Recently I had coffee with my cousin and we were discussing the times I have been unwell. This lead to me talking about how I write for print and online sources about bipolar, my passion for mental health promotion and how I volunteer for a mental health organisation. After this she warned me against becoming too caught up in the mental health world and that I should focus on other interests too. At the time I thought how can I not be consumed by this world when it has been my life for the past few years and will continue to be?
Over the past six years there have been very few times when I have been euthymic. If I’m not depressed I’m manic or in a mixed state. If I’m not seeing my psychiatrist, I’m seeing my counsellor or psychologist and these appointments are normally fortnightly so I usually see one mental health professional a week. I get along well with those who are involved in my care and have a great respect for all of these professionals so I don’t see attending appointments as a burden. When I am depressed these supportive appointments are what get me through the week. Though they are still a reminder that I have bipolar.
At the end of every day I record my mood, symptoms and daily activities in a mood chart. Every morning, every evening and every night I take a handful of pills and the first thing I do when I wake up is record the hours of sleep I got.
Hospital is a constant looming threat and one that I fight everyday to avoid. While in hospital, staff would check on me around the clock and everything was a reminder of why I was there. Most of the time I was alone with my thoughts as they revolved around my mental illness. Every minute was spent waiting and hoping for my discharge. More often than not I reflect upon the times I have been a psychiatric patient.
I’ve had a total of fourteen ECT treatments and the memory loss caused by ECT can be debilitating and upsetting, and it serves as another reminder of my bipolar disorder.
Even when I’m euthymic I am still reminded on a daily basis of my bipolar disorder because the work required to maintain stability is hard. Working to stay well is a full time job. Every action has to be considered in terms of how it will affect my disorder and no matter how hard I try for bipolar to have minimal (or no) impact on my life, it still does. Like with any chronic condition, self-management is hard work.
So every hour of every day I am reminded of my illness and it is always somewhere on my mind (either in the forefront or at the back). With all things considered, how can I not be consumed by the world of mental health? And how can I not become passionate about mental health promotion and the eradication of the stigma sufferers of mental illness face? Finally, is it any wonder that I enjoy writing about my experiences because I feel that it is therapeutic?
But my cousin is right; I can’t let this be the only part of my life. I need other things to define me as well. Currently I’m completing my honours degree in nursing so I dedicate a lot of my time working on my thesis and I work casual shifts as a nurse in the emergency department when I can. I play several instruments and have written music since I was a teenager. I’ve begun doing this more often. I love to run and though I’ve done it for years I have chosen to focus on increasing my distance and making better times instead of just going for my routine run.
Although I feel very passionate about mental health promotion and I enjoy learning and writing about mental health, there are other things that make me who I am and I’m glad my cousin has reminded me of this. It’s hard not to lose yourself in your diagnosis – especially when unwell, but bipolar disorder is only one part of me. Since I’ve started to re-focus on my old interests as well as on my new ones, I have been able to forget for short periods of time that I have bipolar and this has made me feel lighter and more carefree which is refreshing.
(The photo is of my best friend and I after we finished the colour run).