There is an increasing amount of people springing up just lately who either have been newly diagnosed with bipolar disorder or have self-diagnosed them selves as having it. Some of these people immediately regard themselves as experts as a matter of course. Overnight a diagnosis turns people from being a worrying collection of symptoms and idiosyncrasies into an expert in all matters related to mental health. A lot of them don’t know if they are Bipolar I or II or even what the difference is (if they have a diagnosis from a doctor of course) but what they do know is that they can inform those of us who have lived with the illness for a long time just exactly where it is we are going wrong and what to do about it. Not everybody is like this of course but there are more than enough to contend with.
So am I griping about nothing or do I have a genuine concern? Granted I’m at a point in the pattern of my illness that is incredibly difficult to cope with and it depletes my energy, my good temper and my normally generous ear. I find myself, especially on Twitter, snapping a little and then swearing like crazy in my vent account where usually I would ignore comments or make a kind remark.
Bipolar disorder puts me through a tough phase from time to time. Every couple of years it sneaks up behind me and hits me on the head with a 7lb lump hammer. For several months I find it difficult to cope with even the mundane things. The level of chaos I’m prepared to live is overwhelmed by a level of chaos I daren’t even think about. I don’t look after myself too well. My eating habits range from great food on the good days to a series of dire snacks that appear to be mainly different types of fat on the really bad days. I get confused, I have huge memory gaps and I cry at the loss of the person that I vaguely remember being before bipolar disorder came along and raped my life.
At 16 or 17 I was diagnosable as having bipolar disorder which suggests that the onset was somewhere around the age of 14 but I wasn’t diagnosed as having the illness until I was 34. Left unchecked it had run riot through my life and, as it had been undiagnosed because of my love affair with drugs and alcohol, I was pretty much a mess by then.
I was given lithium (and that still is my base medication) and that had a positive effect quite quickly. I hadn’t been aware of it but until the static-like noise in my head disappeared I realised that I’d been living with the sound of a slightly off station radio in my head. The lack of that noise was great but it meant the thoughts and troubles that it had been blocking out gained a foothold.
Bipolar disorder is a spectrum disorder which means basically that there are a criteria to fulfill that says whether you have it or not and to what degree (I’m Bipolar I) and that decides where on scale you are. We don’t all have the illness to the same degree of course because the criteria are just there to aid diagnosis; they don’t define the effect that it has on your life just that it will have an effect on your life.
I present “an unusual picture” as my consultant likes to tell me. He has also told me that had I not been so high functioning or high intellectualising then I may not be alive today. Had I been a little bit more average then the chances are that I would have killed myself a long time ago. Bipolar disorder is a serial killer.
I have periods of dissociation where my surroundings, even though I know them really well, become unfamiliar to me and I’m not sure where I am. I once got lost walking to a local supermarket which is less than a mile away and the route is basically two sides to a square. What should have been a 20 minute walk took me nearly two hours. I have big memory gaps because my mind just can’t cope with what’s going on. The longest gap is 8 days (and I was lead on a job I was doing with the police at the time and still can’t remember doing it) though more typically it is three or four hours. I start sentences I can’t finish. Not the normal kind of “what was I going to say next” blank but quite literally I can’t remember the beginning of the sentence let alone where it was going to lead or what point I was trying to make. I burn food when I get around to making it unless I stay with it from start to finish, I forget to take baths or change clothes as I can’t remember when I first wore them. I become suicidal very quickly and am as likely to do so when I’m manic as when I’m depressed. If my consultant didn’t think that hospitalisation would have a negative effect on me then I would spent time there frequently.
During my last period of confusion I reached a point where I decided to talk to a friend about Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA). I no longer have the confidence that I can look after myself in times like this. I had my utilities on key meters and would often wake up to find myself without gas or electricity and still forget to charge them. This time I’m not just forgetting to take my medication on time I’m also forgetting to keep it stocked up. So myself and two friends agreed to set up LPAs for both Health and Welfare and Finance. One is an independent financial adviser and the other is a GP so I chose my friends well! Today I’ve talked to them both and said that there may be a day soon when they will have to take over the reigns for a while. That day might not come this time but if it does then I’ll have the luxury of being able to concentrate on doing all the right things knowing that people who have my best interests at heart are looking after the things I can’t quite cope with.
Like all the other people in the world with bipolar disorder I have an illness that capitalises on my personality traits and idiosyncrasies. We’re not enchanted children with mystical talents we’re people with a destructive illness and some of us become entirely destroyed by it.
Remember, before you claim bipolarity for yourself, your high mood and bags of energy could actually just be the way you are. Normality is on a spectrum too so don’t jump on a modern bandwagon that suggests deviating from normality is an illness when normality is actually difficult to define.
When I tweet and blog about mental health I’m doing it to help ease discrimination, to destigmatise people with mental health problems and I’m not begging for support or asking for tips on how to cope. I will ask for help and support if I need to but I’m much more likely to ask people who know me than a random tweeter who may or may not have a legitimate diagnosis. I’m sure that sounds harsher than it’s meant to but I’m currently at the end of my tether and what works for you won’t necessarily work for me.
The best way of helping anyone is quite simply to listen and learn. I read a lot of blogs/tweets etc. and take away from them the parts that help me. I share them from time to time if I know of someone they will help. I offer my support but I try not to force my opinion on people who could do without the pressure. I’m not ungrateful for your interest or your concern but it’s not your bipolar you’re trying to deal with it’s mine.
I can be found on Twitter as @WeirdSid.