Every time I become ill again, I lose a little piece of me.
As with many mental illnesses, my symptoms are episodic. I am never completely symptom free but the severity changes all the time. With bipolar disorder, I get episodes of depression and mania interspersed with some relatively normal periods. I still have a lot of problems with anxiety all the time but this can sometimes improve and sometimes get worse again.
The problem with having episodes like this, is that I never know what is going to happen and how my moods and behaviour are going to change. Each time an episode hits me, I’m almost shocked that the same thing could be happening all over again. I shouldn’t be. I know that a bipolar diagnosis is a lifetime diagnosis and many mental illnesses are long-term problems. I should be prepared but I never am.
I have many memories of how I have been when I'm ill. I know that I have felt extreme despair, frustration, elation, anxiety and agitation. I remember staying in bed all day and recall some of the strange things I did. Surely this should prepare me to some degree for the next episode. But my mind seems to try to protect itself: the worst memories get buried and the other ones feel like a dream.
Maybe mental illness is not the kind of thing that you could be properly prepared for. It’s such a strange thing to feel like you are losing your mind. There is nothing that can quite describe it. I'm still me when I'm ill but I don’t behave the same or feel the same emotions. I feel out of control and I realise that my behaviour and mood may be affecting how other people see me. I feel so strange that it is hard to believe that I haven’t been drugged sometimes. I don’t know why I feel the way that I do when I am ill, but I know that there is nothing I can do to stop it. How could you ever be prepared for this kind of life altering switch to occur?
Each time I get ill again something happens to me. First, I suddenly feel jolted back to the times when this has happened before and the memories come rushing back. I realise that it is all happening again and I didn’t even notice the warning signs. Then I feel myself letting go, allowing myself to fall in to misery, anxiety or elation. With this comes a certain acceptance that my life is once again going to change forever and there is nothing I can do to stop it.
Every time this happens I lose a part of myself. One of the biggest changes is to my confidence. It keeps getting knocked back and there is not enough time between my periods of being ill for me to regain back any self-esteem that has been lost. I don’t trust myself to behave properly anymore and, because I socially withdraw when I am ill, I forget how to interact with other people. This has lead to all sorts of social anxiety problems.
Also losing your mind has a huge impact on how you view yourself. Your personality can seem to change. For example, when I get depressed I can become very introverted and hostile. When I am manic I can becomes overly exuberant and over the top. Even though I know my basic personality has remained the same it is hard to match these behaviours to my sense of self. I sometimes end up feeling incredibly self-indulgent and guilty all the time. I feel like I should be able to control myself and go back to the steady self that I imagine I used to be.
As each episode of illness hits me, and my confidence and sense of self are eroded, I feel like I have lost this huge part of who I am. I remember being well as a child. I remember being quiet but sociable, being imaginative but grounded and being relatively happy. I know I must still be the same underneath, but so much has changed. Because of my mental illness, some of who I was seems to have been lost forever.