“Out of nowhere, I crashed. Hard.” – Zoe’s story
On average in the UK it takes around 9.5 years for someone to get an accurate diagnosis of bipolar disorder. For Zoe, it was a 14 year journey with a big step forward that happened in August 2020.
From the outside, you’d probably see me as a fun-loving, late-20-something with a good job living her best life in London. However, for as long as I can remember the reality in my brain has been very different. As with many long-term conditions, the default is often to put a mask on to present like ‘everyone else’.
As a young child I was often told I was sensitive. I had a lot of emotions, thoughts and worries that I didn’t understand how to process or communicate, so often I was quiet. I didn’t want to take up space. I didn’t want to be seen or asked questions, because what if the facade of being ‘normal’ dropped and people got a glimpse into my whirring brain.
I’ve always really struggled to manage big emotions, change, relationship breakdowns - things that no one really finds easy to cope with. Where my experience differed was, I just couldn’t pick myself back up or self-soothe in a way others seemed to be able to.
My first memory of feeling depressed and hopeless was when my Grandad passed away when I was 14 or so years old. I was absolutely floored. I couldn’t and didn’t want to get out of bed for weeks. My mum took me to the GP. He didn’t really take me seriously, said it was just grief and I’d feel better soon.
My first memory of feeling depressed and hopeless was when my Grandad passed away when I was 14 or so years old. I was absolutely floored.
A lot of people I love have had their struggles too, and I think because of that I’ve never felt the stigma around depression and anxiety that a lot of people have experienced.
Fast forward to August 2020, at this point despite the lockdown, I’m feeling good. Super productive at work, taking on loads of new projects, having bright ideas etc. I was up early, exercising for about 2 hours a day after work or over lunch, deep cleaning the house at every opportunity. Me and my counsellor at the time thought I was absolutely thriving. And then out of nowhere I crashed. Hard. And that was the beginning of my process of getting a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.
Before now, I’d been diagnosed with depression, struggled with suicidal thoughts, had tried a range of different anti-depressants but after having counselling for a while thought hey - this is it - I can drop the mask and pretence, I’m fixed!
And then out of nowhere I crashed. Hard. And that was the beginning of my process of getting a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.
Now I know really I was too high - and what goes up must come down. After an evening with a friend at the pub I went missing. I suddenly felt so hopeless. I’d never felt so clear in my mind that I couldn’t go on, there was no point, and the only option was to take my own life.
My mum ended up taking me to A&E that’s when the words bipolar disorder were mentioned to me for the first time. I had quite a physical reaction to it. Despite feeling comfortable talking about depression and other mental illness, all I knew of bipolar was what I’d seen on Hollyoaks or Eastenders and the like and I was terrified.
For a while I lost my personality. The parts of me that made me who I was were just gone and there was just this gaping darkness and hopelessness.
Since then, I’ve worked with amazing people in various crisis teams, had a few periods in A&E and hospital, went through lots of medication changes and group therapies and I now feel stable, content and understood.
We’ve found the right balance of meds for me, my safety plan has never been more helpful, I know where to turn to for help if I need it.
Recovery for me has been learning to accept the term bipolar, it doesn’t define me but it is an important part of me. I know this is a lifelong journey, and that there will still be the highs and lows along the way, but I feel more resilient than I have before. There are even parts of the bipolar I’ve grown to appreciate. I think experiencing depression has given me the drive to pursue careers that really help others. There are parts of my hypomania that make me fun and productive, and learning those things are me and not just the high mood has been life changing.
I know this is a lifelong journey, and that there will still be the highs and lows along the way, but I feel more resilient than I have before.
Bipolar disorder has a different level of stigma to some of the more common mental illnesses, and the way it’s portrayed in mainstream news and entertainment perpetuates that. Writing and sharing this is very much out of my comfort zone, but in those moments where I felt so alone and helpless the stories of others that have been in similar places and recovered is a big part of what got me through.
You’re never alone, I promise. And even when it feels like there is no way out, no way for things to get better - I’m living proof there is and if I can do it, you definitely can too!
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