It is a great achievement to be in remission when you are suffering from a severe and enduring mental health problem. The road to remission can be arduous and lengthy. When you receive your diagnosis, it is only the start of the journey, though I do accept it is a huge step. You may have spent years working your way through every possible antidepressant only to discover you didn’t have depression; you had something deeper that needed a different type of medication altogether. What I did feel the day I was diagnosed was relief. I wasn’t mad after all (no pun intended) everything I had experienced over a long period of time had a name and what I was feeling was normal according to my diagnosis of bipolar disorder. That day my psychiatrist handed me something. Well actually he passed me something figuratively not literally, he passed me a badge. A shiny badge that said bipolar on it. When the initial relief passed, I became to hate that badge, that title or label and now, in remission, I will not allow myself be defined by that badge.
You can lead a life with a severe and enduring mental health problem.
So, began an overhaul of my medication after my diagnosis. The antidepressant I was on was reduced and I was given a mood stabiliser called lithium. I have my blood monitored to make sure I am receiving the right dosage which was a little intrusive at the beginning but now it is only every three months. I stayed like this for over 12 months. The difficulty here was though my manic phases had gone, I was still prone to long dark periods of time in deep depression and frequent bouts of psychotic behaviour. Oh, and I didn’t sleep for three months. I had my first breakdown and I was given a sedative and antipsychotic medication as well as continuing with the lithium.
Thirteen months later I had a second breakdown and I demanded a review of my medication. I argued my case that the two new medications should be increased to the next therapeutic level and thus in time I got better. Now that my mood stabilised I moved onto phase 2-therapy. Therapy was invaluable and it helped greatly. I am not discussing here what the tsunami of destruction my erratic behaviour prior to me being diagnosed with bipolar was like, or the toll it had. What I want to do though is to show who the greatest help is in your own recovery from a mental health illness. Do you know who it is? It is you. Yes you. Let me tell you though that even in remission I still have some dark moods, but what I can say is I developed a strategy so I am being responsible for my own health.
A Roman soldier did not go into battle without a strategy. As primitive as they were, they donned armour that covered 80 per cent of their bodies to protect in their fight with the enemy. I’m in a fight too and I can’t just get up each day and hope I will get through it. For a start, I have a number diary. As I have bipolar the numbers are given for highs and lows so instead of 10 being the best you feel and 1 the worst the formula is instead 0 is the best and the scale slides down to -5 being the most depressed and +5 the most manic. So, if you give each day a number you can monitor how you are feeling and see any patterns that may develop. If you notice your mood has been below zero and starts to feel like -3 then you need to seek help and advice as soon as possible.
Other strategies I have used include affirmations, exercise and song of the day. Song of the day is as it says. Get up and think of the first song to come into your head while brushing your teeth and after you have finished brushing sing it at the top of your voice. It works every day and gets you moving positively. Exercise gets the endorphins moving even if it just a brisk walk or sit ups and press ups each day you don’t have to go the gym. If you’re exercising regularly then you will eat healthily and that is another bonus.
Affirmations have been the hardest thing for me to do because I have such a low self-esteem. Standing in front of the mirror everyday telling yourself that you are awesome, not better than anyone else and no one is better than me, has been rewarding because I am starting to believe it and now I don’t slouch I have my head high and I look the world in the eye. Each day I write down something that made me happy that day and put it in a happy jar, even if it is something small like a great sky or sunset, just as long as it made me smile regardless of how I may have been feeling. A final piece of armour is meditation it gives you some control over your mind even for short bits of time. If you are on medication don’t stop it when you feel better. So many people struggle because they don’t want medication or “happy pills”. If you had a bad heart that needed medication or were diabetic well you would take your physician’s advice. The mind is just another organ, complex I know, but important nevertheless.
Medication has helped me but equally so has the efforts I make each day doing the above. You can lead a life with a severe and enduring mental health problem. You should expect a level of care from your psychiatrist, something I and others I know, have not always had. Demand it because you need it and are worthy of it. Don’t let that badge (your diagnosis) define you. Put it away, labels are for jars not people. I once spoke to someone who was diagnosed with schizophrenia and we compare notes he was on two of the same medications as me. The medical umbrella we both stand under is very similar and so are the treatments. I don’t think a label or a badge does anyone any good. For me they should say you are broken and we will fix you. That is more important. There is a drive by some very good psychiatrists who want to treat rather than label.
Anyone suffering any mental health problem should they choose to adopt any of the suggestions in this article should do so once they have spoken to their health professional. Taking control has worked for me but I respect it might not work for everyone but I wish everyone the best of health and mental continuum.
Mark Lyth was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2011 after suffering depression for ten years off and on. MArk describe his illness as having a detrimental effect on his life. He now volunteers for an organisation that does wonderful things in his local community. In 2010, Mark gained a degree with the Open University, where for five years his undiagnosed bipolar energy gained him a first-class honours in Humanities with Classical Studies. You can connect with him on Twitter @