I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in 2019.
I wanted to share my experiences and I am hoping it will be educational and break down the stigma of mental health issues. Mental health issues were something that I grew up around with my mum suffering quite a bit from depression and anxiety. My sister also had some mental health problems growing up and at the time I could never really understand it. I thought there was an element of attention seeking and I couldn’t understand why they couldn't just pull themselves together?
Why couldn't they just sort themselves out?
The truth is I really just did not understand it at all.
My first real experience of mental health issues was after the birth of my twin sons and I started to experience postnatal depression. After having my sons, every couple of years I would spiral. Anxiety would pretty much be with me all the time on a slightly different scale, but every couple of years I would fall into this low ebb. So I kept going back to the doctors and they kept prescribing different antidepressants and the antidepressants would make me feel very numb. I didn't necessarily feel that they were helping and on Christmas Eve 2015, I had gotten so low that all I could think about was just wanting to end my life. I didn't want to be here anymore. Thankfully with some of the training that I've done around hypnotherapy, psychotherapy and some of the neurosis stuff, I knew that I didn't want to die, I just didn’t want to live with this stuff that was going on in my head anymore. I knew from my training that I needed to get myself out of one part of my brain and into another.
On Christmas Eve 2015 I rang my partner and I said I need you to come home now. I need you, I need to talk to you. So we talked and I was telling him about these thoughts I was having about choosing whether to go and jump off the railway bridge or jump into the river (which was a five minute walk from our house). I decided I was too short to get on the railway bridge, so maybe I would need to take a ladder, but then I would look stupid carrying a ladder. Then I thought if I went to the river I would be able to swim, so maybe I should put stuff in my pockets. These thoughts were becoming all consuming and my partner did come home and we sat talking about it. I got to the point of Okay, so I’m not going to do it today as I don’t want to ruin the boys Christmas.
But around the 9th January and I had decided that this was the day that I was going to take my life, but then something clicks and I know that I just can’t take this medication anymore. Now I would never ever advise anybody else to stop taking their medication instantly, but for me it worked. I spoke to the consultant and started to feel better and since then I have been self managing and even when I got my bipolar diagnosis in 2019, they wanted to put me straight on lithium which is a bipolar medication. But I had done so much research and I was able to get them to believe that I would try and manage this as much as I possibly could by myself, with the promise that if I ever got to a point of being low or manic again, that I would seek help immediately.
Not many other people would be able to get a professional to get them to that point and some people may be more severe in terms of their bipolar diagnosis than I am and they probably have needed to go straight onto this medication. But I was very thankful for the specialists and being able to talk about the things that I was already doing to be able to help myself and I shared with friends and families as soon as I got this diagnosis where I provided them with resources and tools and had conversations about it. Since then I've been talking quite a lot about bipolar, but I still hear these throwaway comments if somebody is acting a little bit manic, a little bit perhaps overly emotional, then the response is always, oh my god she was just acting so bipolar or he is acting so bipolar. I think we need to really understand what that is, because the amount of people that say that in front of me and then I mention that I have bipolar, it’s always oh shit sorry! I can only talk about my own experience and how it impacts me, but this is something that we need to break the stigma of and the assumption that anyone with bipolar must be crazy.
There’s 2 things that really stick out for me about living with a mental health condition:
The first is that if you have any kind of mental health condition then everybody expects you to live as though you don't have it. This can add additional pressure, stress and anxiety because you feel like you have to try and act normal (whatever we call normal), because if you don’t then someone might think you are going into an episode.
Secondly, my biggest learning is that once you've put a label on something such as bipolar, it’s not just a diagnosis, it’s a label that has been placed on you. And regardless of how well you are managing your condition, managing your health and living in a way that works for you, there will always be situations where people assume that an emotional outburst is due to your condition.
Ever since I was born I’ve never really been able to keep my mouth shut, especially if something has upset me or made me angry. If there's something that needs to be called out then I'll call it out, but since my diagnosis it’s almost like if I have an emotional outburst, then people make assumptions and it must be Kelly’s condition causing her to do that. So if I'm overly happy, sad, anxious or angry about anything, then you can see the facial expressions change of those that know I live with bipolar and they are very quick to assume it’s my condition causing this level of emotion.
And yet, I see people who are very angry, I see people react, I see people who are extremely happy, others who get extremely sad and I see narcissistic people get emotional and present that to the world and that’s considered normal! Yet sometimes if I’m displaying that emotional scale, it’s seen to be caused by my condition and not just me.
A lot of the time I think that is the hardest to live with, as it’s not so much the stuff going on in my head (though there’s no doubt that that can be difficult to manage) it’s the perception of others and the expectation to live like you don’t have a condition. Until I had the label of bipolar, it was always just ‘that’s Kelly’ and now it's just ‘that’s Kelly’s bipolar’
There are a lot of resources out there that can help and there is this bipolar scale that you can look at. The scale goes from 0 to 10.
0 is severe depression and endless suicidal thoughts and thinking there’s no way out.
10 is a total loss of judgement, exorbitant spending, religious delusions and hallucinations.
I've never been as high as 10 on that scale and I've never been as low as zero, but I have been a 1 on the scale, which is feelings of hopelessness and guilt, thoughts of suicide, little movement and impossible to do anything. I have been at 1 and I’ve been at 9, which is lost touch with reality, incoherent, no sleep, paranoid and vindictive and reckless behaviour. I've been there!
I tend to flip between number 3 on the scale up to a number 8.
Number 3 is feelings of panic and anxiety, difficulty concentrating, poor memory and finds some comfort in routine. An 8 on this scale can be inflated self esteem, rapid thoughts and speech, counterproductive simultaneous tasks. But typically, I'm between a 3 and a 7, but I can go to number 8. 7 is classed as very productive, everything to excess like phone calls, writing, smoking and can be very charming and talkative.
We could probably all look at this and say we can all have days like that, but that tends to be my normal and I'm normally between that 3 and 7. What's classed as a balance mood is mood imbalance: number 5 is no symptoms of depression or mania, life is going well and the outlook is good. You've got slight withdrawal at 4 and you've got optimistic at 6. So typically normal people would be between 4 and 6 on a regular basis. You can take a look at this scale if you go to www.bipolaruk.org
But that's my normal and sometimes I can be doing that simultaneously. I can have inflated self esteem and be extremely productive and be doing everything to excess, at the same time as feeling panicked, anxious and having difficulty in concentrating.
Have you ever done one of those psychometric personality type tests for work? I did my first one at 17 or 18 years old when on a management training programme. Every psychometric test that I've ever done has always put me at both ends of the scale. I always have two speeds in life; 1000 miles an hour or nothing. Basically I have a first gear and a fifth gear and nothing in between.
I went to India in 2019 for a yoga retreat and this may sound a bit woo woo for some of you, but I could feel even more of all of the polarities whilst I was in Rishikesh in India. I could feel the rush and the pace of the river Ganges next to these strong solid mountains and I could feel the pull and the polarities of the noise with the silence and of the richness with the poverty, of the sun and the moon. Of everything! Everything just felt expanded.
Whilst there I went to see a fabulous woman for a satsang. This is a bit like a Q&A with a guru and where you can go to have your life's questions answered. So I was having this session and asked her how do we cope with the polarities?
Does she feel them in the same way?
How do we cope with these polarities of life whilst they are happening at the same time?
Her response to me was, my dear, life is about polarities and we cannot experience happy without sad, we cannot have up without down, we cannot have rain without sunshine, we cannot have wet without dry and this is what makes us complete.
And I'd not long had my diagnosis at that point, but there was something in what she said that allowed me to feel so much calmer because it was about this completeness and about rounding off this circle. It wasn't that I was on opposite ends of the scale all of the time, it was that these two things closed the circle for me. And that helped me hugely.
A couple of months back a woman had put on Twitter that she was writing a novel about a character who was a woman in her 40’s living with bipolar and she wanted to do some research and find some resources that could help her. So I pointed her in the direction of resources and said if she ever needed to chat, then I would be more than happy to talk to her. She sent me some questions asking:
How long do you believe that you've had it for?
How would you describe it in your own words?
How would you describe a manic episode?
Could I describe to her a depressive episode?
Do I have gaps between episodes?
For me personally, I don't talk about manic episodes, I talk about highs and lows. I have high days and I have low days. She also asked me to try and describe in my own words what it's like living with bipolar and I really struggled with this one because I struggle to find the words for it. At the time I had been bingeing on Ozark on Netflix and on series 3 episode 9 there is a character called Ben who has bipolar. What we see is that there are members of Ben’s family and members of the community who are all involved in committing these crimes and all deemed ‘normal’. They aren’t reacting to what is going on and don't see anything wrong with what they are doing. Ben questions what is happening and says this is crazy right? What you are doing is crazy, yet it’s Ben who is deemed the crazy one because he is bipolar. In this episode we also see Ben in a cab on his own talking to the cab driver and he describes what it's like to be in his head much more eloquently than I ever could. It felt like the perfect description, so I suggested this to the author as well.
From my perspective I can only really describe it as a roller coaster. It can be a daily roller coaster, it could be a roller coaster of a morning or a roller coaster of an afternoon. One day I can be full of energy and it's like somebody plugged me into the socket and then the next day I’m going to crash.
I can have moments of total clarity and moments of complete anxiety.
It’s often like my body cannot keep up with my mind and my mind races all of the time.
It could be positively and negatively and it can be positively and negatively at the same time.
I can feel high and low at the same time.
I can feel totally confident and like I can do anything that I put my mind to and totally engulfed in anxiety and fear.
I can have total clarity in my mind and still have utter confusion.
I can feel incredible and confident and at the same time feel like a complete failure.
For me the challenge with it, is that as I go into my normal of my high, it can be very difficult for me to appreciate the high and to really be in the moment with it. Because I know that when I get to that high, I know there is a crash that’s coming and I am anticipating that crash. But I think with all of these things, it doesn't hold me back.
I'm not crazy. I'm not bonkers. I’m me!
I've had an incredible corporate career, I have a successful business, I have a loving family, I am good and this is me and my life. I think sometimes when I'm talking about bipolar, people start to tread on eggshells, but thankfully this has never impacted my coaching. I manage my energy to allow me to manage my time more effectively. I don't overextend my working days, I don't overextend the video calls or coaching calls that I do. I know what time of day to have a bit more routine in my day and at what times of the day I can have a bit more freedom and flow.
I don’t always get it right, but none of this stops me from being a bloody brilliant mum, a bloody brilliant partner, a bloody brilliant coach and a bloody brilliant businesswoman. None of it holds me back and I think in some ways I’ve now learned to embrace it and bipolar is actually a bit of a superpower. This is because when I’m in my highs, I find this is the best time for me to find solutions to problems and I can see things differently and I feel things differently. There are many times where it does help me hugely and there are times where it weighs me down, but what it doesn’t do is stop me from living a whole and fulfilling life.
If there's anything that you take from this, is that if anybody is talking to you about mental health conditions, please see the person not the condition. See the person, appreciate the person and perhaps the way that they act or think or see things or talk, maybe some of these things might be as a result of their condition, or the condition could just be enhancing more of who they are naturally.
It can be exhausting living with a mental health condition, but it can also be hugely invigorating and energising. When managing it properly we can continue to be incredibly amazing people.