Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Guest post: Getting over the diagnosis

Thanks very much to reader Gina for this thoughtful contribution for Mental Health Awareness Week.

I bring awareness...

I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder when I was 19 years old. From that point it took me about 3 years to accept my disorder and get my illness under some kind of “control.” But it’s taken me about 7 years total to deal with the fact that I have this diagnosis. I wouldn’t say I’m completely over the diagnosis because I still have days when I think I feel a bit ‘mental’ and I tend to ask those around me- do I seem a bit crazy to you today?

I do feel like I’m getting to a point where I am realising, that experiencing a degree of unwellness from time to time, is in fact ok- maybe even a little healthy if it means I deal with some emotional stuff that I need to process. Keeping well is a work in progress and I measure my success one day at a time. I celebrate the days when I achieve things. Even if it’s a small thing- like getting the dishes done. I’m also learning that the only person that can hold me back is me- that if I show everyone around me what I girl like me, with my diagnosis can do, then I am capable of inspiration.

I spent 3 years in and out of the hospital system. I had to do that to learn that I didn’t want to be in the hospital system anymore. I tried a range of medications, until I found the right ones. I had to go through some horrible side effects- to learn about the drugs that were right for me. I had to argue with my family, to learn where the boundaries were, to test their love, and to find out that yes in fact, they love me a lot, all in their own special ways.

I am learning that friendship is hard work. And that, when I thought I didn’t have a lot of friends, the opposite, is in fact true.

I still don’t know if wearing my illness on my sleeve helps or hinders. Some people don’t think it’s necessary for you to talk about it a lot and would rather not hear a lot about it. Others want to talk to you incessantly about it while they are testing their own theories about themselves and their wellness.

At some point I would like to work with teenagers as they go through the process of receiving their first diagnosis. Our mental health system still needs a lot of work. And a lot of money. And I would like to bring some awareness to that - in this - Mental Health Awareness Week.


Tidge said...

thanks so much for sharing this, julie. my friend, who i haven't known that long has just gone into a manic episode and is refusing all help. it's very distressing to see, and it's quite difficult to know what to do - she has been placed in mental hospitals before and i really hope that doesn't happen again but as she is refusing help from everyone, it's very difficult to know how to prevent that outcome. i realise that bipolar is different for every sufferer, but if you have any good suggestions/pointers to resources, i'd love to hear them.

Tidge said...

sorry, I'm clearly a bit distracted! Thank you for posting, Julie, and for sharing, Gina :)

Gina said...

Hi Tidge,

I wrote the post- whereabouts in NZ is your friend? What I sometimes advise friends and family members of people with a mental illness- is get support for yourselves- I've heard good things about SF- Supporting Families wiich is also known as Schizophrenia Fellowship (but it's for people suppporting family members with other diagnoses also). They are really good at giving information.

For your friend who is dealing with the illness- one thing that can be really useful is formulating what's called- Advanced Directives. This is like a will. A will that says- this is how I want to be treated when you notice some of my symptoms. I have found it useful in the past- because you can give it to all your family and direct them on how best to treat you. Sometimes family members need to learn, not to over-react and ring the CATT team every time you have a little hiccup- and sometimes they do need to jump on the phone and ring the CATT team when you go way over the boundaries- it really helps to have what the boundaries are in a written agreement- this gives the person experiencing illness more power to control and negotiate themselves and their treatment.

Please note- I'm no expert. I'm can only talk from my own experience and I believe I've been pretty lucky with some of the treatment I've had. Not everyone gets the same level of service in this country unfortunately.


Azlemed said...

gina love the post, I have learned to sometimes wear my illness on my sleeve and other times not too... but its hard, I was diagnosed at 17 with depression so have spent nearly half my life dealing with its consequences, its hard, and you do find out who your true friends are.

thanks. D

Tidge said...

Hi Gina,

Thanks so much for your reply - the advanced directives idea sounds wonderful. It's a bit too late for that at this stage, but I'll definitely talk to my friend about it once she is in a state to discuss it.

We are in Christchurch. I will check out - I've found a few places that offer advice, but she's really at the stage where any attempt to talk to her either ends in being ignored/not heard or told to go away and stay away. At the moment I'm just trying to keep communication lines open so she knows I will help her if she wants it, and trying to keep an eye on her via facebook to ensure that the mania is safely contained in art projects and not anything dangerous! I'm actually really glad that it's meantal health awareness week as I can post all about it, and not seem like I am targeting her (which is what a lot of offfers of help are being interpreted as), and just hope that matbe some of the information gets through.

Gina said...

Hi D,

Yeah- the wearing it on my sleeve thing is a huge challenge. I sometimes find it is necessary to out this part of my life so I can gain some understanding from people around me. I often find when I talk about it, my anxiety level goes way down and I can cope better with daily tasks if I can relax around people, and not be afraid of what they might be thinking about me or my behaviour. However, when it comes to employment- I'm not sure I'd make it in the corporate world if I wanted to go down that track- I'm not sure I'd get passed an interview if I brought it up. I don't think that will be a problem in the near future though because I don't plan to break into the corporate world.

As you know, my current employment is pretty sweet and I'm very lucky to have the job that I do, where everyone in my world is incredibly accepting.

In this respect I really look up to my Dad. He's lived over 25yrs with this illness and is unfortunately incredibly disabled by it. But I've never known him to be ashamed of Bipolar Disorder. He wears it on his sleeve everyday and I love him for it. He inspires me. And he worries me (but that's a whole other story).

A big part of me, is ready to talk more about living with this thing, so that I can help people- as I said- Teenagers- when you are first getting diagnosed is when you from a whole lot of beliefs about yourself and your diagnosis. When I was first diagnosed I thought my life as I knew it was over. How wrong I turned out to be.

Gina said...

Tidge- As you might be aware, one of the problems with being creatively talented and having Bipolar is sometimes, the belief that your creativity is fuelled by the illness, and that being high aids creativity. In that situation the person concerned may have to find a way for the creativity and wellness to co-exist. I used to get a lot out of being high. Being high meant I had energy to do a lot. And for me being medicated meant being tired and not wanting to do a lot. I learnt that getting too high = going to hospital and not being at all productive, so ultimately I settled for tiredness and being as productive as I can be, and accepting that, and to stop putting pressure on myself to do a million things well at once.

And people learn these things at different speeds.

And going to hospital is not a failure.

And no-one wants it pointed out to them that their behaviour might not be acceptable- even me- I still get angry sometimes when it becomes obvious when I'm talking at high speed and out of my @ss. And so I get angry, and then I get fed up, and then I admit that I need help, and then I get it.

I really hope your friend is ok.

Cactus Kate said...


It seems no impediment to the Corporate world once you are in the corporate advice would be to not disclose it, don't lie about it, just keep it on the down low until you are established enough that no one will judge you for it.

While the stigma is perhaps attached I know of a handful of high achieving people with bipolar.

I don't know much about it but from what I have seen they make terrible drinkers as I guess it affects the medication, they often disappear for a long time out of your social scene and reappear. And worse still, the way you find out is by rumour and conjecture which isn't the best way to find out these things. They also seem to suffer bouts of weight gain and loss as a group.

Depression? Everyone seems to have that and I know it's not the only symptom. Perhaps you can do another post educating us the affects it has on your everyday life.

Gina said...

Hey Cactus,

On working in the corporate world- when I've done profressional development- that's exactly the advice I've had- don't lie but don't rush to disclose it either.

On drinking- I personally choose not to drink in about 95% of social situations. Every now and again I will have one celebratory drink. This is because in my late teens my use of drink and drugs (just pot really) became a way in which I tried to control the mood swings- I liked to make myself manic and then I became addicted to being manic. After I would drink and smoke pot I would be extremely anxious and not be able to leave the house and socialise. At my worst- on drink and pot I would hallucinate and feel like I was having out of body type feelings. It's been a long time since I have been that unwell- and hence I feel I can have a celebratory drink without downing the whole bottle. I have a lot of family support as well- and I believe this is a strong factor in my not choosing to use in the way I once did. I'm not a fan of total abstinence- but for some people it is necessary.

And yeah- happy to write sometime about the ups and downs of Bipolar, the PTSD and the anxiety stuff that I have dealt with. Even though I have issues with all these things- as time goes on, the longer I have been out of hospital, and the older I get, and the more distance I put on some of the childood trauma that is part of all this, the more I see myself as a capable person- quite separate from the illness.

On weight gain- one of my drugs is a factor in that- but having mood swings like most people causes me to comfort eat. I am responsible for most of my weight issues.