You wouldn’t know my story at all if you met me (Picture: Amy/Time To Change)

This is one of a series of exclusive stories that we are highlighting as part of the Time To Change See The Bigger Picture campaign, led by the mental health charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, which aims to end stigma around talking about mental health. Please note that these articles contain discussion around topics that may be triggering to some readers.

I’ve always been worried that people won’t see me as normal or judge me badly because of my mental health issues. But in reality, if you came into my office you would struggle to pick me out as different in relation to anyone else.

I’m very open about being bipolar and, although I don’t want it to define me, I accept it as part of my life. Being honest about it often helps others to start their own conversations.

I first experienced severe depression as a teenager; it completely consumed me. I couldn’t find joy in my life and – feeling alone and desperately sad – I attempted to take my own life at 16.

The general consensus among doctors, my teachers and mental health experts at the time, was that I was just attention-seeking and would grow out of it.

My family tried to support me but were confused and our of their depth – for me, this was heartbreaking and just added to my confusion about my feelings. I felt so judged and aware that people might be thinking badly of me for the first time in my life, I became withdrawn and very insecure in social situations.

I experienced anxiety whenever I left the house or when people addressed or even looked at me. My heart would race and I’d get hot and sweaty. My chest would tighten and I couldn’t breathe.

I just wanted to be normal, like my friends, who were all starting to go out and enjoying life.

Over the next few years, my mood didn’t improve and my behaviour became an erratic cycle of highs and lows – short-lived bouts of self-confidence, which led to inspirational ideas and grand plans, rapidly followed by debilitating depression.

I was afraid of everyone and everything (Picture: Amy/Time To Change)

I started taking anti-depressants at university that would trigger my highs, so the cycle continued for years and took a toll on my emotional, physical and mental health. I kept returning to my doctor – who carried on trying to treat the depression – but I spent the next few years on and off anti-depressants and things slowly deteriorated.

I became scared and paranoid, believing I was being followed and that I would be attacked – I was afraid of everyone and everything. I knew I couldn’t continue like this.

With my family’s support, I sought help by moving back home when I was 23 and seeing a different GP, who referred me to a mental health team.

After assessment I was then sent to the Early Intervention Team, who are there to help if you begin to experience psychosis. This team gave me fantastic support and – finally – a diagnosis for Bipolar (Type II) that meant I got the right treatments.

Fast forward another eight years and, with medication called Quetiapine – an anti-psychotic drug that is used to treat bipolar disorder – as well as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, education and understanding, you wouldn’t know my story at all if you met me.

Since my diagnosis, I have achieved a degree, got married, had a son, have a full-time job and am currently studying for a Masters. I manage my bipolar by taking medication daily and I am more open to talking about my feelings with my family. We even developed a plan that helps us identify early warning signs.

Even though I am more stable, I do relapse and struggle with self-confidence, anxiety and periods of feeling very low.

The truth is that bipolar disorder is not a weakness (Picture: Amy/Time To Change)

Living with bipolar isn’t easy as it affects my whole life and I battle anxiety every day. When I am low, I rely on my family to help me keep going.

I have carved a life that somewhat resembles normality but it takes a lot of effort to manage the illness and be honest when I need help. But it hasn’t always been easy and I still try to hide my mental health struggles from others.

I had a particularly difficult experience when a manager, who didn’t understand bipolar, asked me whether my condition meant I should be in a management role. I was so shocked that someone would ask this and judge me by my condition, that I felt like I was that teenager again – inadequate, abnormal and not good enough.

The truth is that bipolar disorder is not a weakness – it doesn’t make me less capable, less intelligent, less ambitious or less of a person in any sense.

The reality of any illness – physical or mental – is that if it can’t be cured, it can at least be managed, and this is what I do with medication or coping strategies, such as mindfulness and CBT techniques.

Being open with your family, friends and medical professionals is the first step to getting support. It can be difficult realising that life is always going to be difficult but once you accept that you have this condition, you can find ways that help minimise its impact on your life.

Bipolar diagnosis is not a label that determines your future, it is an opportunity to start recovery. Bipolar II will always be part of my life and I’ll have good and bad days, but it doesn’t prevent me from achieving or living a life I am proud of.



Time To Change

The reality of living with less common mental health problems like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder remains largely misunderstood. Time to Change is calling on people to see the bigger picture – click here to find out more.

MORE: I didn’t realise how expensive it is to be mentally ill until I was £5,000 in debt

MORE: What it’s like to cope with an off-the-scale bipolar disorder

MORE: You Don’t Look Sick: ‘Being diagnosed with bipolar has been a steep learning curve’





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