A woman’s story of living with bipolar secret

A woman’s story of living with bipolar secret

Date: January 1, 1970
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Being told you have a chronic condition that makes you feel miserable, hopeless, and socially outcast, that will get worse over time, feels like a life sentence. As a woman living with bipolar disorder, life can be tough, and sometimes the hardest part is that people just do not understand, and you find you are always trying to hide.

I keep a journal for myself at home on my computer. When I go into a depression mode, it helps me deal with my feelings better, but writing about this today is maybe one of the most difficult articles I have ever written. To tell a story about someone else is easy, but when it comes to reflecting on yourself, that is something else.
About 3 years ago, I did an interview with a colleague at work who came forward telling the whole Department that he was living with HIV. Listening to his side of the story made me realise that no matter how hard life might seem there is always hope.
Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that causes extreme mood swings, also called manic-depressive illness, possibly caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. It is an illness and not a disease. It is not possible to contract it through any form of contact. It is a genetic disorder, so you have it when you were born, though it can get triggered by a number of things, at any point of your life.
For me it started to show in my early teenage years. I first tried to commit suicide at 16, for actually no good reason. Thankfully, I did not succeed. I did not know that I have bipolar yet. In fact, I only had the diagnosis 2 years ago.  
Through the years, psychologists treated me for different kinds of depression, from postnatal depression up to breakdowns. No one could put a finger on what was wrong with me, because one moment I will feel fine and be having a manic episode, and suddenly I would explode for no reason, fighting with my loved ones, and after that I could not stop crying.
I have to admit, I was in a traumatising emotionally abusive marriage, and that did not make things any better for me. He made me feel much worse about myself. People with mental illness mostly never, ever stick up for themselves and I am a walking proof of that. I will stick up for anyone I love, but never for myself.
The day when I walked out, I left everything with him, I had no self-esteem, I could not fight for my children. I just wanted out. When I did ask him if I could take them with me, he grabbed me by the throat, and said, “I’ll rather see you dead, than give you my kids.” In years to come, the kids learned what type of person their father was, but unfortunately, it is not so easy to turn around custody.
At times, when I was in a certain mode, I would feel very happy, full of energy and able to do anything. At times, I didn’t even want to rest when I felt this way. I would re-arrange my whole house right through the night. This is the mania stage. At other times, I would feel very sad and depressed. People with bipolar disorder can quickly go from mania to depression and back again if they are not on the right medication.

Mania often begins with a pleasurable sense of heightened energy, creativity, and social ease and can turn in to severe irritability. People with mania typically lack insight, deny that anything is wrong, and angrily blame anyone who points out a problem
People can feel irritable or angry, be provocative, exhibit aggressive behaviour. The results can be self destructive including abuse of alcohol and sleeping medications, exhibiting uncharacteristically poor judgment including spending too much money or having sex without being careful to prevent pregnancy or disease.
On the other side, bipolar can make people feel excessively euphoric feelings, feel very powerful and important and increased energy, activity, restlessness, racing thoughts, and rapid talking. It disrupts sleeping patterns and leaves you having problems concentrating.
Signs of depression may include the following feeling sad or numb, crying easily or for no reason, and feeling worthless or guilty. It becomes difficult concentrating, remembering, and making decisions, and you can feel tired all of the time. Yet the symptoms are also physical, it can lead to headaches, backaches or digestive problems.
Hypomania is a milder form of mania that has similar but less severe symptoms and causes less impairment. During a hypomanic episode, you may have an elevated mood, feel better than usual, and be more productive. These episodes often feel good and the quest for hypomania may even cause some individuals with bipolar disorder to stop their medication. However, it can rarely be maintained indefinitely, and is often followed by an escalation to mania or a crash to depression.
Perhaps the most disabling episodes are those that involve symptoms of both mania and depression occurring at the same time or alternating frequently during the day. Individuals are excitable or agitated as in mania but also feel irritable and depressed. Owing to the combination of high energy and depression, mixed episodes present the greatest risk of suicide.
So that is my story, and maybe you can now understand the challenges facing a woman with this illness. Writing this helped me so much to share it with others, so that people can understand. People like me with a mental illness sometimes just need a bit of consideration for our situation. 
The writer lives in South Africa. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service that provides fresh views on everyday news.

One thought on “A woman’s story of living with bipolar secret”

Liz says:

I have bipolar 1 and no one besides my family knows. It is my biggest shame and heartache. I pretend I’m okay all the time when I feel like I’m barley hanging on. I wouldn’t wish this into my worst enemy. It really is the worst disease you can encounter.

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