Shine Lincolnshire

‘My experience of bipolar’ from Shine’s Peer Support Worker, Sam Wilson

‘My experience of bipolar’ from Shine’s Peer Support Worker, Sam Wilson

I am going to first explain a little about life before bipolar, of course it has always been this way I just didn’t have the formal diagnosis. I have always been a worrier, an example of this being in school when I would worry that clicking a button on the computer may break it or make it not work the same, to other kids at the time it would have been funny if this had happened. I would go home and obsessively worry about this even though I knew that I hadn’t done anything wrong.

Fast forward a little, I left a working role that I had, one day I went into the office and handed in my notice, I did not really enjoy the role but to just get up and leave was a big decision and one that held a lot of risk. I then proceeded to look into how I could go and work abroad. Although this was something I wanted to do, having previously had interviews to be a travel rep, and wasn’t out of character, it was a big risk leaving a job and not having the funds to really survive working abroad. Looking back this was defiantly the first manic episode I had. Of course, I had no clue that it was. It was amazing that I had this amount of confidence, it was also great that I felt able to do this on such a spur of the moment decision. Normally I would definitely think more logically about this, and I would also listen to what others thought and their opinions, but at this time I could not listen to others as I thought I knew best.

When I came home from working abroad a few months later, I went on to do a course at college to enable me to go to university to do mental health nursing. This was because I didn’t hold any A levels. By the end of the course, I was burnt out and very much in a very low place. When things got better, I went through various jobs very quickly and could not settle in one. This was definitely another manic phase as I was very restless and struggled to be still, and not be going at one hundred miles an hour.

When lockdown hit, I was let go from the job I was in and spent the next year in a very low place. I did eventually get another job during lockdown in retail, but I was really struggling. I would say this period was the lowest I have ever been, and, on many occasions, I nearly thought enough was enough, that this was the way it was going to be forever, and things would not get any better.

Then, shortly after, I gained my diagnosis. I was very lucky as the psychiatrist had seen me before, when I managed to get funding for counselling, he was able to get a big picture over the few years that I had been seeing him. By doing this he was able to see clear periods of both low and high mood states. Before I was formally diagnosed there was my worst manic phase – I managed to spend thousands on credit cards, I did not listen to anyone’s advice, I thought it was amazing at the time. It was almost like I was oblivious to how much money I was spending, and I didn’t think of the consequences. This is extremely common in sufferers of bipolar and it can cause a lot of harm, not only for themselves but the people around them. Luckily, I was able to pay all my debts off, but this was only because I put all the money I earnt working in my current role to pay it off.

When I was diagnosed family and friends believed that because I knew I had bipolar, I would feel a sense of relief. This annoyed me as I thought ‘yes, I may know what it was, but it really does not make it any less scary’. Looking back the only thing that really changed was opening up a new class of medications and the fact that I was now aware that my excessive spending and my fast and extravagant thoughts were actually down to bipolar.

I went away from that appointment and for around a year, things were stable. I gained a role in mental health that I had always wanted for a career and was so proud of myself. But at the same time, I didn’t really take time to research bipolar and how others cope, I also didn’t update my own toolkit. This caused an even bigger crash a few months ago. This really flattened me, as not only did I have low mood again, but I was also wondering whether this role, which I always wanted to do, was right for me and if not what on earth am I going to do for the rest of my life? This was a huge question of course and a really scary thought as it left a lot in the open and without a set end. The decision had to be made to take some time away.

I recognise now that I waited far too long to gain help, and when I did, I was at a point where I didn’t see any hope of things getting better. I went back to the psychiatrist who prescribed me another medication, this was started on a low dose and gradually put up to a therapeutic dose, in the hope that it would help me during this low period. When I got to the correct dose, it helped me to be able to see things a little brighter, I was able to factor in the gym, I enjoyed reading again, I was able to relax and not feel lazy, I was able to smile, laugh and be a better person around my friends, family, and partner.

I now see how important it is to do a relapse plan, so hopefully this does not happen again, but this, I cannot be sure of, as of the nature of bipolar and mental health are so unpredictable. I hope if I lean on my support, improve my knowledge and my own toolkit, and be proactive in doing things that will help lift my mood, this will help. I am now in a place ready to start back at work and in some ways, I am grateful for this happening as I was starting to not look after myself. This was a shock to the system and told me that I must be aware of things.

I am on the path to recovery now, thankfully. Tyson Fury (someone living with bipolar) summed it up really well, he said: “mental health is a bit like the song Hotel California ‘you can check out at any time you like but you can never leave’”. This is very poignant as it’s a really good way of describing mental health, because you can be well but it’s always in the background waiting to swing to positive or negative, and unless you become friends with it and know your own ways of making things easier, it will take over completely.

That being said, I want to make sure that anyone suffering from or anyone that thinks that they may have bipolar, it should not hold you back from living a normal life. In fact some of the most successful people have bipolar. Tyson fury, Stephan Fry, the late Carrie Fisher are just a few names. Those three are massive inspirations to me, because they are not only the best at what they do, but at the same time have been very open about their struggles with bipolar.

I would like to finish on a quote from Stephan Fry which is a fantastic way to express how it feels to struggle with mental health and it offers me a lot of hope. “It isn’t under one’s control as to when the sun comes out, but come out it will. One day. It is really the same as one’s moods, I think. The wrong approach is to believe that they are illusions. They are real. Depression, Anxiety, Listlessness- these are as real as the weather-AND EQUALLY NOT UNDER ONES CONTROL. Not one’s fault. But they will pass: they really will.”

I would like to thank everyone at Shine, my current place of work, for being supportive while I have been off. This has restored my faith, as normally workplaces are not the best when it comes to understanding and supporting mental health. I will be forever grateful to Shine as it’s what I really love to do, and I am pleased I have finally found something that I love.