What it's like to cope with an off-the-scale bipolar disorder

Overt scrutiny is agonising and aggravating.

Relatives have said things such as how I ‘did something a bit bipolar’. This is so counterproductive, as telling me I am mad is the last thing that is going to stop me being mad.

Some have even used my diagnosis to take cheap shots at me, accusing me of being in a manic phase when I so clearly am not – that is low.

An episode can just peter out if I have space to right myself. If that does not work, those in my support network of friends and family should phone my GP, who will probably send over a specialist psychiatrist to make an assessment.

It first needs to be established whether I am a danger to myself and/or others.

I am bipolar 1, the most severe level, and it is obvious to mental health professionals when I am in an episode.

*Please note, the following contains references to suicide that some readers may find triggering.*

Depression is 90% of the story for me and is usually quietly humming away in the background. But it has become so bad that I have made a few suicide attempts, although not for 11 years. Maybe not totally sincere efforts, although never for attention.

There have been periods when I would have ended my life if it was just a painless case of flicking a switch.

I have lived alone for the last four years and that is a key factor in improving my life. I am healing over many things, including my battles with mental illness.

I am a night owl and a boozer, and it’s liberating to not be monitored and scrutinised.

Sleep is a major issue I am trying to tackle. I stayed awake for a month when I was incarcerated in 2009. I have a limited number of prescribed sleeping tablets and, therefore, try to use them strategically.

I do not have an issue in taking my other medication, but for the first few years I was like a zombie with nothing to say. My meds were then switched and I now no longer feel like I am on drugs. I sympathise with those who have not been as lucky.

Coping with bipolar is a daily struggle; sometimes I have no motivation to get out of bed or shower and I can let the housework slide.

At other, rarer, times I can spend a whole day manically cleaning, tidying and reorganising my flat.

I am a man of extremes. What is more extreme than bipolar?

With the benefit of hindsight, I am glad I did not get diagnosed until late on, because it might have held me back – but now, I embrace it.

For instance, I used to look for reasons why I was depressed, which aggravated the situation. Now I just try to ride out my ‘mini-depressions’, which usually last a maximum of a few weeks.

It is often simply a question of brain chemistry.

There is said to be a phenomenon of bipolar in the media. I was renowned for my headline writing wherever I went and I think it is because I am obsessive – I sincerely believe it is linked to my condition.

‘Okay’ is never enough for me in my work.

I am currently reinventing myself career-wise and have just finished writing a book manuscript (yet to be picked up) which features my mental health issues, among many other things.

I have also held a series of journalism workshops for people with mental health issues, which was an exciting and challenging experience.

None of this would be possible without the welfare state.

I can only just about make ends meet, but the way my illness is factored into my benefits means I have the flexibility I need to thrive in my career and personal life.

I am happy to have creative freedom again and – much more importantly – to see my little girl grow up. The love of a child is the most precious thing in the world, it’s something worth staying sane for.

The main message I want to get across is that I am in a good place and that it is possible, even when you have bipolar.

Having a mental illness does not define me.

Need support?

For emotional support you can call the Samaritans 24-hour helpline on 116 123, email [email protected], visit a Samaritans branch in person or go to the Samaritans website.

MORE: What happened when I attended my first bipolar support group meeting

MORE: Having bipolar doesn’t mean I’ll go home with you

MORE: What I wish I’d known before being diagnosed with bipolar disorder

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