"I've found meaning amidst the desperation" - Aglaia's story
In this blog, Aglaia, a mental health activist and research student, explores her journey with bipolar disorder. Despite her severe mood swings, Aglaia graduated with a degree and is studying further to influence the scientific research of psychiatric disorders. Her story for World Bipolar Day is inspiring, a great reminder to hold onto your dreams.
When I was a teenager, I hung a tube map on the wall of my room back home in Turin. When I was at school, I dreamed of moving to London for university, and after years of hard work, I was finally able to start my BSc at UCL in 2017. It should have been the happiest time of my life. I had achieved everything I had been working towards. But in my first year, I started to experience violent mood swings and found myself on a roller-coaster of uncontrolled excitement and endless sadness. I had previously relied so much on my mind, and suddenly, I had “lost” it without warning and for no reason. Why me? Why now? I had to interrupt my studies and return to my hometown in Italy, feeling defeated.
I have been very vulnerable to self-stigmatisation.
In 2018, at 20 years old, I was diagnosed with type 2 bipolar disorder. I fought against mania and depression, feeling lonely, exhausted, and misunderstood. Medication helped, but I experienced crippling side effects, which I had to learn to adapt to. I had to compromise and accept the personal and academic toll of my illness, and it took me a long time and more courage than I knew I had to recognise and accept my mind again. Despite everything, I eventually graduated. I believe I was very lucky to have such a supportive family who has always been by my side and to always have access to good psychiatric care.
Through passion, but mostly for necessity, I became interested in the brain functioning in health and disease and in the treatment of psychiatric disorders. Eager to explore the “mind”, I studied for an MSc in Neuroscience at Imperial College London. Along with my studies, mental health activism has given me a sense of purpose as a means of personal and public empowerment. It brought to light the vulnerability behind the darkness of my diagnosis and the strength of choosing life. Throughout the years, I have been involved with various mental health charities. I am now particularly dedicated to advocating for better mental health support for university students as the Mental Health Officer at Imperial College London’s Student Union, where I co-lead the development of the first mental health strategy.
Bipolar disorder is now not an enemy but a life companion.
Driven by my personal experience, I want to make a difference in the life of others that suffer from mental illness and change public opinion and attitudes on mental health. I am now pursuing a second Masters in Public Health at Imperial College London, to translate my passion for mental health research and social commitment into lasting and large-scale impact. I want to advocate for better mental health through scientific innovation and collective action. My passion for research as a driver of positive change and my social responsibility has led me to pursue a PhD in the field.
Sometimes I see that people see me and treat me differently because of my condition. Being considered an “overachiever”, I have mostly suffered in silence. I have been very vulnerable to self-stigmatisation, to the point of believing that, because of my “high functioning”, my mental health struggles must not have existed. I still wish I could acknowledge my strength more. Bipolar disorder is now not an enemy but a life companion. In “An Unquiet Mind”, Kay Redfield Jamison eloquently describes bipolar disorder as a disease that “kills and gives fire”. I am grateful to have found meaning amidst the desperation. Looking back, I am astonished to have survived on my own. It never crossed my mind to give up. That tube map still hangs from my wall back in Turin, and every time I visit home, I am reminded of the value of never letting go of my dreams.
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