Seven years ago my life changed dramatically. I was working towards one of my ambitions, to go to South America. I had booked to go on an overland tour of Bolivia, Argentina and Brazil during the long summer holidays as I worked term time only at a school. I was very passionate about my job and I put in one hundred percent at all times due to my strong work ethic. By April of 2008 I had booked and paid for my flights and was longing for the summer holidays to begin so that I could embark on my exciting trip. My focus was South America and that was driving me through my work.
Looking back I think I was working too hard, work was taking over my life and I could not close my eyes at night without thinking about it all of the time. I recognised that I was becoming stressed as I was becoming fixated on the things that in my opinion were wrong at work and I wanted to make them right because I felt that I knew how and I was very passionate about it. This built up so much that I could not sleep properly. I have always had difficulty with sleeping but at this particular point it got worse and worse. I did not sleep for four nights. I can remember racing to my Mum and then to my sister and then to my best friend. I was crying out for help but did not have the words to ask for it, I could feel myself going mad and tried so hard to keep it together.
It got to a point where I was becoming paranoid and had the most disturbing thoughts involving those closest to me; I was scared and frightened and started to become delusional. At this point my best friend took me to see my Doctor, I can remember saying to the Doctor that if I was just banged on the head to enable me to sleep then I would be fine. She prescribed me some sleeping tablets and my friend took me to my parents house.
My sister came to bed with me that night to ensure that I would sleep. I can remember her giving me my sleeping tablets and I was so paranoid that she was trying to drug me. I thought that I would lose control of myself so I kept spitting them out. Again I did not sleep. By morning I was becoming manic. My thoughts were completely abnormal and I was starting to believe things that were not real. My sisters took me to A&E. I can remember looking at the people around me in the waiting room; I had to put my head in my sister’s lap and close my eyes because they were beginning to frighten me. My next memory was sitting in a room with my two sisters, a Doctor and another lady. I have no idea what I was telling them but the next thing I knew they were putting a needle in my arm. I was convinced that they were going take me somewhere against my will so I pulled the needle out of my arm and begged them to let me go home.
The next morning two ladies from the crisis team came to visit me. I can remember being in an elated mood. The next thing I knew I was in the back of a car with two strange women and my sister. We were heading to Dartford. I turned and looked at my sister and told her that I did not want to go shopping as I thought we were on our way to Bluewater!
My next memory was looking out of a window watching some rabbits in a hutch. I had no clue where I was. I knew no-one. My mind was racing; I was imagining all sorts of atrocious things. I eventually became so manic that I had to be pinned down by four people who stuck a needle in my bottom. The next few days were a complete haze, I can remember that I could not lift my head off the hospital bed and I was drooling like a boxer dog. The staff insisted that I got up at every meal time to eat; I could barely stand and was zombie like, food would fall out of my mouth.
Over a period of time I slowly got better when they found the medication that suited me. Every day at least one of my family members or a friend would visit me. Every day I packed my bags thinking that I was going home, that was not the case. It was at this point that I was told that I had been sectioned and my Mum and Dad also had to break the news to me that they had cancelled my trip. I broke down, I had lost my dream.
Over a period of time I was taken off my section and was allowed to go out for little trips with my family and eventually home visits. I finally returned home after three months. I had no life in me and felt totally deflated. My family were watching my every move and questioned me every time I did something that they thought was not ‘normal’. I was totally frustrated and can remember screaming to them to remember me how I was before. Whatever had happened to me had changed me forever.
Eventually I went back to work. My confidence had been knocked sideways; I put on four stone due to my medication and battled every day to build my strength. I was a different person, the life had been knocked out of me and I had no light in my eyes. My personality had gone. Socially, I could not go out and when I did I would sit quietly and had nothing to say for myself. I became very depressed. I pushed and pushed myself to become stronger and eventually bounced back after about two years. I lost the four stone that I had put on. I was in such a good place I decided to come off my medication. I began to work harder and harder than I did before, to the detriment of my health.
I had another manic episode and ended up back on section in hospital. This time I stayed there for two months. Eventually after going through the same process as before I went back to work and had to build my strength and confidence all over again. I went back on my medication. This time I put on five stone and became very unhappy. I was diagnosed with Bipolar Affective Disorder. This was very difficult news to take in because I suddenly had a ‘label’. I had a mental health problem. Over the years I have chosen to disbelieve my diagnosis and challenged it at every opportunity.
In November 2011 my parents insisted that I left my job and moved back home with them. To this day they blame my work. They were so fantastic and said that they would support me and I could take as much time off as I wanted, they just wanted me to be me again and to be happy.
Due to my experience I wanted to give something back so I started volunteering at a local mental health charity. I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time and eventually became a permanent member of staff in the April.
Two years ago I made the decision that I would try to come off my medication again. I discussed it with those dearest to me and also with my Doctor. I felt prepared and I told each of them that I had to know for sure if I did in fact have Bipolar. If at any point I noticed any relapse indicators or could feel myself becoming manic then I promised them all that I would start to take my medication again and I would stay on it forever. I wanted to be in control of myself and be happy again because I associated my medication with unhappiness.
Sadly, a few months later I started to become aware that something was not quite right within me. My sleep pattern was becoming erratic, I was worrying about the smallest of things and I dived into everything until I could no longer swim.
I finally came to the conclusion and accepted that I do in fact have bipolar and it is nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. I started to take my medication and will stay on it long term because I never want to visit that dark place ever again and I cannot put those closest to me through any more pain. My main concern is putting on a huge amount of weight again because that makes me very unhappy. I have to accept that having side effects are a consequence of taking my medication. I have now accepted the fact that side effects are a smaller price to pay instead of having to end up in a psychiatric hospital with a very long recovery period afterwards.
I realise that I may never be out of the woods as far as having another episode is concerned; although hopefully staying on my medication will reduce the chances of mania. I am completely aware of my relapse indicators and I now realise that I am completely aware of myself and I know who I am, now more than ever. Although the journey I have been through was horrific at times for me and those closest to me I have become a much stronger person because of my experiences and I now want to help other people by reducing the stigma that is so sadly associated with mental health.