I’m much more open when it comes to writing about inflammatory bowel disease and living with a stoma than I am about my mental health.
I think this is namely because my stoma was something you could see, and my mental health is something you cannot – and therefore I felt more comfortable speaking out about it. As it was there, it was on my body. Nobody could say I was lying about what had happened (though I hope nobody would think like that anyway).
But with my mental health, it’s different. You have to take my word for it. And with the amount of stigma already attached to the likes of mental health, it feels very difficult to open up about it.
However, in this post, I’m going to do so. I started this blog to highlight both the effects of IBD and mental health and living with both – and so I wouldn’t really be sticking to my aim if I didn’t write about both.
I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder type 1 a-year-and-a-half ago. Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder that consists of both manic episodes and depressive episodes – and type 1 means that I have more of the former than the latter.
It wasn’t an easy diagnosis and it was one that took a while to be given to me.
My moods had always been erratic. I’d always been easily annoyed and confrontational. But as I reached my late teens, my temper worsened. I’d become angry by the slightest thing which would lead me to having complete meltdowns, crying and screaming.
But then after that meltdown, it was like a switch – I’d often have no memory of getting so distraught, imagining it in my head as if I’d only got a little upset.
After my stoma surgery in 2015, things worsened. I’m not sure if it was the traumatic experience of the surgery and hospital stay that led my moods to worsen, but I’ve never been as bad as I was then.
Me and my partner were in a bad place. A really bad place, in fact. He couldn’t do anything without me becoming angry and aggressive. We would fight and fight and fight until I was left screaming the place down.
But one night things got really bad. I had started an argument out of nowhere – I can’t even remember what the argument was about now – and I was a mess. I was crying, screaming and shouting. I was incredibly aggressive and my partner just couldn’t calm me down no matter what he tried.
I ended up putting myself in the bath tub, screaming until I went lightheaded and slashing my wrists. It sounds extreme, and it was. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it before.
After hurting myself, the pain took all of my focus and eventually I calmed down and I was put to bed.
But the next morning my mum came round unexpectedly. My partner had called her at 1am the night before, feeling helpless.
She told me she was taking me to the doctors, no ifs or buts.
I went to see a GP, and he referred me to a psychiatrist. As my mother also has bipolar disorder, it was easier for me to be referred as the disorder is hereditary. Therefore there was no second-guessing what was going on with me.
Four days later, after an urgent referral, I saw the psychiatrist. He asked me a series of questions about my moods, my life and my relationships. He asked me how I dealt with certain situations and about my emotional capacity.
However, he said it’d take a few sessions to actually diagnose me. He wanted to get to know my moods better first.
At first, he guessed I could be living with borderline personality disorder – a personality disorder in which sees you changing moods dramatically.
But a few sessions later and he’d changed his mind.
You see, my meltdown to you will probably sound like a depressive episode. But it wasn’t. Symptoms of mania don’t necessarily mean you feel elated and high as a kite.
It can also make you erratic, angry and irritated – which can lead to meltdowns such as mine.
Of course, I have experienced other symptoms of mania – which is what led me to my actual diagnosis.
There have been times where I have spent thousands of pounds in a few weeks, on things I didn’t even need.
I’ve gone to get one tattoo after another without even thinking about what I’m putting on my skin in the space of a few weeks (luckily I love all my tattoos, though).
I make snap decisions without thinking of the consequences and I often regret my choices after I become ‘stable’.
All of these things are symptoms of mania that I have lived with on and off for the past 18 months.
While I do have depressive episodes, I don’t have them as much as the manic ones. My depressive episodes can be just as severe, though.
I isolate myself, I stop looking after myself and there have been times where I have questioned taking my own life. But I know that’s the disorder talking and not me, luckily.
Being officially diagnosed with bipolar disorder was scary, but it was also a relief. It was a relief to know that I wasn’t crazy – that I was just ill. I was poorly and I needed help. I needed support and someone to understand, and my psychiatrist did just that.
Since my diagnosis, I have been trialled on various medications. Some good, some bad. One of the worst having made me gain a stone and a half in weight and giving me a chin full of acne. But it was worth it to make me feel better.
Currently, I take five different medications every night including mood stabilisers, anti-psychotics and sleeping pills, as I often suffer with nightmares and lack of sleep during a manic episode.
While some people don’t agree with medication, I can hand on heart say it’s been my life saver. I am currently the most stable I’ve been in a long time and I owe it all to that medication.
After months and months of despair and horrifically intense emotions, I’m able to think clearly and acknowledge situations before putting myself in them. And that to me is everything.
I’m now a very calm person and I don’t actually remember the last time I had a melt down – which is something I’d previously never thought I’d ever be able to say.
I am also very lucky to have such supportive family, friends and a loving partner who has stuck by me through everything, which I’m sure has helped in leading me to my stability now.
Of course, there has been a lot more to my diagnosis than rock bottom and stability – there is the matter of severe manic episodes, medication reviews and a depressive episode that led me to A&E and being seen by a Crisis team.
But I’m going to save all of that for future articles, when I find the courage to write them.