Life with Bipolar

I have always been open with my mental health, just as I am with my physical health.

Why is it when I talk about my mental health, people tend to react differently? When I talk about lupus, people tend to listen. When I talk about bipolar, its generally a short discussion. Whether they are clearly uncomfortable or change the subject entirely.

There has always been a stigma around mental health, while it isn’t any less important than physical health. We need to be normalizing it and taking care of people who struggle with it, while providing resources for anyone to get help if they need it.

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When I turned 11 and got my first period, my mother would describe it as a switch flipping on. I changed into a whole different human being. Sure, that is what happens to a young person when they hit puberty. But to me, I knew something was wrong. I could feel a change in myself, and not necessarily a good one. I will always remember going into my mom’s room at night, crying and saying “something is wrong with me”. I know she remembers it too. Both my mom and aunt knew I wasn’t the same Kelsey they knew. We tried to get me help as best as we could, with my moods and trouble with my period. We went to my moms nurse practitioner and got her opinion, which she referred me to a counsellor and started me on birth control to regulate my periods.

My first experience with counselling wasn’t a great one. I started with one, only to be moved on to another, then another. I remember feeling very uneasy and definitely not trusting. This being said, I was 11. When you find the right therapist for you, counselling can be a great, healthy experience. I am not at all suggesting it is a bad thing. Just that my first counselling sessions scared me as a kid. I didn’t open up at all and told the therapist what they wanted to hear. I had, and still do, have a tendency to bottle feelings up and pretend they don’t exist, and that is extremely unhealthy. Talking through your problems with a professional trained to help you can really improve your mental health. They probably can teach you coping skills to help through your daily life as well.

When I was around the ages of 11-14ish, things seem to blend together as I remember them. I remember thinking very dark thoughts, and also telling people I was things that I obviously not to try and escape myself, try to convince myself I wasn’t the person I actually was. Some of those things were weird, very laughable to the other kids around me. I don’t know if I could say I was bullied, but definitely teased. I knew I was being weird. But it was my way to cope. Everything seemed like another world, like I didn’t belong. I cried a lot of nights, not even sure what I was crying about. Just the awful ache my heart made me feel very alone.

I remember the exact session when I actually came clean about what I was feeling, finally opening that floodgate and letting the bad stuff come out. It was a pediatrician that I had been seeing for a while at that time, and she said something along the lines of “this feels like I am finally meeting Kelsey for the first time.” As I finally told her what I was experiencing, she was able to refer me to a psychiatrist for help. Of course, I’m not sure of the exact timeline because my memory is faint of my life at this point. But  eventually I did start seeing a psychiatrist.

The first specialist I saw for my mental health I really didn’t like, nor did my mom. From what I remember she made me feel like I didn’t matter and that she didn’t care about me at all. Obviously not a good relationship. She was, however, the first to suggest I had bipolar. I don’t know if that was an official diagnosis, but it became so shortly after. I saw another psychiatrist after that who I did like, and I think helped a great deal. My teen years I was mostly out of my mind in a sense so any sort of professional I didn’t really like or trust, but looking back she was a great doctor. When I started high school, I began seeing a kids and teens counsellor. She ended up being amazing and extremely helpful to me during my high school career. I thank her for my life today.

At this point I would have been around 15-16 I think, trying different medications, while on high doses of lithium. That is a very intense drug, especially for a teenager. I think some of the more extreme problems I was experiencing originally came from being on this drug, as it treated things like schizophrenia and psychosis. I do believe I had some sort of psychosis around this age, especially at 17. That’s when things got really bad. I had some bad episodes previously in time but it had begun to come to a peak. This is also the age I was diagnosed with lupus, but that came later.

I was in grade 11 at this time, every day seeming like a different reality to everyone else. I don’t remember very much, only the more traumatic parts. There was a time I thought I was hallucinating certain characters from a game I liked, although I was almost forcing myself to see them so I could have someone to be there for me when I needed it. I also thought I was hearing voices at the time as well. I don’t know if I actually did or not. I feel like it could have been very probable. One particular day at school, I was having a very bad mental health day. I was in class and I needed to get out of there. I started hearing things. I asked to be excused and went to the washroom, I think, until the school’s counsellor came and found me. We went to his office and I told him I was hearing voices, and they were telling me to hurt others.

I never had the intention of ever acting on that. I still had control over myself. I don’t even know for sure if I heard voices say that. But the school wouldn’t let me come back until a doctor signed something saying I could come back, for safety reasons. My mom drove me to a hospital in the city my psychiatrist was to get checked out by a doctor to make sure I was okay. I don’t have any idea what they said but they sent me home. They seemed to think I was stable.

After being back at school for a while, I started having the painful symptoms of what was later discovered as lupus. I have another post on my blog about my experience with lupus, explaining how I was diagnosed. The time I will talk about now is the time after the hospital.

I didn’t go back to school for a whole semester, the first one of grade 12. One of my teachers was kind enough to come to my house and I learned at home while I recovered. Not seeing any of my friends at school, I felt very alone, but also didn’t care if I saw them. I had gained a lot of weight from the medication I was on, specifically 50mgs of prednisone, and didn’t exactly want anyone to see my puffy face. I gained the weight so fast, that I still have deep stretchmark scars that I don’t think will ever go away. I was very self conscious. I always have been, still am. I felt like the ugliest human on the earth. On top of that, my grandpa that I was very close to got very sick and died about a month after I got out of the hospital. Before him, I had never really lost anyone really close to me, so that was very hard. I still really miss him.

Added on to all of this was my mental health problems. I was on a whole different set of meds for my depression and such, because we thought the psychosis wasn’t bipolar, but a result of the lupus having an effect on my brain. I was mix of a lot of emotions. I had also gotten into a big fight with someone close to me, and they wouldn’t even speak to me, not even after the hospital and my grandfather. I felt abandoned and that nobody wanted me. I felt very out of place in the world.

Eventually I went back to school and did the other half of my grade 12 year. By this time, I still had the extra weight and puffy face. I didn’t even notice about it that much anymore because I was used to it, but everyone who knew me before sure did. I remember people who I considered friends even made fun of me. At this point I hated school, even more than I did before. I always had trouble with people on the bus harassing me every day, and you can imagine what it was like after I came back looking like that. Kids are mean.

Thankfully, in grade 13, an extra year to make up for the time and credits I missed, things started to get a bit better. I was learning how to live with lupus and take it easy, not to push myself. I started getting more into my art, taking the class offered at school. I took classes I liked and met some new friends. I still had problems, its not something that would magically go away. But it was manageable and didn’t take over my life. I planned to go to school for art, which I did. Although, I didn’t stay. It instantly was not what I wanted, and I knew right away. Thankfully I got out of it in time to get most of the tuition back. And lucky I did. I started to really struggle with my mental health again. I remember at new years, laying in bed in the dark and wanting to dissolve, hating my life. I didn’t want a new year.

Back living at home, my family encouraged me to seek help, I returned to the nurse practitioner I started seeing when I was 11. She referred me to a nearby psychiatrist. He wasn’t really that helpful in the time I saw him, but he re-diagnosed me with bipolar II, a certain type of bipolar that doesn’t have many manic episodes but when I get a low mood, it is severe depression. So that I thank him for. I went through a time of trying medication, which wasn’t easy, but eventually I found the combination I am on today.

Eventually I was well enough to move out and get my own apartment, and now I’m in my second apartment living in a different town entirely.

I still struggle with my mental health a lot. I have a lot of nightmares about how life was before, and if I never got better. But I have come a very long way. The best thing you can do is take care of yourself. And yes, I totally understand that is hard to do when you can barely get out of bed. But the first step could be getting professional help, if you are lost on your own. Maybe even start with talking to a trusted friend just to get those feelings and thoughts out. Maybe start a journal. Whatever works for you.

Learn what helps you on a bad day. For me its taking it easy, not taking on a difficult task and playing a video game, or drawing. Art is a great way to express those feelings, I’ve been doing that since I could hold a pencil.

I really hope my story has shed some light on not just bipolar disorder, but mental illness as a whole. It can be invisible for others, just like lupus is. But it doesn’t mean its not life changing. The world is changing. Mental illness is more and more talked about, and taken more seriously. Suicide rates are climbing higher and we can and should do something about it. Talk to your friends. Learn how to deal with someone with a mental health issue. Educate yourself.

It could save a life.

Thank you for reading.