Living With Bipolar…


How do you feel when you are dia­gnosed with a poten­tially leth­al health con­di­tion that maybe lifelong? Dev­ast­ated?  Usu­ally. Shocked? Def­in­itely. Relieved? Yes, if you have struggled for a dec­ade before it and now have a chance for treat­ment that will help rather than exacer­bate it as has happened for years. Except in the case of bipolar dis­order the main feel­ing is con­fu­sion. Because it’s eti­ology is a mys­tery. It plays out dif­fer­ently in every single suf­fer­er that endures it. Some have one epis­ode in their lives, and nev­er have to seek help again. Some are blighted for life and nev­er have much peace. Some get by without med­ic­a­tion, some need to leave the chem­ist every month with car­ri­er bags full. Some nev­er require hos­pit­al treat­ment. Some are in and out. At the stage of dia­gnos­is, in 2007, I was relieved, a weight lif­ted off my shoulder, because I had suffered for so long with treat­ments that only made me worse until I saw my first con­sult­ant who turned out to be a god­send and, as I was to later real­ise, a rar­ity in the men­tal health sys­tem, someone who deeply cared for the patient. An in truth, I already knew my dia­gnos­is. I did not know the route it would take from there. Sadly, so far I have fallen into all of the lat­ter com­part­ments in terms of eti­ology.

Bipolar dis­order is in essence more of the split per­son­al­ity assump­tions that people mis­use to describe schizo­phrenia. Lit­er­ally it means exist­ing on two extreme poles, mania and depres­sion. “But we all have that” I have heard more times than I can count. And yes we all can flip from happy to sad. But when I am man­ic, I lose all inhab­it­a­tions, don’t sleep or eat for days at a time and feel only ener­gised, start think­ing you have god like attri­bu­tions, believe you are destined for great­ness, speak to strangers, take risks with said strangers, accrue £30,000 debts because you can­not stop spend­ing, get unplanned tat­toos, climb on your consultant’s desk because you are climb­ing to heav­en and walk down the street claim­ing every­one exclud­ing your­self is Satan. Oh, and the reas­on they, includ­ing the drs call it being ‘high’ when someone is in a man­ic epis­ode is because you are just that, it is like being on crack per­man­ently minus the crack, minus the comedown and for free. Sounds good? Ini­tially yes. It is the most incred­ibly euphor­ic feel­ing in the world. But it comes at a heavy price. Even­tu­ally the cracks show. Lack of sleep, or extreme mania alone cause para­noia, voices and psy­chos­is. And the come down of all come downs.

Now let’s talk about the depres­sion. Most people with bipolar, myself included, spend much of their time in this mood state. Last year I was hos­pit­al­ised for six months with a crip­pling depres­sion that would not shift. I believed the dev­il was pun­ish­ing me and that I was meant to die. The psy­chi­at­rists tried everything. Noth­ing worked. They des­per­ately went through the text­book. They went through every med­ic­a­tion.  Noth­ing. I was dying. Ulti­mately only my phys­ic­al heart was beat­ing. I had saved and snuck in 200 pills. In des­per­a­tion I took them. I had to be rushed by ambu­lance to resus at a and e. But the pain could go on no longer. So, they pulled the last trick out of the bag. Elec­tro-con­vuls­ive-Ther­apy (ECT), famed through films like One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. It is much maligned, feared, and now, used only in emer­gen­cies. I jumped at the chance. I was not scared of hav­ing to go under gen­er­al anaes­thet­ic with elec­trodes on my head and hav­ing elec­tri­city passed through me. I was scared of not hav­ing it. It was my last hope. In the end I needed 12 ses­sions of ect to start to come back to ‘me’ again. Expres­sions on my flat face slowly began to return. Life star­ted to beat through my veins once again. ECT is an age old and rarely used treat­ment used only in the most des­per­ate and non respond­ent of cases. It wipes a lot of memory, and it works. I lived through a time where I knew I was not going to make it. And now, I still pinch myself, or treas­ure the air I breathe because I don’t know how I am still alive.

But even between epis­odes. I struggle. Every day is a battle. Even the smal­lest tasks are moun­tain­ous for me. I exists on anti­psychot­ics, two mood sta­bil­isers, and two anti­de­press­ants every day. Add to that side effect tab­lets plus meth­adone then we are look­ing at a lot of pills. And they are dan­ger­ous. Lith­i­um causes thyroid prob­lems and kid­ney dam­age.  My anti­psychot­ic was caus­ing a dan­ger­ous heart con­di­tion that they knew about and left for two years where I could have had a car­di­ac arrest at any time.

I have been in hos­pit­al 8 times in the last 3 years alone. These exper­i­ences are soul des­troy­ing. Because you do not feel as if you are unwell and in hos­pit­al; you feel you are bad and in pris­on. You are often treated like a crim­in­al. There is often little empathy and com­pas­sion. In dis­tress one night, with voices scream­ing at me to cut my throat I went to the nurses for help and had doors slammed in my face, was screamed at to go to my room, and then told off for not ask­ing them for med­ic­a­tion when I had been for help five times. Every time I leave hos­pit­al I have to rebuild my life from noth­ing. And then you get read­mit­ted and everything you have built gets knocked down again. Find­ing the will to keep going is hard. Admit­tedly at points I have even said “what’s the point in build­ing up a life”

My ill­ness has lead to many sui­cide attempts, some nearly fatal. Dozens of times in insti­tu­tions. A heroin and crack addic­tion to over­come from which I almost lost my arm and needed four emer­gency sur­ger­ies. I’ve seen young friends die tra­gic­ally. Too Unne­ces­sary. Too young. Too sad. But I chose to use it well. And these exper­i­ences have changed me for the bet­ter. Would I have asked for this con­di­tion? Nev­er.  Would I go back and change them? Maybe  not.  Because I have learnt we don’t have long. Noth­ing is guar­an­teed to us. So I have fought hard with fam­ily rela­tion­ships to make them bet­ter, where once they were on thin ice. And I am a kinder, nicer ver­sion of myself, and I judge no one. So in a bag full of rub­bish I have found some glit­ter­ing gifts. Gifts I want to keep for a life­time.

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Kate Taylor

Kate Taylor

Kate Taylor is a Lon­don based writer whose Interests are based primar­ily on music and art and also the philo­sophies and polit­ics that accom­pany them. In addi­tion she has an Msc in psy­cho­logy, has worked as a ther­ap­ist, and paints abstract art pieces.

About Kate Taylor

Kate Taylor
Kate Taylor is a London based writer whose Interests are based primarily on music and art and also the philosophies and politics that accompany them. In addition she has an Msc in psychology, has worked as a therapist, and paints abstract art pieces.