Okay, so I think it’s about time that we sit down and have a conversation. Well actually, let me just make things simple by saying this.
I have bipolar disorder.
It’s a long story, so let’s try to make this short. The first time I went to the doctors with an inkling that something maybe wasn’t so right with me, I was probably around 18. I made an appointment with my doctor, sat down, and said, “I think I have bipolar disorder,” or something to that effect. After she heard me explain myself, detailing my mood swings, patterns in behaviour, and unsettledness, she answered something along the lines of “it’s quite possible.”
Now, at the ripe age of 21, newly medicated and relatively hazy, I wonder why she didn’t do anything about that possibility at the time.
I have spent the last three years in and out of doctors appointments in different cities, surgeries, and offices, repeating the same story, same symptoms, same everything. I’ve had every response you can think of, and been turned away with nothing more times than I’d like to expose the NHS for. I’ve sat in doctors’ chairs suicidal and in bits, only to be met with a horrid “oh, that’s a shame,” and a prescription to “spend time with family”.
My last doctor’s appointment was in December. I saw the same doctor I had seen three years earlier, and over the course of the previous few months, she’d promised me progress and help. I was hopeful, and desperate for a referral to anyone who could help me. I was tired of being ignored, shunned, and let down at every appointment. Doctor Guinevere promised me a kind of support that I’d never had before.
Until that final appointment.
My tears and insistent begging for help were met with nothing more than aloof responses and a sudden “what do you want me to do about it?” attitude that broke my heart. She told me that there was “no point” in referring me to an Access and Crisis team, or anyone at all for that matter. And with that, I was sent away with nothing. Again.
For my absolute glorious angel of a mother, this was the last straw. As I cried in the car on the way home, she told me, “we’re going to do this ourselves. They’re not going to do anything for you, but I’m your mother, and I’m going to fix this for you”.
Within an hour, I had my first appointment booked with a private psychiatrist.
Seeing a private psychiatrist was a world apart from the millions of appointments I’d had with GPs. I spilled my heart out, told him everything, like I usually would, except this time I got a whole hour to do it. In the 10 minutes I usually had with doctors, they would brush off my experiences and feelings, tell me it was all down to anxiety, and send me on my way. Seeing a psychiatrist gave me all the validation I needed. He understood everything I’d ever needed anyone to understand, asked all the right questions, and even had my mum in to ask about her perspective. He told me within half an hour that I had a mood disorder. By my second appointment with another psychiatrist, I was armed with a diagnosis, a prescription, and a plan for therapy. Within just two sessions, I’d been given everything that the NHS were unable to give me for years beforehand.
I am now on two different medications to balance me out. Antidepressants and antipsychotics come with a myriad of side effects that had me down and out for a good few weeks. Now I’m up and about again, feeling great, and having regular therapy. But does it really have to come at such a cost?
I was lucky enough to go private, but most people aren’t. The NHS failed me for years, because it is underfunded and under strain – mental health services are undeniably poor, and everybody should be able to have access to the kind of treatment that I have had, but it just isn’t as easy as it seems. I have heard hundreds of stories from people who have been in, or are currently in, similar situations to mine. Mental illness deserves the same action as physical illness, and the same care and attention, without having to empty your pockets.
Now, I’m able to get on with my day to day life in the way that I should have been able to almost four years ago. It’s been a long and exhausting process, but now I’m finally where I need to be. At the end of the day, the doctors were right to tell me to spend time with family – it was my family who listened, who made sacrifices so that I could get the care I needed, and who continue to support me every day.
Mental illness stretches further than depression and anxiety. Sometimes it’s more severe than that, and sometimes people don’t want to talk about those scarier sounding diagnoses. Support for mental health needs to stretch beyond the more commonly talked about illnesses, and that’s why it’s important for me to be public about my mental illness.
If you have any questions about my diagnosis, or bipolar disorder in general, don’t be afraid to ask! Drop me a tweet and I’ll be sure to get back to you!