Living with bipolar yet still trying to embrace my real self.
I was diagnosed with bipolar on the 22 December 2002. I was 31 and had just arrived in Victoria after driving from Bunbury, Western Australia. As a single parent I was already receiving a government pension. I was residing in a caravan park at the time of my diagnosis and had no family or friends in Victoria aside from my soon to be husband.
The day I was diagnosed, my sons and I returned to our caravan and the play station my son had to help his hand-eye co-ordination was stolen. The first drug I was prescribed was Epilim, after taking two of these tablets I felt like I was going to do harm to myself and/or my sons. I rang the doctor straight away and told him I wasn’t taking them anymore. I put the rest of the tablets in the bin and tried to give my sons a good Christmas. Strangely enough it was Christmas day when it actually sunk in what the doctor said. Needless to say I felt like a sack of sh*t. Not only with the burglary or the diagnosis, but my best friends were also battling bushfires in Canberra that came within 1 km of their homes. Wanting to be with them and not being able to made me very anxious and extremely forgetful. I should explain that I have known my best friend for 28 years and I have known her husband for 11 years, they are godparents to both my sons and I am godmother to all of their children. Thus I feel as they are family more than friends and desperately wanted to be with them at their time of need, alas finances would not even consider it at the time.
When I was diagnosed with ADHD in 1997-I thought that was pretty bad, but when I was diagnosed with bipolar I spent the next two years denying it. Now that I am trying to accept it I find myself getting very angry and frustrated at the lack of understanding and knowledge in our society. I find myself wanting to make the media and the public understand Mental Illness but I have no idea how. I find myself looking back at my life and I am now able to recognize times in my life when I was either hyper manic or when I was crashing. I know things that I can do to help my friends and family understand my ups and downs but I yearn to be able to have the ability to make non sufferers aware of the dilemmas that myself and other sufferers go through. I also know that I cannot do it on my own, and with all the education and material available I wonder why there is still such a stigma placed on mental illness.
When I tell people that I have bipolar or mental illness, I get comments like “But you seem so normal” or “Really? You look ok to me”. The problem is that Mental Illness cannot be seen. Its sort of like being told as a kid about Santa that you don’t need to see something to believe in it. How appropriate that is to mental illness. I hear quite often about celebrities who have mental illness and I feel for them, it is hard enough for me in a bad time to keep it together in front of my kids, how hard it must be for people in the public eye to keep up appearances and to perform when required.
Some of the things that I can recall that I have done in my life at high and low points are quite amusing to myself and somewhat embarrassing as well. I was quite a drinker when I was only 15 and kept drinking up until I was around 23, don’t get me wrong I still like a drink, but I have 2 or 3 glasses now instead of 2 or 3 bottles. I would drink before school and during school in year 10. I was nightclubbing at the age of 16 and although I had a lot of fun I did some very dangerous things as well. I was well known to drink as much as I could in one night, whether it was cocktails, spirits or beer. I would drink for a bet, dare or fun. I would find myself undressing in nightclubs, fighting and just getting myself into all sorts of trouble. Yet I didn’t see any of that until just recently and I just hung my head and said to myself “My god woman, you are soooo lucky to be alive”. I am sure that people I knew 15 or 20 years ago would be surprised to find out that I am still kicking and haven’t killed myself or been killed. I know I am, because I was certainly on the track to self-destruction. At least now I can recognize that behaviour and though I sometimes have those urges again, I also have the ability to stop myself from succumbing to them.
Another thing I used to do regularly was run away. I started running away from home very young at the age of 11. Anytime I thought I could get out of the house that was it, I was gone. Into my adult life, I still ran away frequently, very frequently. I found myself running away every six months, and at that time I would move house, move city or move interstate. Needless to say that this behaviour has had an effect on my children, as I would uproot them as well when we moved. I often got to the stage where I felt as if everyone would be against me if they saw that I was unable to cope with difficult situations that would arise, so instead of dealing with it I would run.
My last big move was from Bunbury to Melbourne, one day I decided I didn’t like Western Australia anymore so I told my sons we were going back east. When we got half way across the Nullarbor I found myself asking, “What the hell am I doing? I am in the middle of the desert of Australia with 2 young sons”, but I kept going.
Little did I know at that time, but in Melbourne there was a man who was gentle, caring and loving, that I would meet and whom would help me turn my life around and for that I will be eternally grateful to him. He has helped me to confront and accept my illness, he encourages me to write and to embrace my art, he cares for my children when I cant even care for myself and he keeps our house functioning. Occasionally we have disagreements, usually about seeing the doctors, yet he still persists without getting angry with me. He has even sat up through the night when I have had a bad night just to make sure I am comfortable.
What is it like to live with Bipolar?
Some day’s its not so bad, other days it is completely unbearable. For me the hardest thing is for me not to run away, especially when that’s all I want to do right now. Don’t get me wrong I love my partner and my children, but for the past 22 years when things got hard I ran away. And right now, accepting that I have this disorder is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with. My partner deserves some sort of an award; he helps me out soooo much that I just can’t thank him enough. I bet you’re wondering, “If she’s so happy and she’s got so much support, why does she want to run away?” Well, unlike the other times when I haven’t wanted to return, this time I would, at least I think I would. I just wish some days that I didn’t have this disorder, that I didn’t go up and down like a seesaw that I was somewhat normal, but then what is normal these days?
Let me try and word it so you understand what I mean. On a really bad day I wake up wishing that I hadn’t, then everything I do seems to go wrong, I might spill the milk whilst making my morning coffee and then I get aggravated and I throw the milk back in the fridge and no matter what anyone says to me during that time they will get a very rude, nasty and aggressive response. I also, quite often misunderstand what people say to me and then ask them to repeat themselves. On a daily basis, I’m sure that this aggravates my family, yet they seem to deal with it ok now. I do this only so as I don’t snap at them for something completely different to what they are actually saying. I also lose interest in doing the housework, or my hobbies and I often withdraw from society.
But I have recently been able to talk to my partner about how I get angry and because I don’t want to fight or argue with him I keep it inside myself. In other relationships I would push until I pushed him over the line, not that I would aim to get hit, but just to see how far I could go. The other thing a lot of former partners have done to me is to ask about any previous violence I had been through and then use that information against me in an argument 6 – 9 months after the initial conversation. The funny thing was I would be called a liar because I could not remember what I had said six months ago.
For me I could have moved states twice in that time, so my memory is stuffed as well, I do have ADHD as well. And my kids have ADHD so our house sometimes feels like the cha-cha at the carnival, other times it feels like the ghost train not knowing what will attack you next. But I have a great family and wonderful kids and I love them so much and am so proud of them all. (This was written during my last crash on the 10th April 2005)
How long has it taken me to accept that I have been correctly diagnosed?
Honestly, I still don’t think I have, I believe that at this moment in time I have moments when I accept the bipolar and see the positives of it and embrace my creativity and know that I only have to make me happy sometimes. However, there are a lot of times when I still try to analyse every little symptom and the more I try to deny it the more I am proving to myself that the doctor may be right. All in all I now know I have bipolar and I have found a wonderful support group and am starting to accept it and deal with the symptoms much better. When I think about any predominant symptoms the more I learn and accept the further back I can remember. From the age of 11 to as recently as September 2004 I would run away, or try to. I would move house, city, and state at least every six to nine months. And every second move I made was back to Canberra because I would go down and feel unsafe and return to where I felt the safest and most welcome, my best friends’ home in Canberra. They have never judged me, never turned me away and never laughed at me. And I will love them for as long as I live.
I am currently waiting to see a new psychiatrist at this moment in time, but the last time I crashed badly was on the 17th Jan 2005. My partner took me to a new doctor as we had only moved one month earlier. The doctor that I saw was absolutely fantastic and has monitored me closely since then. When I was really bad, our doctor even went to the extent of ringing us to make sure that I was ok. At the moment I am on Tegretol, a mood stabilizer, dexamphetamine for ADHD that I was diagnosed with on the 25th June 1997 and Aropax for depression and also Tamaze for insomnia. I feel as though I rattle when I walk some days, and I loathe taking tablets and have been known to refuse my medication and just stay in bed for 2 or 3 days.
Though on the 14th April 2005, I believe I had a huge breakthrough, I was able to talk to my partner about how I get angry and how that makes me depressed because I know if I allow myself to get really angry I can be very abusive and sometimes violent. So my partner is going to help me get some anger management in the near future. This is the first breakthrough I have had whilst being on my medication and I feel a lot better now, a lot calmer and more able to concentrate. I also feel like I can talk to my partner about anything and he will help me to understand what I am going through and what I am putting him and the kids through too.