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It's Vincent van Gogh's birthday

Today, 30 March, is Vincent van Gogh’s birthday, which marks World Bipolar Day. It has been four years since I ended up in a Mount Carmel psych ward with a psychosis, completely detached from reality, and was diagnosed Bipolar Disorder I. These are some photos from around that time, when my psychosis was at its peak and Covid had just started to spread around the world.

I’ve written about all of it: what bipolar is and how it manifests in me, my year-long recovery process during the pandemic, and the way mental illness is stigmatised. My first piece was published by the Times of Malta and the Malta Independent: How bipolar disorder has changed my life – for the better.

In hindsight, it wasn’t the disorder itself that changed me, but the diagnosis of it. For years, I felt like there was something so wrong with me, not understanding how others seemed to float through life so effortlessly. “We all have good and bad days,” I’d be told when I brought up my fluctuating moods.

But after I left the psych ward, when I had come back to my senses, and was told I had bipolar, all of it suddenly made sense. I researched everything there was to find on bipolar, from medical papers to films and documentaries, and realised that this is what I had been dealing with since my teenage years. Thank god, I’m not crazy, I thought – I’m just bipolar.

While the past four years haven’t been easy, they have been much easier than life without diagnosis. When I didn’t realise I was in a manic or depressive episode, some of which lasted more than a year, and didn’t know how to reach out for help, it destroyed me. Mentally, emotionally, physically, financially.

Recovery has been intense: I’ve changed up my entire lifestyle, from going out and drinking multiple times a week to cutting down on alcohol and making sure I sleep eight hours every single night. I was put on antipsychotics and antidepressants, which helped me avoid extreme mood swings, but also came with a fair share of side effects.

For a month or two after I was released from the hospital, I slept. My camera roll from February doesn’t have a single photo – I was literally asleep all month. But slowly I could spend more hours awake, I took my medication, I tried to go outside without fearing reality, and ate something.

I started weekly therapy, yoga, and continued scuba diving, which forces you to calm down and focus on your breath. A year later, I adopted a dog, who has helped me more than anything. He makes sure I get out of bed, go outside three times a day, and take care of myself the way I take care of him.

I also, almost accidentally, started advocating for mental health. To destigmatise mental illness. To show the world that you can be bipolar, and have the struggles that come with that, but there is still a whole human behind the disorder that is so much more important.

I’ve written a lot, given interviews, spoken on panels and recently even conducted academic research on mental well-being in journalism. Earlier this month, I gave my first-ever workshop on journalism and mental health. I’ve moderated the EU’s World Mental Health Day conference and have been asked to fly abroad to speak at events.

These are things I could have never imagined when I was still afraid to open my eyes in the morning. I remember the first time I met a friend outside for coffee, at The Hatter in Gżira, and nothing bad happened – a shock, to me. Stepping outside of the house had been scary, but slowly I started to get used to it again.

I don’t want to claim this a success story. I still struggle, albeit a lot less, and I’m changing medication as I write this, which might be for better or for worse. I still have days where taking a shower is an enormous task, and I always need a day or two to recover from trips abroad or social events.

But what my journey does show is that it is possible to manage a disorder. It will involve change and resilience and giving up on certain things and people, but it is worth it when you realise that you can take life into your own hands. That you are not at the mercy of your mental illness. That life is a bitch, a little bit more for us than for others, but that there is hope.

While I was in the female psych ward, purple paint spelled out something on the white wall: “The best is yet”. My best friend and mum laughed about it, wondering what on earth that was supposed to mean. When I went back to pick up my medication a few weeks later, I took another look. They had finished the sentence: “The best is yet to come.” And while I didn’t believe it in that moment, it was true. The best was yet to come.



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