The thing I feared the most - losing my mind - happened in January of last year. Having suffered psychosis and surviving bipolar disorder, mental health went from something that didn’t keep me busy to something close to my heart in a short span of time. This week is mental health awareness week, which is the perfect time to explain why I write about mental health.
The past year, I learnt things about myself I wouldn't have known if it weren't for the professional help I sought and the time I took to actively recover from what had happened. Over the course of time, I learnt how to deal with my whimsical moods and how to prevent disaster from reoccurring.
Over a year later, I can confidently say I have found my way back to myself. A new version of me so to say, post-psychosis Belle. The episode has impacted me in ways I could have never imagined. It started a journey of self-discovery and exploration of my mind, which is much more malleable and controllable than I thought.
I learnt that my mind is not some untamed beast with chaotically distributed chemicals, but simply a part of my body that needs to be cared for and caressed. I can take control of my mood swings with medication, therapy and plenty of proper self care.
The psychotic episode stayed with me in the sense that I am always actively aware of my mental health. My moods still swing, but not like they once used to. I don’t get manic and depressive episodes that last several months, nor do they show up out of nowhere.
I now know how to look at my moods like the weather. I no longer get sucked up in the downpour of depression or the whirlwinds of mania. Rather than getting caught up in my mental illness, I have learnt how to cope with it. I know that no matter what happens, this too shall pass. And that once again, after everything, I will return to sanity.
Surviving something as traumatic as psychosis makes you feel somewhat invincible. Because if I could get through that, surely I can manage whatever else life will throw my way. The cliché is a cliché for a reason: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
I also learnt that “going with the flow” - as nice as that sounds - isn't for those with bipolar disorder. Riding the waves simply doesn’t work if the waves turn into tsunamis. Life with bipolar is about finding balance, about aiming to stay on the middle ground, and about sticking to your self care practices.
I am on the right medication and regularly see a psychologist. But the ups and downs still very much exist. What used to be pouring rain now feels like drizzle, and what used to feel like being on top of the whole world now feels like being on top of my own shit.
For me, the difference between living with bipolar and having "ups and downs" as everyone else experiences, is the fact that my moods are usually not related to the circumstances of my life. Stress factors do contribute to more extreme mood swings, but my moods often swing beyond the factors that make my life.
I can be euphoric when life is as simple as completing my daily chores and taking my dog for a walk, while I can get down despite being surrounded by my favourite people in the sun on the beach. The fact that I will feel down for no reason (and high for no reason either) still sometimes throws me off.
I still have days where I can’t work, or can’t cook, or can’t do more than just breathe and get through the day. But they don’t stress me out as much. I’ve accepted that life can get rough for no reason, and that it will get better over time. Granting myself that acceptance is part of taking care of myself.
Besides therapy, medication and lots of self care, I discovered how openly talking about things helped me process the events. After my hospitalisation, I spoke to close friends and my mum about my psychosis. I shared the experience, and made sense of it by putting it into words.
I wrote about the delusions I suffered and the years I lived with bipolar disorder before being diagnosed. Though a challenge due to Covid, I reached out to people with similar experiences. I wrote about my terrifying stay in Mount Carmel Hospital.
And I realised that, despite having an entirely unique experience, I was not alone, and there is no such thing as “normal”. I found out that rather than judging me, people were extremely fond of my writings and genuinely wanted to be there for me when times get rough.
I wrote about it because I felt the need to put my experience into words. I struggled to make sense of what had happened and why, and writing and talking helped me come to the conclusion that this mental disorder was not my fault. It was simply bad luck in the brain chemical department.
I spoke up because I felt like it would help me be understood. Never could I have dreamt that my words would reach tens of thousands of people, many of whom reached out to me in the most positive of ways. With similar stories, or simply to tell me they were proud of me and my courage.
In today’s world, mental health is becoming more important with the minute. The pandemic unexpectedly attacked the most stable people, and in an increasingly convoluted society the rate of mental illness is higher than ever.
People with mental illness are still stigmatised, and speaking up while suffering is one of the hardest things to do. The least I can do is share my experience and spark hope and understanding for those going through tough times.
There is no need to carry the weight of the world on your own shoulders, yet so many of us face hardship alone. Mental health can and should be talked about, if only to understand those who suffer it better. If only to destigmatise what has become common.
For me, talking about my mental health disaster helped me find my way back to my healthy self. I also learnt that people are there for me, and though they won’t exactly understand my experience, they are more than willing to try.
I always knew speaking up about things that aren’t spoken about is a powerful thing. What I didn’t know is that I would personally suffer from mental illness, and that speaking up about it would help me get back to sanity.
I strongly believe that by sharing personal stories and making mental health human, we can open up the discussion for advancement in mental health care and make mentally illness better understood.