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I am a 29 year old woman diagnosed with bipolar disorder type 1 and also suffer from general anxiety and panic attacks. I have only been recently diagnosed but have been ill since I was a teenager. I tend to have mixed-manic episodes, hence the name of my blog. I am a regular guest blogger for Black Dog Tribe. I am not a mental health professional. I am just writing from my own experiences with mental illness. If you wish to use any of my blog content please contact me at lababup@gmail.com. Visit me on twitter @lababup

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Diagnosing Bipolar

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder type 1 in 2011. Here is my diagnosis story.

Something went wrong with my state of mind at about the age of about sixteen. As a child I was always very anxious, shy and sensitive. However, when I reached my teenage years I suddenly became much more extroverted and rebellious. I started drinking a fair bit, smoked, experimented with cannabis, was rude to my teachers and listened to a lot of angry music. This was all quite out of character. My parents thought I had had a personality transplant.

I started to cut myself when I was about seventeen. I don't know why I started to do it. It just seemed like something I should try. In a normal state of mind this behaviour seems completely bizarre, even to me, but I was feeling very isolated, angry and worthless. I felt empty and nothing made me happy anymore. The world seemed like a deeply unfriendly, horrible place. I would have many arguments with my family and lock myself away. I would cry alone in my room and stay up all night on the internet. I thought about dark things and I needed some sort of release. My mind inevitably would come back to thoughts of cutting myself and doing this would release some of the tension I felt inside.

With my friends I was a different person. I was loud, outgoing and excitable. They only knew something was wrong when I had my first panic attack. I was round a friend's house at a party and I had been drinking and smoking. I suddenly couldn't breathe and felt like I was going to throw up. It only lasted half an hour or so but it left me feeling completely on edge and out of control. It was the first sign to me that things weren't quite right.

I went to the GP after this and was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. I was put on citalopram (an SSRI). Within the next couple of days I had a breakdown. I am not sure if the diagnosis or the medication was responsible. I suddenly felt absolutely desolate. I went to Sixth Form College as per usual but I couldn't stop crying. All day. My friends didn't know what to do with me. I couldn't go to class or anything so I just sat outside the school and in the library all day, the tears not stopping. I felt absolutely worthless, hopeless and suicidal.

I stopped going to Sixth Form after that day. It was only five months until I was supposed to sit my A levels but I didn't return except to sit my exams. As you can imagine, I wasn't best prepared for them. I started university that summer and quit a few months later. I was having panic attacks, sleeping when I was supposed to be in class, not eating properly and getting very drunk and lost. I felt like life was completely pointless and I couldn't bear the thought of getting up in the morning.

The next few years were turbulent. I tried lots of different medications under the guidance of my GP and later my first psychiatrist, These included citalopram, lorazepam, amitriptylline, seroxat and cymbalta. I managed to eventually get a degree and my masters degree after having many breaks for mental health reasons. My mood was all over the place but only the depression had been spotted at this point.

When I wasn't feeling depressed I was usually feeling something else which wasn't quite right either. Sometimes I felt on top of the world
. I would feel at one with the world and was convinced that I would walk around  people would look at me and catch my good mood. I would smile at everyone I walked past. I would also become very productive and work at something obsessively. It could be on a gardening or house project or maybe a piece of coursework. At one point I was doing my masters degree, commuting three hours every day, plastering walls when I got home and would continue re-landscaping the garden.

I thought this hive of activity was normal but it was being driven by a restless mind, obsessing on tasks, intent upon never stopping. Sometimes I felt like my brain was exploding with thoughts. It felt like someone was poking my brain with an electric rod. My brain felt over activated and wired. Sometimes this was actually accompanied by great feelings of despair and I would wail in mental pain, rocking back and forth trying to comfort myself. This kind of mood was very unpleasant.

The first time my behaviour became noticeably erratic was in the summer of 2011. I had just finished the first year of my PhD and was on a bit of a high. I had made lots of new friends, was working hard and spending lots of money on my house and buying people things. I felt elated and was enjoying life. However, it soon started to go wrong.

I couldn't get my brain to switch off. I had just done my first PhD talk and had been incredibly nervous about it. However, when I had completed it, I didn't feel like I could relax again. My head kept chattering at me. My mood became extremely labile. I would go from feeling elated for a few hours, to really angry and volatile and then despairing. I would cry, then laugh hysterically and then would be really irritable. Nobody could predict what I would do next. Sometimes I would chatter away and not be able to stop and start talking incoherently. My brain would be going so fast my mouth couldn't keep up. I would start needing to move my legs and would pace up and down a room for over an hour at a time. I had so much energy, I didn't know what to do with it.

Some of the more scary symptoms started to happen. I would start speaking gibberish and jump up and down whilst manically laughing and then crying. I would start screaming all of a sudden because my brain felt like it was on fire. I burnt my arm with cigarettes in a panic to try and calm my brain down. I doused my head with cold water under the kitchen sink to try and bring myself back to normality. I would hear a voice in my head saying 'you must die' over and over again. Horrible thoughts of dead bodies would keep popping in to my mind. I would feel paranoid and like I was being followed when I walked down the street. The walls of the houses seemed to be moving towards me hemming me in. Everything was moving and the colours started to look all strange and vibrant. The world became a scary place.

I hadn't seen my old psychiatrist in a while. I had only seen him privately as a teenager and it didn't work out well. However, this time I got referred on the NHS to a Community Mental Health Team and I got to see someone straight away. My new psychiatrist was very patient and understanding and after talking to me for a good hour, told me that he was 99% sure that I had bipolar type 1 and that I was suffering from a mixed-manic episode.

Before I went to see my psychiatrist I had thought that bipolar was a possibility but dismissed it on the basis that I didn't feel 'on top of the world'. Instead I felt very distressed by my symptoms. However, I have since learnt that you can have manic and depressive symptoms simultaneously. I primarily had manic symptoms: I was irritable, talking too fast, had racing thoughts, was not sleeping properly or eating well, was hyperactive, spending a lot etc. However, I did not feel euphoric except for brief moments of time. Instead I felt desperate and terrified and like i wanted to pull my skin off.

It was a relief to finally have a diagnosis. My grandfather had had bipolar as well and so it all kind of fit my story. However, the diagnosis changed my whole outlook on life. Suddenly I had a serious illness that would probably be with me forever. I hoped that I would never have another episode again but that wasn't to be. At least now I knew what it was and could be correctly treated for my condition.

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