Hello from the land of pasties, tin and sardines
I am a 40 year old male who lives in Cornwall, which is situated in the south west part of Great Britain. I was diagnosed as having ultra rapid cycling bipolar (also known as ultradian bipolar) just two years ago after suffering with the disease (I dislike the term disorder) since my teenage years.
My teenage years were especially difficult as I really wanted to speak out about a lot of things but felt I couldn’t. At age 5 I was placed into foster care by my dad. I have never forgotten that day; up until then my dad was my superhero often saving me from my abusive wicked stepmother. Nonetheless off he went without his firstborn leaving me behind screaming. I was told constantly for months by my foster parents and my mum and my dad that I would return to the safety of my heroic father once he sorted his life out and left his despicable wife. I think to make sure I would go back with my Dad, I was as well behaved as a child could possibly be and gave answers that people wanted to hear. Especially answers to questions by my foster parents and social workers.
Unfortunately, I never did return to live with my dad. Not because he stayed with my wicked stepmother whom he fathered three children with, as he left her and married another lady and had a further two children. But because (I believe) I reminded him of the failure of his first marriage to my mother. Aged 11 I was still staying with the same foster parents when they decided to adopt me (actually custodianship, but that’s another story). At the same time my mum, who was living close by, told me she planned to move to the USA but she only needed my say so and she wouldn’t make the move. I now realise that’s quite a lot to put on a child and when she moved to the USA this affected me badly on a mental level and in the ensuing teenage years. Even though we never had the usual mother child bond.
It was in the teenage years that I experienced many highs and lows and although reasonably intelligent, I wasn’t achieving as well at school as I should have. I was well renowned to have severe mood swings, but made some friends as they quite liked my manic carefree periods. I would occasionally bunk off lessons, although the lessons I did go to I achieved good grades.
The alcohol years
After I left school, I dealt with the highs and lows of this debilitating disease for so many years by self medicating. I have since learned many mental health sufferers who don’t seek intervention also go down this destructive route. My choice of medication was alcohol.
Alcohol was my way of trying to lift my mood when I was feeling low and trying to stabilise or calm myself when feeling high. This does not work as I now know. The low feelings I had was depression and alcohol just made things worse long term as most of us now know that alcohol is a depressant. When I drank alcohol to calm the mania it did occasionally work, but when it didn’t have the calming effect, the mania worsened and encouraged me to do some really silly and downright dangerous things.
Job and driving license gone
I lost my driving license for two years which made getting around in a small rural community terribly difficult. I also lost my job as a Facilities Manager at a busy UK airport, not just because of losing my driving license but also because of my constant mood swings and erratic behaviour.
I would often turn up to work smelling of the consumed alcohol from the night before. I was never diagnosed as an alcoholic but I definitely abused alcohol, especially for the two years I worked at the airport. It was a very stressful and involved job, definitely not something an unmedicated rapid cycler should be challenging themselves with.
Throughout this time I was very alone as I was working away from my home county of Cornwall. Although I frequented the nearby local pubs and clubs, I made acquaintances and not friends. My erratic behaviour had estranged me from their friendship.
Finally I realised I couldn’t do this anymore and left, or rather was told to hand in my notice at the airport. I then moved back to the safety of my beloved Cornwall. Some of my friends in Cornwall were shocked at my appearance as I had lost a lot of weight even though I was never a large person to begin with. They also started drifting away from me due to my now heightened erraticism.
It was a few years still until I finally sought help for my moods from my local doctor. He almost immediately diagnosed me as having some kind of bipolar disease, especially as my mother had bipolar, and her mother was thought to have manic depression which caused her suicide.
Care plan and what I would do differently
Thankfully now I have a reasonable care plan in place and although there are a few issues with my local community mental health team, I feel I’m moving slowly but surely forward at last.
The best advice I could give my former self would be to insist on seeing a doctor or therapist to talk about what was going on in my head, especially as a teenager. I believe this would have helped immensely and maybe I wouldn’t have lost those years like so many other mental health sufferers.
Although I’m still a long way off from being stabilised I live a reasonably happy and fulfilling life.
Image credit: Luca Rossato
Alan lives with his supportive and long-time suffering fiancée. They have 4 cats and 2 lively dogs to keep them entertained, and photography keeps Alan’s creative juices flowing whilst running a blog at https://mentalhealthblogging.com which satiates his inner geek and information gatherer. You can also find him on Twitter.