Bipolar after all

On the morning of Friday, 18 September 2020 I tried to jump out of our moving car…. Not once but 4 times while my husband was driving on the highway at a speed of 120 km/h. I actually tried to grab and pull my husband with me while he was driving. 

“Why on earth would you do that?” you might ask… 

Well, I was slap-bang in the middle of a Manic Episode. I honestly thought that it was the Apocalypse and that I should save my husband and myself and that the only safe place to be was outside of our car… 

Completely irrational right? 

Indeed.

The fact that my husband managed to keep me in the car, fastened while driving, and not cause a crash was, in itself, amazing grace and a miracle.

I thank God for that.  

My husband, Louis, realized the day before that something was seriously wrong and started to contact hospitals for emergency admission. This was quite an impossible task as we were in the middle of Covid and the hospitals required a negative Covid test first, which (at that stage) meant a 24-hour turn-around time for the results. With the help of a family member in the medical industry, they found a great Psychiatric Hospital not too far away that was willing to admit me the next morning. 

In hindsight, in the days leading up to this, there were some red flags showing that something was up. But neither my husband nor myself realized this at that stage. I had trouble sleeping and felt as if I didn’t need sleep. I was hyperactive, had intense enthusiasm, racing thoughts, and excitement, and I had abnormally elevated mood and high energy coupled with the feeling that I can do anything. 

As a person of faith, I also became very spiritual and felt as if my relationship with God had never been better. I truly thought that it was the second coming and I was so happy about it. I didn’t tell any of this to my husband and just spiraled deeper into my manic episode. I even acted very weirdly at school where I was teaching at that stage, causing my colleagues to be very concerned. 

By the time my husband got me to the hospital, I was psychotic and hallucinating and they had to admit me to the involuntary ward. I remember glimpses of my bizarre admission as I apparently said “I am Nelson Mandela” when asked my name and that I started to undress in the foyer of the hospital.  I remember waking up 2 days later with a 24 hour security guard right outside my hospital room, keeping a close eye on me and making sure that I was no threat to myself or any other patient. 

Thinking about this now makes me CRINGE and I have to admit: it is not easy sharing all of the humiliating details. I have however decided that I am not going to hide what happened anymore. I feel that it is time that someone speaks about the unmentionable things that people struggling with mental illness so easily hide. We feel that we have so much to be ashamed of, but I want to get it out into the open and say that it is OK.

According to Dr. Annemiek Dols (on Amsterdam UMC), who published “Tightrope Walkers” (Koorddansers in Dutch), a photography book filled with personal stories of people with bipolar disorder, their loved ones and healthcare professionals, “It is striking that these people with bipolar disorder, often strong and special people, keep their psychological problems to themselves. As practitioners we saw the loneliness they experience.” She goes on saying: “There is a lot of misunderstanding and shame, among these patients themselves, their immediate environment and within society as a whole.” 

I also believe that when something is out in the light the enemy’s power is diminished and that God can turn any darkness into light. Psalm 18:28 – You, LORD, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light. This is another reason why I also wanted to share my story…

Yes, what happens to me and you don’t happen to everybody, but it is unnecessary to feel ashamed of it. Many people go through it, be it depression or manic episodes.

As mentioned in my previous posts “The Caterpillar Perspective” and “Getting Up” I was diagnosed with Bipolar Mood Disorder at age 16, and was put on chronic medication for the next 12 years. In 2007 a psychiatrist weaned me off my meds as he thought that I was misdiagnosed as I only had one episode and that was when I was diagnosed in 1995. For the next 13 years, I never had an episode and was on no medication for Bipolar. So I truly believed that I was misdiagnosed, until 21 September 2020 when the psychiatrist treating me in the hospital said that I indeed had Bipolar, and not only that but that I had the more severe type called Bipolar I. 

According to Dr. Matthew Hoffman on https://www.webmd.com/. Bipolar I disorder (pronounced “bipolar one” and also known as manic-depressive disorder or manic depression) is a form of mental illness. A person affected by Bipolar I disorder has had at least one manic episode in their life. Most people with Bipolar I disorder also suffer from episodes of depression. Often, there is a pattern of cycling between mania and depression. This is where the term “manic depression” comes from. In between episodes of mania and depression, many people with Bipolar I disorder can live normal lives. The exact causes of bipolar disorder are not known, but experts believe that genetics, family history as well as environmental factors such as stress, play a significant role. 

In my case, significant stress relating to our family, our future, Covid, studying, working two jobs, and the fact that my Dad and other family members had depression and manic depression, played a huge role. 

Being diagnosed with Bipolar again was a huge shock to me, but I’ve gotten used to the idea since then. I was lucky that my manic episode only lasted a few days and that I was discharged after only 6 days. Under the treatment of the Psychiatrist, a Psychologist and making some lifestyle changes, I’ve been totally fine and grateful that I am only on a low dosage of one type of medication. 

What I’ve realized since then is that this had a huge impact on not only myself but also my family and friends. We all had a big scare, but it brought us so much closer together. I am so incredibly thankful for my amazing support system who accepts me for who I am and that they do not see me as my diagnosis.

My diagnosis didn’t mean a death sentence.  

I’ve also come to realize that many more people are struggling with mental issues. When I was hospitalised, we were a group of 8 people all with the same diagnosis. According to Bipolar disorder statistics 2022, published on https://www.singlecare.com/ 46 million people around the world, including 2.8% of the U.S. population, have bipolar disorder.

It can affect anyone, doesn’t matter race, affluence, or status. It even affects/affected people like Winston Churchill, Mariah Carey, Selena Gomez, Kanye West, Carrie Fischer, Jane Pauley, Mel Gibson, Demi Lovato, Russel Brand, Virginia Woolf, Jimi Hendrix, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Frank Sinatra, Sinead O’Connor and Jean-Claude Van Damme.

When speaking to a friend who also recently got a Bipolar diagnosis, I recognized that our symptoms, including becoming more spiritual, were very similar and that they were very “normal” for someone with our diagnosis. It really made me feel less alienated than before. It was good to notice that I was not alone. It helped tremendously to talk to someone else experiencing similar symptoms. 

To anyone struggling with a mental illness, I want to say that it is OK and that sometimes it’s even OK not to be OK. Don’t be ashamed of it. Seek help and trust your loved ones. I also want to ask you not to give up on yourself if you suffer from a mental illness. Even if you’ve been struggling for a while now…. please don’t give up.

If you know someone who is struggling, I want to ask you never to give up on them. 

I was shocked to see, while in the hospital, that two other patients were abandoned by their “loved ones”. One patient’s fiance broke off their engagement and literally left her in hospital. Another’s partner moved out of their apartment after hearing about his Bipolar diagnosis.

If your loved ones don’t support you and love you for who you are, they are not worthy of being called your loved ones. I know it’s a harsh thing to say, but I truly believe that those who are willing to support you and accept you with your diagnosis are the ones you should cherish and keep in your life. Surround yourself with people who root for you and who will be with you through the gritty parts of life, not just the good ones.

You are worth it and I want to say it again: A diagnosis doesn’t mean a death sentence. You have so much to live for. 

I’ve come to notice that although I need to keep a close eye on myself and make sure that I eat well, manage my stress levels, exercise, and sleep enough, I can live a normal, happy, fulfilling life… and so can you. 

Yes, I’ve noticed that I also experience lows, especially when I’m worried about for example our boys, or when I am fearful of the future, but during these times I remind myself that my life and future belong to God and that I have nothing to fear:  

Ephesians 3:20  – Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us. 

Philippians 4:6,7 – Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

For someone suffering from a mental illness as well as those supporting someone with a diagnosis: I pray that you come to realize that you should never give up and that there is so much HOPE…

Blessings…

Pauli

My biggest supporter, my husband Louis.

If you need help, please contact a doctor or support group in your country.

Here are some links:

https://www.sadag.org/ South African Depression & Anxiety Group (SADAG) 0800 567 567

https://www.mentalhelp.net/bipolar/hotline/ (USA)

https://www.bipolaruk.org/ (UK)

https://www.bipolaraustralia.org.au/ (Australia)

https://www.denederlandseggz.nl/ (Netherlands)

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