Getting to Grips with Bipolar | The Column
When I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at twenty, I was absolutely devastated. My mind
swarmed with preconceived ideas of what bipolar is: unstable, dangerous, and a constant
headache for the people around me. I googled ‘people with bipolar’, and whilst the friendly
face of Stephen Fry was one of those on the list, I also came across several news stories of
people who had bipolar and had committed violent crimes.
My irrational first reaction to both my diagnosis and stumbling across these articles, was that
I truly started to question whether this label meant I would start to become something
terrible. I cried myself to sleep night after night, terrified that one day I would wake up and
would be so unstable that I would become this bipolar ‘alter ego’, no longer in touch with who
I really was.
But night after night, day after day, I still woke up and felt like Cerys. I started my medication
and my mood started to stabilise a little, but there were still many aspects of my disorder that
were ever present.
The Harsh Realities
My depressive lows were treacherous and sometimes physically painful, this overwhelming
sadness crippling and debilitating, often leaving me in bed for days on end, skipping lectures
and seminars and instead sobbing myself in and out of sleep.
The hypomania was somewhat enjoyable with my mood elevated and my energy levels high.
I was knocking out my essays at an above-average standard, engaging in social activities
without anxiety, pursuing extra-curricular activities without any hesitation.
But the harsh reality of hypomania was something that only hit me when I was out of that
episode. I would look back and realise that I could only engage in social activities because I
was drinking far more than I should have been. I would read my essays back and it felt like it
was something another person had written, something I couldn’t reproduce in a depressive
or even a neutral episode. I would think about conversations I’d had with people and be
overcome with such crippling anxiety I would have to leave Durham and go back home.
Whilst these are only a few manifestations of my low and ‘high’ episodes, the thing that really
got me was the harsh reality that my life was going to be almost dictated by my mood cycles
and the repercussions that come with these. It suddenly hit me that, whilst I could take my
medication to ease these episodes, my life would always be patterned by my mood cycles.
Blind to the Positives
In the early days of my diagnosis, I was so busy focusing on my self-perceived ‘negative’
bipolar qualities that I was completely blind to the immense positives. I used to burden
myself with feelings of guilt, questioning how much longer my family and friends could bare
to ride the waves with me, to see me go from high to low, over and over, sometimes my
mood so turbulent it would change within the day. Sometimes these thoughts creep back in,
but engaging with therapy has been a godsent in regards to tackling these intrusive
In recent years, with a lot of compassion focused therapy, working on my self-management,
effective medication, and a second diagnosis of autism, I have finally started to acknowledge
the many positives that come from my bipolar.
Acknowledging the Positives
One of the great things that comes from my low episodes is that I have started to truly
appreciate the little things in life. After a slump, where I’ve struggled to shower or get some
fresh clothes out of my wardrobe to wear, I come out of the other side and stand in my
garden. I stand there as I watch the dog pitter patter around in the pebbles, I feel the sun on
my face and the wind brushing my clothes and I just feel so immensely proud of myself for
waiting it out, for being patient enough to appreciate the world around me.
I’m exceptionally empathetic and this is only heightened in my low episodes, but this is
actually something I’ve really come to embrace. I allow myself to cry when I watch the news,
or I allow myself to put myself in my fiancée’s shoes and imagine how he feels when he’s
looking after me. It felt so difficult at first, but now this heightened empathy really allows me
to look at myself from someone else’s point of view, usually with a lot more compassion than
when I see myself through my own eyes.
One of the wonderful things that comes from my hypomania is that I am exceptionally
creative. I love to write, often for hours and days on end, anything from thought pieces about
mental health to short stories. I crochet anything from blankets for my family to handmade
Christmas decorations I sold in aid of Mind a few years ago. My hobbies and creativity bring
so much comfort and a huge sense of pride in times that used to feel so lonely and
alienating. Rather than questioning my hypomania and how it negatively impacts the people
around me, I’ve become more aware of how much joy my ‘highs’ can bring people, even if
it’s just crocheting a little snowman for their Christmas tree.
My neutral episodes are something that are becoming more frequent now that I have found
the right balance of medication and engaging with my therapist. The neutral phases are
when I used to feel most like myself, but now that I’ve come to embrace my quirks and flaws,
whether my bipolar or something else, I’ve started to understand that all of this is what
makes me, me.
And to really top it all off, I’ve still not turned into a violent criminal due to my bipolar, if
anything, I’ve become even softer for embracing it.
What I learnt from this experience:
I was too quick to engage with pre-conceived ideas and stereotypes of bipolar.
There are so many amazing parts of me that are influenced by my bipolar, and it’s always important to see the flip side of any ‘negatives’.
My bipolar is a wonderful part of me, but it’s also not the only thing I am!
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