By CAROL-ANNE CROKER
I was 33 and pregnant when I finally gained the correct diagnosis of my mental health. I have bipolar mood disorder type two, or ‘Bipolar Lite’ as Stephen Fry satirically describes his illness. But Stephen and I, among many others, know there is absolutely nothing light about this condition.
And it’s never dull. I’ll be honest, when I’m manic it feels really good. My mania is attached to a “bee in my bonnet” – something that needs to be changed, an injustice, an inequality or a wrong that only I can right. Buoyed by a sense of confidence and excitement I tackle these projects, believing I have the power and influence to communicate my vision and get people on board. Basically I think I can change the world. Yep, total fruitcake.
When I’m manic I can’t monitor the consequences of my actions, I speak and act before assessing the likely outcomes. And then the depression side of my illness creeps in – like a fog rolling off the sea. It’s a stealth approach, slowly surrounding me and pulling me down. Everything is grey, lifeless and I can’t see my way out of it. When that depression rolls in, sometimes I feel lucky that I have bipolar because it’s a roller coaster and I know it will end, even if it doesn’t feel like it. I grit my teeth, hang in there and wait for the upswing. I walk, swim at the beach, chase the sun, and do anything I can to produce adrenalin and generate some endorphins to trick my brain into feeling happier.
Some people point to their house or family, their car or their career as signs of their success. But my achievement is more basic than that – it’s being alive. I get through with support and medication. I work on my diet and fitness, I do yoga, psychotherapy and meditation and I have a GP and psychiatrist. I’m privileged to have these resources and without that support I’m gone. My medication keeps me fat (it gives me the metabolic rate of a hibernating bear), but it keeps me alive. I consider myself a survivor and I’m proud of that. That is my biggest success.
Coming out publicly as having bipolar also brings its challenges, believe me. The stigma is so palpable. I’ve had potential partners run away when I tell them I have bipolar. I’ve had bosses find any excuse to keep me on contract rather than permanent employment. And my family don’t really want to know about it.