my disposal. I have never been among those who cannot hide this truth about themselves.

My name is Amanda Rogers and I am one of four and a half million Canadians who have a mental illness. I stand shoulder to shoulder with them all, and, with your help, we will not be ashamed.”

-By Amanda Rogers.

Please drop me an email on themanicyears@gmail.com if you want to take part and be featured in “Sharing Stories”, if you have a story to tell or you just want to share your thoughts about your experiences with mental health. I am so proud of everyone who has contributed and who has joined me in this journey so far, and I do hope our army gets stronger. A bigger voice. A fight to speak louder. – M