Saturday, 4 January 2014

12 Days of Mental Health : Day 9 - Bipolar

Firstly, apologies I didn't get a second blog post up yesterday! I got a bit distracted and ended up having a tidying spree. However, I will try my hardest to get two blog posts up today instead.

You're extremely lucky today though, as our guest blogger is Chloe. You might remember Chloe from "Failed by the NHS", a BBC Three documentary we both featured in back in Summer last year. You can read my blog post about that experience by clicking here. We both got a lot from doing the documentary, and Chloe has gone on to do some pretty amazing stuff (plus she's just absolutely lovely).

So day nine - Bipolar. Chloe has even been so fabulous as to put some information together about what Bipolar is, so a lot of credit goes to her!

Please note this post comes with a trigger warning. It is vital to look after yourself first. 

What is Bipolar?

Bipolar disorder, previously called manic depression, compromises of extreme mood swings. These can be categorised as manic highs, known as mania and hypomania and also depressive lows. "Mania" refers to when you may feel extremely high and overactive, where as "hypomania" tends to refer to less severe mania. Between these episodes people feel ‘stable’, and this is a feeling most people with Bipolar aspire to achieve.

Most of us will go through mood swings because of everyday life, but it's important to note that the mood swings associated with Bipolar are a lot more extreme and more prolonged. In some cases, episodes can last for weeks.

During a period of mania, individuals may feel full of ideas, have incredible amounts of energy, think and talk faster than normal and make quick decisions. This does not mean to suggest however that mania is "fun" - those with Bipolar who are experiencing mania may spend too much money, not sleep and lose a sense of judgement. A depressive episode, individuals may feel worthless, have difficulty concentrating, and in some cases, feel suicidal.

There different types of Bipolar.

Bipolar I - Those with Bipolar I will have experienced at least one manic episode, along with episodes of depression. These episodes are usually on a cycle with one another.

Bipolar II - Those with Bipolar II will experience symptoms very similar to that of Bipolar I but manic episodes tend to be less intense. This is normally referred to as "hypomania."

Mixed Bipolar - A mixed Bipolar "state" refers to when an individual experiences symptoms of both a depressive and manic episode at the same time, or in a rapid sequence. So you might be in full mania and have lots of energy, but at the same time, also experience depressive thoughts, and feel angry or irritable, for example.

Cyclothymia - Those with cyclothymia experience "milder" symptoms of Bipolar. Depressive and hypomania episodes tend to be less intense.

What are the symptoms of Bipolar?

We've already covered some of the symptoms above but here are a few more symptoms of Bipolar.

During a depressive episode:

  • Feelings of despair and hopelessness
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Thoughts of harming yourself
  • Lack of interest in things you used to enjoy
  • Self-doubting
During a manic episode:

  •  Having "grandiose" ideas
  • Feeling full of energy and elated
  • Talking and thinking faster than normal
  • Feeling irritable
  • Making serous decisions very quickly
  • Feeling important (some people report a feeling of superiority or being invincible)

This is obviously not an exhaustive list. 

What treatments are available?

With effective treatment, people with Bipolar can live life relatively "normally". 

Upon a diagnosis of Bipolar, you may be offered medication to help control the severity of episodes. For some, this might be a combination of antidepressants, anti psychotics (to treat experiences of mania) and mood stabilisers that are taken on a longer-term basis. 

For symptoms of depression, talking therapies such as CBT may be extremely beneficial. This allows individuals to try and tackle negative thoughts and replace them with more positives ones. There may also be other talking therapies that help you understand what your potential triggers are so as to know where to go and what to do if you recognise you are about to experience an episode. 

Having a good support network of family and friends is also crucial for those living with Bipolar, alongside learning about your illness so that you can understand and recognise symptoms. Many have also reported that increasing exercise and reducing stress also helps, especially for depressive episodes, and there have even been studies to suggest that Omega-3 supplements can help.

Chloe's Story

Some Common Misconceptions of Bipolar

1) Mania is fun! 
It is most definitely not. It is very dangerous and life destroying for the sufferer and the people around them. You barely sleep and your behaviour is not that within your character. You have ideas that are risky and bold when it comes to sex and activities that may break the law. You over indulge on alcohol and drugs and spending habits increase. I remember spending my savings (£thousands )in one night, which was in turn devastating. Mania manifests itself in psychotic thoughts and actions which are far from fun, let me reassure you.

2) It is just ‘mood swings’
Usually these are down to hormones and are short term. People do not lose control of themselves and their inhibitions. Bipolar mood swings lead to life destroying decisions that damage relationships and career paths. These can last for days, weeks, months and are of a psychotic nature. 
Bipolar disorder is not about ‘good’ moods and ‘bad’ moods. People cannot just snap out of it! They are far more extreme and life threatening. 

3) Meds are the answer. 
Many things are used to treat Bipolar, more commonly Lithium and other mood stabilising and anti-depressant drugs. However, these tend to help people sleep and do to a degree ‘level’ people out however they are not a cure or the answer, by any stretch of the imagination.Treatment needs to consist of compassionate support from friends and family and those in the medical profession. Regular counselling helps – people need to talk about their thoughts and feelings. It is healthy! The more educated people are the easier it will be to treat and support people with Bipolar. The condition produces some very intelligent and productive people and given the right support these people can do truly great things. Take Stephen Fry for example – need I say more? 

My Own Experience.  

When I was around 14/15 I knew something wasn't right. I had days where I couldn't get out of bed, I had no motivation to do anything and I felt worthless. I had no idea why I felt like this. Nothing had happened particularly, and to people that knew me it was not in my character to feel like that. 

There were other days were I felt elated. I felt on top of the world. Like nothing could stop me and usually nothing did stop me. My thoughts were rushing and I struggled to comprehend most of them. When I tried to speak I spoke very quickly and nothing I said made sense. No one could keep up with me. I couldn't sleep and I couldn't eat. I felt like spending extortionate amounts of money for no reason. To be honest with you, I felt like I was superior and could do no wrong, 

I know now that I was experience episodes of mania, hypo mania and depression. 

I struggled to deal with this. I struggled to retain friendships and I struggled with my school work. 

To be honest with you I thought it was part of growing up. I thought that all my peers were going through the same thing. Hormones are a dangerous thing and I just put it down to that, and so did my GP for many years.  

When I was 15 I went to see my GP and she prescribed me with anti-depressants. I took them for a while but I didn't notice a change in my behaviour, I didn't believe I was depressed. So I stopped taking them and I carried on with my life.

By the time I was 16/17 thing had deteriorated and I struggled to lead a normal life. I knew that I needed to seek help. 

I was referred to CAHMS by my GP. After many meetings, and much time spend on waiting lists I was finally diagnosed with Bipolar Affective Disorder Type 1. I was prescribed a high dose of sedative medication and anti- psychotic drugs. This was extremely scary as I had never heard of the condition before. I was mentally ill. What did this mean for my future? Would I spend the rest of my life in and out of psychiatric hospitals? Would I be able to have the career is dreamed of? Would I be able to have a family? I had no idea.

What I have done despite my illness…

I was fortunate enough to contribute to a BBC3 documentary, alongside the lovely Kim Chastney. The BBC commissioned a season on mental health on BBC3 and we filmed a documentary called 'Failed by the NHS'. It was the main investigation of the season and we all shared our own, bad experiences of the mental healthcare as young people. 

I consequently held a mental health awareness evening locally to where I live and I was subsequently nominated in the ‘Outstanding Example of Bravery’ category at the Pride in Dacorum Awards 2013. One of my proudest moments of my life and some might say this was down to my Bipolar!

I am in my final year of a Law Degree at Nottingham Trent University. I am the President of Nottingham Trent’s LEX Law Society and I am a conference delegate for Nottingham Law School. I aspire to practice in Civil Liberties and Mental Health Law and I have more many goals and aspirations, especially when it comes to spreading the world of mental illness and trying to get people to talk about their own experiences.  
Bipolar Disorder hasn’t stopped my life; in fact it has accelerated it and made me more ambitious and courageous. I hope that everyone with a Bipolar diagnosis can one day say the same.

You can follow Chloe on Twitter by clicking here.

Further Information

Unfortunately I can't seem to get on to the Mind website today, but please visit them for information about Bipolar.