- ‘My Experience’: Kelly’s bipolar rollercoaster ride
- More information on bipolar disorder (manic depression)
At 33 years old, Kelly has journeyed through some intense highs and devastating lows as part of her illness known as bipolar disorder. As Kelly explains in her own words, this type of mental illness can be difficult to diagnose. However, Kelly says that with the support of family, sufferers can manage their illness effectively, getting off the rollercoaster ride and onto terra firma.
Kelly says she noticed symptoms quite early in her adult life and she suffered a major depressive episode when she was 20.
“With the depression, I would experience a total state of unhappiness,” she says.
“I was normally quite a happy person, but then suddenly I wouldn’t want to socialise or be around anyone. I lost my appetite and I also had a lot of trouble sleeping.”
So Kelly spoke to her GP, the best thing to do for anyone who suspects they are experiencing any depression in this way. Kelly was treated with medication, and though it took about six weeks to take effect, it definitely worked for some time.
But Kelly always had a gut feeling that her depression may have been a sign of something more severe.
The long walk through not-knowing
Kelly told her doctor that her grandmother had suffered bipolar, so the doctor said they would monitor her condition together, just in case, because bipolar is difficult to diagnose.
As years went on, Kelly started noticing clues.
“I started to notice that I had mood swings that went both very high and very low. I had experienced mild phases of mania, too. I went to a website and read some of the symptoms of bipolar and a lot of them really rang true,” she says.
“Like overwhelming feelings of happiness and confidence, like everything was going right, but then swinging to the lows as well.”
Mood swings are a part of life, and most people will have bad days and great days. But with bipolar disorder, these swings are intense. It is important to know the difference between feeling a bit low and having a mental illness. If you are unsure, the best thing to do is talk to your doctor.
A very manic Monday
While Kelly had experienced a few depressive episodes and some post-natal depression after giving birth to her two children, it was only when Kelly turned 31 that she suffered her first hyper-manic episode.
“It was quite severe,” she says.
Her doctors feel it may have been triggered by a three-day intensive personal growth seminar, where Kelly felt overwhelmed and “buzzed” by the changes she wanted to make.
“Over the following four days, I only got about three hours of sleep. So the big lack of sleep made me crash, and by the fourth day, my husband really noticed a massive difference in me.
“He said he noticed things weren’t quite right, like I would be jumping around from conversation to conversation. I was over-excited.
“I then started to not make sense in some of the things I was saying, both in terms of ideas and the way I was speaking.”
Kelly’s husband took her to her GP straight away. The doctor saw it may have been a manic episode, so referred them to a psychiatrist.
Kelly says this time in her life was almost like an out-of-body experience.
“I have flashbacks about it that are like puzzle pieces, but I don’t remember all of it.
“I do remember that we had a GPS on the dashboard of the car and it was beeping for some reason. I started to get this idea that the GPS was a piece of medical equipment showing my heartbeat and it was continuing to rise. I thought I was flat-lining, so I tried to jump out of the car while it was moving.
“My husband had to hold on to me and drive at the same time. I just thought I needed to get out of the car. I do remember going into the psychiatrist’s office and thinking the people in the waiting room were just actors brought in. I was really paranoid and it was like my brain was just trying to connect different things.
“I was still quite calm while I was talking to them, but they gathered from my answers that I was clearly not well, so they admitted me to a private clinic.”
While Kelly was in the hospital, she was still initially very sick.
“When I was in there, I would do things like throw my food on the floor. At the time I thought it was funny.
“But I also couldn’t recognise the people close to me, not even my Mum.”
“When she first came in, I asked, ‘Are you my mother?’ and she replied, ‘Damn right I am.'”
Kelly remained in the hospital for three weeks so the doctors could gradually bring her off this manic high. This way she would not be shocked by reality.
The relief of diagnosis
“I was diagnosed with bipolar in the second week and they started to give me mood stabilisers and anti-psychotics,” Kelly says.
“They saw the treatment was working, so they realised it was most likely the correct diagnosis.
“Getting better was like a slow awareness.
“It was a relief, though, because it confirmed my suspicions from all those years that there was, in fact, something more to my depression.
“It was relieving that there was a diagnosis I could be treated for and then could successfully manage.”
The importance of strength and support
One of the greatest assets we have in managing any illness is the support of our loved ones. Kelly says no one should feel too embarrassed to tell their family or close friends if they are suffering from bipolar.
“When I was in the hospital, my husband took time off work and spent every day and night with me,” she says.
“He told the people at his work that I was in hospital for a respiratory problem, but as soon as I was lucid he asked me if I wanted people to know.
“I said absolutely, because I have nothing to be ashamed about. It’s an illness that I have inherited and that I am treated for. I don’t feel any embarrassment about it.
“I would advise other people not to feel any shame or embarrassment about it. Iit is an illness like any other.
“I wouldn’t advise keeping it all to yourself, or not telling your family, because at the time my family supported me through it all, and you need your family around you.”
|For more information on bipolar disorder,including risk factors, statistics, progression, diagnosis and treatment, see Bipolar Affective Disorder (Manic Depression).|
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