In the middle of 2018 I crashed so hard that this time, I ended up in a psychiatric hospital. How did I let this beast slip back in?
The answer is obvious, I broke my golden rules. Number three to be precise. I felt so well and so good that I forgot that I had bipolar and ignored the fact that I must manage my stress so that I won’t topple over into depression. Pretending that I was six-foot-tall and bulletproof and could take on the world, was delusional and foolish.
I totally believe that you can have a diagnosis of bipolar or depression and still live a productive, healthy and fulfilling life, but you need to follow the rules. When you bend the rules or become complacent and don’t pay attention to the warning signs, your world can come crashing down. I should have known better, do know better, yet here we are.
I was told once that I was intelligent. I wonder on days like today how intelligent I really am if I keep repeating the same lessons over and over again. I knew that if I broke the rules I’d fall in a hole. I’ve learnt that lesson before. Many times, in fact. In this case the allure of being productive and healthy and good at something with a little bit of mania mixed in, was too enticing. I got caught up and allowed stress into my life. I ignored all the red flags that were staring me in the face. So here I am, cold and alone, again.
Prior to this year I’d had eight years of remission. Eight years depression and mania free. Eight wonderful years of respite and growth and fun. I was so well. For the first time since I was thirteen, I wasn’t afraid of the dark demon of depression. I could cope with life and every day I felt stronger and more resilient. My relationships were strong, and my mind was calm. I felt so good and so calm, and it was then that a funny thing happened to me, I wanted more. My days were filled with having coffee with friends, attending to my housework and reading books. It was a calm, happy life, but I wanted more. I needed more and yearned for a challenge. I wanted to get my hands dirty again. Funnily enough what you desire the universe provides, eventually.
One fateful day one of my family members came to visit me at home. They had just opened a new business and were looking for an office manager for just three mornings a week. They asked me if I was interested. I did all the right things. I talked to my husband Scott. He thought it was a great idea. I talked to my psychologist. She thought it was a great idea. Not too much stress. Only nine hours a week. A part time job would be perfect and an opportunity to feel productive and fill the void in my life. Perfect. So, I took a chance and said yes!
For the first week I worked nine hours. The second week I worked twenty. The business was in a period of growth and the growth was coming thick and fast. Before I knew it, the business had taken off and my nine hours had become thirty-five. Each step along the way my employer would ask me if I was ok and up to the challenge. I would always respond with yes, I’m good I’m taking good care of myself.
With each new task that I was assigned I wanted desperately to show that I was up to it, that I could make it work, that I could excel. I wanted to prove to my family member that he was right to take a chance on me, that he should be proud of me, so I kept taking on tasks and challenges. More and more every week. I was doing a great job. My employers told me every week that they were happy with my work and that they didn’t know how they’d function without me. Finally, that piece of me that thought that I was worth nothing was being fed with positive feedback. I was productive, worthwhile and really good at something.
For the first week I worked nine hours. The second week I worked twenty. The business was in a period of growth and the growth was coming thick and fast. Before I knew it, the business had taken off and my nine hours had become thirty-five.
Each step along the way my employer would ask me if I was ok and up to the challenge. I would always respond with yes, I’m good I’m taking good care of myself. With each new task that I was assigned I wanted desperately to show that I was up to it, that I could make it work, that I could excel. I wanted to prove to my family member that they were right to take a chance on me, that they should be proud of me, so I kept taking on tasks and challenges.
More and more every week. I was doing a great job. My employers told me every week that they were happy with my work and that they didn’t know how they’d function without me. Finally, that piece of me that thought that I was worth nothing was being fed with positive feedback. I was productive, worthwhile and really good at something.
But I’m not six-foot-tall and I’m certainly not bulletproof. Eventually, I was so miserable that I had to concede defeat. I went to my employers and told them not that I was becoming unwell and wanted to go back to study. I didn’t want to study, I just couldn’t tell them the real reason. How could I admit that I was failing, that I was once again falling into the pit of depression. I couldn’t see the look on my employers face when I said that I couldn’t cope.
Then the wheels completely fell off.
From that point on things were not the same. While initially I had said I would work one or two days a week, I got to the point that I couldn’t work at all. I couldn’t cope with even walking into the office. I had started having panic attacks again over the most inane things and went back to sitting on my couch and not ever leaving the house.
Driving would make me so uptight and anxious that I pictured running people off the road, and I wouldn’t let people merge in front of me. I became an anxious aggressive menace of a driver, wasn’t sleeping because of how anxious I was all the time. I couldn’t enjoy even the most pleasant of situations.
Whilst I now had no stress in my life, the damage had been done. I was afraid each night that I went to bed. Afraid that I wouldn’t be able to cope with new day, even if that day held nothing but a morning cup of coffee.
Over the next few months I did all the right things to stay well. I practised good thinking, I took my medication, I walked every day, but I continued to decline. Eventually I had to admit to myself and those close to me that I wasn’t okay. I had to put my hand up and say those dreaded words. I had to admit defeat. It was then that I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital for the first time. I was the lowest I have ever been. Why, because I tried to pretend that I didn’t have a mental illness. I tried to pretend that I could handle any amount of pressure that was put on me. I lost sight of the fact that I have a mental illness and will always have to manage my life accordingly.
You see I truly and entirely believe that life exists after diagnosis. You can be productive and fulfilled and excited, and you can do all those things in a healthy way. You can handle stress and do great things. You can achieve anything you like, but if you have a mental illness, you must always be aware of your health. You must manage your stress and structure your life to fit your illness. You can’t take on too much, you need balance. If something in your life takes a lot out of you (perhaps in a good way) then you must balance this by decreasing something. You cannot do it all.
Pretending you don’t have to careful and manage your stress leads you down a path that’s not very well lit. Pretending you don’t have to look after yourself leads you to dark place once more. A wise person would look at their life and measure just exactly how much they can take on and adjust their sails accordingly. For I feel as someone with bipolar, you can accomplish any goal you choose, if you find your healthy balance and manage your illness accordingly. Bipolar is not life limiting. It merely makes you take a more creative, more careful route to where it is you want to go.