This week's interviewee would like to remain anonymous, but they have personal experiences with depression and a diagnosis of bipolar type 2 which they would like to share with us, with some brilliant tips on getting through a difficult day. I, for one, am here for it!
In their own words:
I love nature, music and history. I enjoy gardening, DIY and voluntary work. I am passionate about raising awareness of mental health and erasing the stigma that is often associated with it.
1. Hi, how are you?
Not great today.
2. How are you really?
Really not great!
3. Why did you want to be a part of this project to raise mental health awareness?
In order to help others understand their own issues, and to show them they are not alone. To raise awareness of mental health issues. To show that it is far more prevalent and far more misunderstood than is often perceived. To assist in erasing the stigma surrounding this subject.
4. Do you believe people's views and judgements around mental health issues can be changed?
5. What are your mental health diagnoses?
I was diagnosed with depression in 2003, this was later changed to bipolar disorder in 2004/5 and in 2013 it was amended to bipolar type 2.
6. What is bipolar type 2?
It is similar to bipolar in that there are rapid changes in mood from very high to very low and vice-versa. The main difference is that type 2 does not involve extreme hyperactivity or hallucinations/psychosis that is commonly associated with type 1. The speed of rise and fall or swing is still rapid but the drops are usually far more severe and take longer to recover.
7. How does having bipolar 2 affect your everyday life?
It has significantly changed my life - I haven't been able to work in paid employment since 2008. I have worked in a voluntary capacity but this has often ended prematurely due to relapses.
8. How could someone support you through your mental health struggles?
The most successful type of support I have experienced is through one to one counselling. This type of support is the most suitable for me.
9. Does talking about your struggles help?
Overall yes - though it is important to say that support is sometimes needed to cope with the aftermath of speaking about it. Often, without this, talking about it and raising the subject to the surface can present more difficulties.
10. Did you know much about bipolar disorder before you were diagnosed? Did you have any misconceptions or preconceived ideas about it?
I was diagnosed firstly with type 1 and was devastated by the news. I fought it fiercely for many years as I was not convinced. My symptoms were always on the low side of things, I didn't really recognise any of the highs, such as hallucinations etc. My other perception was horror. My family's and most friend's attitudes towards mental health problems were very archaic - I felt I was considered "a nutter" by them. This made it harder to accept the illness. My own acceptance of mental health as an illness was very hard. I never considered it as an illness, it was more like an affliction. In addition, the adaptation period onto medication was extremely difficult - medics struggled to find a suitable combination. In 2013, after lengthy counselling through Mind, I challenged my Psychiatrist about my diagnosis.
11. What does it mean to you when someone listens and tries to understand what you're going through?
It means everything! It is very hard to explain some of the symptoms and unless there is empathy and understanding then it seems a pointless task.
12. How important would you say it is that people reach out for professional help if they're struggling with their own mental health?
Extremely - I would also say that it is equally important that they have someone they can trust to support them (a relative, friend, social worker, counsellor). In my experience, whenever and wherever possible the individual needs to do their own research and try to explain their symptoms as fully as they can.
13. Have you ever felt like there is a stigma attached to having bipolar disorder?
Yes - The most striking recollection was approaching someone to greet them with my hand open and offered to be shaken. As I approached them, I could see in their eyes they recognised me as being a mental health patient and they withdrew, sidestepping my attempt. At work, there were many cases of stories being passed around etc.
Often the usual behaviour is avoidance, therefore not being involved with people as much. Making new friends often becomes difficult as you inevitably face a decision: should I say or not.
14. Did your bipolar 2 diagnosis come as a shock or was it something you were anticipating?
I had suffered the symptoms from an extremely early stage in my life. Until my hospitalisation in 2003 I never thought there was anything wrong with me, I just thought it was me, the way my life was! From then until 2013, I never really accepted that I had anything other than depression. The counselling changed my opinion. It became apparent I was the victim of abuse and this had triggered a lifetime of symptoms until I was hospitalised. I just never realised any of them.
15. If someone reading this has just been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, what would you like to say to them?
It may feel like you are alone, in fact, there are many people willing to listen and help. There's no shame or weakness in reaching out. It takes great courage to do so, but that strength will carry you through this.
15. Tell me about the lows..
My mood generally progresses downwards and bounces up and down a lot. Slight withdrawal from social situations, concentration less than usual, slight agitation. No appetite.
Feeling of panic and anxiety, nausea, concentration difficult, memory poor, restless, frustrated, some comfort in routine. Stay in if possible, easily overwhelmed, slow thinking, lethargic, need to be alone, sleep excessive or difficult, everything a struggle, post, finances etc. Avoid outdoors, answering phone, door etc. Meals sparse, tea & cigs excessive!
Feeling of hopelessness and guilt, frustrated, anger at self, self-harm, thoughts of suicide, little movement. Few meals, less drinks, more cigs!
The constant question (from the movie) - what if this is "as good as it gets"?
Endless suicidal thoughts, trapped – no way out other than the final solution. No movement. Everything is bleak and will always be this way. Little or no food, few drinks, heavy smoking.
Low self-esteem and low self-confidence which makes it difficult at the time to socialise etc. Some mildly obsessive behaviour - neatness, organised etc.
16. Tell me about the highs...
Very productive, multi-tasking, everything to excess (phone calls, writing, tea, smoking, charming, talkative).
Self-esteem good, optimistic, sociable, articulate, good balanced decisions. Get work done.
17. Do you have any coping mechanisms you use if you're having a bad day?
Distraction - Try to find something to divert the thoughts, music/hobbies etc. Be as active as possible. Be flexible - if going outside is impossible, just try to stand by the door, open it if you can. Breathing exercises, mindfulness, CBT can all help. Acceptance- Positive self talk. Accept this is how I feel now, but I may not feel this way in an hour, tomorrow, next week. Be kind to yourself with self-talk, speak to yourself the same way you would if it were a friend or relative. Be realistic - Try to set an achievable goal, make them simple e.g. getting out of bed or making something to eat. Build up on experience - keep a note of how you have been, if it reaches that level again, you have been here before and it will get better. Avoid toxic influences - sometimes we continue to do things or see people, or enter situations that we know will be hard to cope - have strength and value enough to evade or at best avoid those circumstances. Talk to someone. Seek help.
19. Why would you say it's important for people to learn about mental health issues, even if they don't experience them for themselves?
Firstly - I strongly believe that there is no such thing as "normal". People who experience difficulties are often less equipped to deal with things and these result in deeper problems. This is often due to events that are outside of their control. We all fluctuate in mood depending on our experiences. It is a continuous cycle of ups and downs. Therefore, having a greater understanding of mental health as a subject - good or poor - leads to a more thorough appreciation of a personality and society in general.
20. How do you feel after answering these questions today?
Okay-ish. I'm feeling a "little bit bruised", but a cup of tea, some music, maybe a laugh at something on YouTube, and I will be alright! Thank you Jemima for this opportunity, I wish you every success with this project.
Thank YOU my friend for doing this today. Reaching out and trying to help others in a similar situation is a wonderful thing to do. Your answers were so informative, I feel they will help people who have never experienced bipolar type 2 to understand what it's like to live with, you've definitely opened my eyes a little more today. Look after you, you're important.
If you're reading this and you're struggling with your mental health, please check out the 'support' page on this website and REACH OUT for help. Speak to a doctor or to someone you trust. There is help out there for you and you are worth helping. You are not alone.