I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, when I was 24.
Since then I’ve spent many years hiding it from friends, family and colleagues.
It’s only recently I’ve started writing and speaking openly about it, in the hope that other people, with or without mental health conditions, feel less afraid of them.
While I can’t speak for everyone with manic depression, bipolar disorder, ups and downs or whatever you choose to call it, I believe we have some things in common.
Here’s 21 things you only know if you’re bipolar.
1. It’s hard to finish one thing at a time
On the way up, you start doing the washing up, then you think of a poem and get a quarter of the way through it, then you remember you wanted to alphabetise your books, then you start watching a film, then you do more of the (now cold) washing up.
2. Sometimes the world turns black and white
When you’re depressed you stop enjoying things you used to, nothing seems worthwhile and all you want to do is sleep for a thousand years.
3. It doesn’t mean you’re up and down all the time
Everyone’s different – you can have rapid cycling (where you quickly go from high to low), mixed state (when you have symptoms of depression and mania at the same time), or go gradually up and down with periods of ‘normality’ in between.
4. You may be mildly amused by people who take drugs recreationally
There’s something rather tame about pill-popping in a field of muddy campers on a Bank Holiday weekend when you’re walking around with what feels like a permanent pharmacy dispensing random chemicals in a Russian roulette style in your head.
Everyone experiences mania differently, whether it’s delusions such as thinking you have superpowers, suddenly getting it into your head to get on a train to Scotland instead of the train home, not sleeping because you have so much to write or paint, or suffering hallucinations.
Losing control of your mind is odd to say the least. Imagine losing control of your limbs – having them dance about or do things without your input. Then apply that to your daily thought processes.
Talking about mental health can be so scary that many people decide not to tell anyone.
The ignorance and discrimination surrounding mental illness isconsiderable.
Although sometimes the person who discriminates the most against you is you.
7. You are probably a great listener
Somehow you have become the one friends turn to with their troubles.
You don’t know whether this is because you’ve had counselling and therefore have picked up how to listen sympathetically, or because you are more guarded than others about yourself so others fill silences with chatter.
8. Pill podge
Oh great, so as well as being mad I have to be fat too, thanks for that, THANKS VERY MUCH.
9. Sometimes pills have unexpectedly cool side effects
I used to have poker straight hair. My pills have made it curly. Honest to God.
10. The buzz
The buzz of hypomania isn’t fun – it’s more like having espresso in your veins.
Admittedly you can get quite a lot done during these times though.
11. You don’t find suicidal thoughts scary
They’re more like preteens hanging round Justin Beiber’s hotel in the rain – sometimes they change, sometimes they go, occasionally we pay them attention but mostly they just linger.
12. Some people apparently don’t believe mental illness exists
Such people will say things like the above, and things like ‘he was signed off work for stress – not a real illness like gastroenteritis’.
13. You can remember it all
All the times you thought you could breathe under water, bring back the dead, or however mania’s hit you. And you can’t even laugh it off by saying you were drunk or high.
14. You can act
Your most celebrated role? ‘Normal person who is totally fine and there’s nothing wrong at all’.
15. You’re probably a perfectionist
You need to sleep but you told the office you’d bring in homemade cupcakes the next day so you’re still up at 1am rolling edible flowers in egg yolk and sugar.
16. How not to cry when you really want to cry
And where to bolt to when your usual methods fail you.
17. That sinking feeling when you see another ‘crazy’ stereotype on TV or film
People who have suffered from mental illness are far more likely to hurt themselves, or be the victims of attacks.
Despite this, lazy scriptwriters still rely on tropes when they need a scary character.
18. Sometimes you’re a shopping liability
You’ve gone over your overdraft more times than you can remember buying things you don’t even want during a manic phase.
During mania or hypomania your brain makes weird connections and all of a sudden it makes perfect sense to buy a set of golf clubs when you haven’t played a day in your life.
19. Alcohol is usually best avoided
Alcohol is a depressant.
Adding this in to your natural brain chemistry and mood stabilisers isn’t fun the morning after.
Normal hangovers are bad enough – yours are worse than a coke come-down and often leave you a weeping, morose mess.
20. Relationships can be hard
I once dumped the man I loved during a manic phase and we never recovered.
Not everyone can face mental illness, but then relationships can be challenging for everyone, in all kinds of ways.
A friend who is also bipolar has been married for years, which gives me hope.
21. You are stronger than you know
Sometimes getting through another day is a huge achievement. Don’t give up.