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"How do I explain bipolar, when I don't really understand it myself?"

Sarah from Positive Minds shares her experience of the realities of Bipolar disorder.

I'm Sarah, a Senior Wellbeing Advisor at Positive Minds and I have bipolar disorder.

When starting this blog, I asked myself “how do I explain bipolar, when I don't really understand it myself?”

People generally see it as mood states of highs and lows. It is so much more than that. Bipolar affects every aspect of my life. It's meant I've had to make tough decisions surrounding work, finances, friendships and whether to have a family. It affects relationships, what I'm able to eat, driving, insurance. As well as those things associated with the symptoms and behaviours of depression and mania.

Most people are familiar with depression, its symptoms and how it affects them. However, few understand mania or hypermania. I've had people say to me, “I wish I had mania" and to be honest hypermania in its initial stages is great! I love life, I'm more gregarious, my productivity is something else, I'm super creative, I have loads of great ideas, my home sparkles and the world is full of exciting possibilities and yes, I love it!

The scary thing is that it can rapidly develop into mania and I'll have no idea that it's happening. 

This is BAD and for me, it's far worse than the severe depression I experience. I'm uncontrollable and I won't listen to anyone - ask my partner!! I have uncontrollable urges and impulses; resulting in debt, promiscuity, taking life threatening risks, short lived obsessions and delusions. I believe I can control people. I burnt my accountancy qualifications. I decided I would become a nail technician and bought the whole kit. (I never used it). I bought 275 pots of paint, as I had to have one in every colour. Sleep is non-existent. I feel invincible. Yes, I love it, but the aftermath is catastrophic.

I have little recollection of this state. It has caused serious issues with friends, family and strangers, resulting in guilt and shame.

And then there's the fear. Every day I wonder if it’s the start of an episode. If I have a bad day, am I about to sink into a deep depression? If I am having a good day, is it a sign of mania? I constantly question my moods and find it difficult to know what’s normal. There is the fear of alienating those I care about, those I love, those that depend on me. Will my meds stop working? Would I wish it on anyone? No. Do I accept that it’s part of me and it makes me unique? Yes.

Overall, with major lifestyle changes I’ve learnt to manage it. I take medication out of choice. (I do resent that I will need them for the rest of my life). It stops the extreme mood swings. I have therapy when needed. I attend a bipolar support group. It’s a great place to sound off as everyone there ‘gets it’. I use art to relax or express my feelings when I can’t find the words. I now work, which at one point didn’t seem possible.

There are hundreds of people in Portsmouth who have bipolar. You wouldn’t know by looking at them. They might be your nurse, hairdresser, librarian, teacher, psychologist, accountant etc. People who are inspirational. With bipolar everyone's experiences, thoughts and behaviours are unique.

Accepting my diagnosis has made me stronger and it gives me compassion and insight.

It enables me to see things from different perspectives. My thought patterns mean I can bring unique ideas to the table.

Support is there and I hope that I can inspire others to realise, even with this chronic, lifelong condition, it is possible to live a worthwhile and meaningful life.

Who wants to be ‘normal’?!!!! #Bipolar Strong

For more information about Bipolar have a look at these links

Bipolar UK

Mind Bipolar

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