‘A darkness that can swallow up your life’

I was recently asked to write an article about living with Bipolar Disorder by the excellent Time to Change Wales for the Western Mail. It was published a couple of weeks back. For those who didn’t catch it in the paper, here it is below: 

When I was 21 I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. It was both a relief and a death sentence – or so it felt at the time. Finally I had a name, a hook, a way of describing how and why my moods would swing from depressed to manic so wildly. At the same time I was pegged, labelled, marked out as different and as broken.

I’m now 29, I’m happy, I have a house I can call my own (well I have a mortgage at any rate) and I’m studying a Masters in international journalism. I’ve worked, I have a career and I have aims and objectives for the future. I am surrounded by friends and family who love and cherish me.

But the last eight years have not been easy. I’ve lost friends, left jobs and had to accept I need to take medication to avoid the worst excesses of my condition.

Bipolar disorder is complicated to describe. People often think of it in terms of black and white or happy and sad, it’s not it’s far more than that. I often find that people equate depression with sadness – and while I’m more likely to be sad when depressed – it’s not that simple.

Depression is a blackness that swallows up your life entirely.

With depression you’re tired all the time. Getting dressed, seeing friends, getting to work on time – all these things suddenly become a great, heavy burden. When I’m depressed I’m also visited by terrifying thoughts of self-harm and suicidal tendencies. During extreme depressions railway stations and roads frighten me; I’m scared of what I might do.

And then you have the manic side. For me this varies even more than depression. At its mildest form I sleep less, I do more and I feel happier. It sounds idyllic but it’s just the start of a swing, an upsurge in mood that can have a disastrous impact on the rest of my life. The more you do the more you want to do. The less you sleep, the less you want to sleep. You get faster and faster while everyone around you remains the same. You set yourself tough targets to meet – which are often physically and mentally punishing – and initially you meet them.

This drives on the mania.

You become irritable with obstacles laid in your path; you become irritable with those around you. You’re generally a less tolerant person. As you get faster people cease to be able to understand you. You flit from idea to idea in conversations. You start multiple projects unable to complete any one of them. As the mania progresses you have grandiose illusions – you feel like a superhuman and you work, you have sex and you spend as if this is the case. The more manic I become the less happy I am. Lack of sleep makes me paranoid – I believe everyone is talking about me.

Eventually I crash and that crash is agonising.

You only realise how high you have gone after you fall and you only realise just how much of a dick you’ve been to everyone around you when it’s too late to fix. I think most of us have woken up from a drunken night out and had flashbacks to the night before – flash backs that make you put your hand in your mouth and cringe. Imagine a night before that has lasted for weeks, or months.

Fortunately I have good friends, and an excellent family who can ground me when I’m getting too high. I also take medication. I take tiny little pink pills which help to regulate my mood – they have side effects (I find it hard to keep my leg from vibrating when I sit down) but by-and-large they do more good than bad.

I’ve learnt that with medication and the support of those around me that I can avoid the worst of the ups and downs of bipolar disorder. I’m mostly stable now, and able to take part in day-to-day life like everyone else. It may be a struggle some days but it’s a fight I’m willing to endure in order to have a normal, happy life.