Today’s “Journey” is shared by one of my closest friends, Francesca, who has opened my eyes to the everyday struggle that is mental illness. I’m so proud of her for sharing her journey with Bipolar Disorder over here with the hope of helping someone else struggling with this seriously tough stuff!
As October is Mental Health Awareness Month I felt it would be a good time to share her story, and some more info on how to seek help and keep yourself in check should you struggle with mental illness.
Life is beautiful when your brain chemistry is right, when your brain chemistry is out, life is excruciating. Those who have suffered from mental illness will be able to testify to this. It is very real.
I have lived with bipolar Mood Disorder for 22 years now, it reared its ugly head when I was in my final year of high school in 1995.
I was a happy, involved learner and then, as we approached the Matric final exam time, my whole demeanour changed. I became overwhelmed, emotional and incapable of facing up to what was required of me. It was a very dark, confusing time for me and, of course, for my loved ones as well, who weren’t quite sure what was happening and how to deal with me.
I was placed on medication for depression. At that stage I wasn’t diagnosed as bipolar, I was just seen as a desperately down teenager.
A couple of months later, one of the psychiatrists who had treated me saw me at a social event where I was overly confident, flirtatious and rather outspoken. He took one look at me and contacted my then psychiatrist with a diagnosis, Bipolar Mood Disorder.
Bipolar basically manifests with lows in depression and highs is mania, it is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, which affects the flow and connection of the neurons. When I am low the neuron connection is stunted and when I am high the neuron connection is ‘super wired’.
Both states can be dangerous, my lows can lead to a psychosis where I get suicidal, not a good place to be. On the other side the highs can be equally dangerous as my actions and words aren’t necessarily filtered, leading to overspending, under sleeping and the like.
My first major manic episode resulted in me being hospitalised for 2 weeks to seek stability.
I have journeyed with this condition for many years now, and, thankfully, I am still able to live a full, content life, despite my fragile wiring.
Let it be said, I have to continually monitor my activities and take my medication and even then I don’t always remain on an even keel, but overall I feel like I have insight into how my brain works (or doesn’t work!)
My advice to people who are vulnerable to mental illness?
In no order of importance, consider the following factors…….
- Know that whatever you are facing won’t be forever, we learn and grow through our pain
- Make sure you get a good night’s sleep
- Listen to your doctor
- Know your triggers and warning signs, don’t mess with them, give them the respect they deserve (The triggers which lead to my mind becoming vulnerable are stress, change, overstimulation and lack of sleep)
- Eat well, try and avoid processed foods
- Exercise and stretch regularly ( I run 3-4 times a week and have a few yoga stretches I enjoy at home on my mat)
- Don’t forget to breath! Approaching life’s challenges with a well oxygenated brain is a good start
- Connect with your creator, there is so much more beyond what we can see and touch
- Have firm boundaries (know what situations can trigger you, and learn how to say no)
- Don’t take drugs or overdo alcohol (If you do decide to drink, don’t have more than 2 units in a day)
- Be open and honest about your struggle
As many as one in five people will suffer from a mental illness during the course of their lives.
More about Mental Health
Mental health problems are the result of a complex interplay between biological, psychological, social and environmental factors. Like physical disorders mental and brain disorders vary in severity.
There are those that are:
- Transient (like an acute stress disorder)
- Periodic (like bipolar disorder, characterised by periods of exaggerated elation followed by periods of depression)
- Long lasting and progressive (like Alzheimer’s disease)
Aside from Bipolar Disorder, other mental health conditions include:
- Depressive disorder
- Obsessive compulsive disorder
- Panic disorder
- Post traumatic stress disorder
- General Anxiety Disorder
Causes of and risk factors for Mental Health Problems
There are several different causes of and risk factors for mental illnesses. These range from:
- Inherited traits (other relatives have a mental illness)
- Exposure to certain substances such as alcohol or drugs or environmental stressors before birth
- Reactions to stressful life situations, such as a close person’s death, or a divorce or financial problems .
Treating Mental Health Problems
Mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse and job stress are common, and have a huge effect on the wider community so it’s important for people suffering from these conditions to seek treatment.
Mental illnesses are not always simple to treat, as they could be the result of an interplay between biological, environmental, social and psychological factors. Treatment usually involves a combination of treatments – including therapy, medication, and in some cases, hospitalisation. Very few South Africans seek treatment for their mental disorders. Mental illness can be treated at your nearest clinic, hospital or healthcare provider.
In the case of serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, non-compliance (where patients stop taking their medication) can be a problem, but it is also a problem with the treatment of many other mental illnesses, and this can have serious consequences.
Several factors can influence a patient’s compliance, namely attitudes and life situation, whether they are in-patients or out-patients, side effects of the medication, feelings of guilt or suspicion which are typical of the disorder being treated, and the level of expertise of the doctor involved.
If you feel you might be depressed or struggling with bipolar disorder or suicidal thoughts please contact one of the resources below who are all willing and able to help you.
Lifeline (24 hour line)
Tel: 021 461 1111 (09h30 to 22h00)
WhatsApp: 063 709 2620 (10h00 to 14h00)
There are 4 free one-hour counselling sessions available for adults, after which counsellor will refer to a therapist or specialist counsellor if necessary. Face-to-Face Counselling can be booked by calling 021 461 1113, Monday to Friday during office hours.
Suicide Crisis Line
Tel: 0800 567 567
SMS: 31393 (If you SMS them they will call you back)
SADAG (South African Depression and Anxiety Group for Depression, Bipolar Disorder, ADHD, Trauma, OCD)
Tel: 011 234 4837/ 0800 20 50 26
Open 7 days a week from 8am – 8pm
Contact the number above if you are needing a referral to a psychologist, psychiatrist or support group
Deep South Anxiety and Depression Support Group
Tel: 083 755 4605 (Angie)
A meetup is held once a month on the last Monday of the month from 7:00-8:15pm at Corner Health, 19 Recreation Road, Fish Hoek.
If you know of any other support groups that I should list here please let me know and I’ll add them.
Thank you for reading and supporting My Journey With blog series. If you are finding these posts inspiring or interesting I’d love to hear from you in the comments below (or via email should you wish to share your own story!)