I’m tired today. I’m tired of chasing the tail of this bipolar monster. I never seem to be able to take it by the scruff of the neck and start controlling it! It always controls me. It’s always ten steps ahead, telling me how my moods are going to be. I’m worn out by it. I feel so alone.
These were a few lines my client had written in her diary during a low period. She’s keen for you to hear her story as part of Bipolar Awareness Day. Because of the stigma in society and her job, she wishes to remain anonymous. For the purposes of this we’ll call her Louise. The story is incredibly personal and I take my hat off to her bravery in sharing it.
‘I was first diagnosed with bipolar in my mid-20s. It was a shock to be honest. I knew I had a problem with mood swings and impaired judgement at times, but I never expected the label of severe mental illness. I’d crossed the fence you see. I’d gone from being the mental health nurse, being the strong one, supporting people with compassion, to needing these very things myself. All of a sudden I felt so vulnerable.
‘Scared folks would see me as weak, unable to stand the pace of life and flaking out by the wayside. Initially I ignored the whole thing and ploughed on with my plan to save the psychiatric population one person at a time. But when I look back, deep down I must have known something wasn’t quite right because I started taking the medication the doctor had prescribed. The meds were like taking a shower; the water was so powerful over my face and body, I was drowning.
‘As I tried to hold my own under the hydro-torrent, I watched my personality roll down the plug hole. I became a diluted version of myself. I ballooned in weight to double my size. As the weight went up, my self-confidence went down. Work was the only thing that kept me going, but because of the drowsiness of the pills, getting up on a morning was such a chore. Even when I was up, I was fighting to remain awake.
‘I stopped seeing my friends. I no longer felt like the life and soul of the party, I wanted to hide from life and spent the majority of my spare time asleep. I wasn’t thinking then you see. I wasn’t picking at the bones of the carcass that had become my life. My home became my prison cell.
‘At my worst, I spent days in bed. I couldn’t even be bothered to use a tampon when my period came, soiling the bed and lying in a pool of my own blood. My mother had to drag me from the bed and deposit me into the bath, while I just stared into space thinking of 100 different ways to kill myself and which method appealed most that day. The crisis team visited me at my parents. I was now staying there as my mother didn’t trust me to be alone. She’d found a pile of medication I’d started collecting.
‘The crisis team were some of my colleagues and I felt awkward and self-conscious that they were seeing me this way. When I tried to object, they couldn’t see what the problem was. Clearly my dignity was not the top of their list. They took one look at me and said I needed to be in hospital, however my mother said there was no way and I’d be staying with her and getting better surrounded with love.
‘I will always be so grateful to my mother for taking that decision. When I wasn’t thinking about my suicide method, I was thinking about who would be at my funeral, the coffin I wanted and the music I wanted to be played. The ironic thing was, looking back, I wanted folks to be in bright colours after topping myself, that’s how off the scale my thinking had become. The only thing keeping me alive was how utterly devastated my family would be.
‘As I started to make the climb back to a more level mood, I knew what was coming: hypomania, and I rubbed my hands together relishing the thought. If you ask any person with bipolar they’ll tell you they absolutely love being high, there’s no feeling like it and so you do what you can to aid this. I started to get excited at feeling less rubbish about everything. I was leaving the quagmire that was depression for sunnier climates. I’d gone from wearing a black cloak to a Hawaiian party shirt.
‘As my mood tipped over, I needed less and less sleep. I rarely slept at all, regularly going without any sleep, which fed the mania beast. I was a party girl. I had making up to do. I drank as much alcohol as I could get down my neck, usually until I passed out where I stood. When I got bored of that, I switched to drugs, mainly coke and E’s. Anything that made me feel alive, I’d become numb now you see. But mainly so I could feel good about myself, banishing the social anxiety I was plagued with. I ran up about £25K worth of debt, buying loads of random things I’d never used or needed.
‘Sex became my new best friend. I couldn’t feed the sexual hunger enough, that was now my constant companion. But no sexual partner managed to satisfy me for more than a minute, so I’d move on to someone else. Looking back, I ended up in some really risky situations, how I never came to harm I’ll never know.
‘Most people I called friends at the time just thought I was a wild child and a good laugh. They never twigged I was hypomanic they didn’t know to look for it. Even when I was talking double the speed and jumping from one idea to another, folks just thought I was excitable.
I remember watching Eastenders with my pal and one of the characters was behaving just the way I’ve described. She said it was a stupid story line and she didn’t get what it was about. I felt so alone, as I sat there trying to mask my tears. If only she knew my private hell.
‘Once my saturation point for this pattern was reached, I started to work at stabilising myself. I managed to with the support of my GP and psychiatrist. However, I was left with no self-esteem and huge levels of social anxiety. This is the list of interventions I tried: CBT, CAT, counselling, hypnotherapy, Chinese medicine, acupuncture, reflexology, past-life regression, homeopathy, and anxiety management. I’m pretty sure I missed some out, but I’m sure you’re getting the drift.
That’s when I came across The Thrive Programme. On first glance I was sceptical to be honest. How to change your life in 6–8 weeks. Really? But I’d tried everything so what did I have to lose? What I loved about the programme, was its simplicity. The guy who wrote the book, Rob Kelly, sounded down to earth, he even swore, I could hear his voice in my head, sure and certain in what he was talking about.
‘I’d heard of the term locus of control, but I didn’t realise how fundamentally important to me that term would become. It’s about how in control you believe you are in the place of your life. I felt powerless. It was time to start taking back control. By working on shifting some of my limiting beliefs, I did feel different, the results were immediate. I couldn’t believe it. So I started to put my effort into the book.
‘I loved the research articles he mentioned. I loved learning and reading about mega psychological discoveries, their power and how they affected my life was just awesome. I loved learning how to build up and maintain my own self-esteem. Gone were the days of waiting for crumbs from the compliment table of others, I could make myself feel good. I’d never managed to do that in my life; my perfectionist thinking always won that battle. But I was now winning the war.
As I felt better about myself, I cared less about what others thought of me…God how liberating! And the key thing was that by becoming more internally powerful, I became more solid in myself. I was now able to see how a lot of my symptoms were created. But unlike other interventions where I had to wait for them to appear, and then intervene with whatever I’d been taught, I could now act that one step before by building my Locus of control and self-esteem.
How empowering! I’m now in control of my life! I control my bipolar disorder; it no longer controls me. Just saying that statement makes me feel so proud. I cannot recommend this programme enough.
I must admit, having a Thrive consultant did help me further, as I had to push myself and was challenged more. Michelle specialises in Bipolar and I’ve met a few of the people she’s helped, I’m not a one-off. Give this programme a go, you’ve nothing to lose and it can’t make your symptoms worse. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the magic wand you’re possibly thinking it sounds like. It does take lots of effort and I still have days where I feel rubbish at times, but they are rare and the beauty is now I know how to get out of them when I want to.
‘I wanted to make people aware of my story; I can now hold my head up, acknowledging my wounds from the battlefield, but knowing they’re healing. However mostly in aid of Bipolar Awareness Day, I wanted to explain to friends and loved ones of folks with Bipolar how it is and what can be done. Or more importantly, if you recognise yourself in this story, know you are not alone. I hope I’ve at least inspired you to buy the book, Thrive by Rob Kelly.’
Thanks Louise for sharing and being so honest and open. And well done on your journey,
Please get in touch should you wish to know more about The Thrive Programme. Read a bit more about it on my website.
Michelle Winter is a full-time Thrive Programme consultant. Thrive is a 6–8 week programme teaching people skills about locus of control, self-esteem, among others.