In recognition of Mental Health Month EPIC has released a mental health blog series highlighting the stories of members of our EPIC community who have a lived experience of mental illness.
By reading these different stories about various mental health journeys we hope that this demonstrates that mental health can affect anyone at any stage of life. Mental health isn’t something you should be ashamed of and there is no one right way to access support.
We have already shared Rebecca’s story who discussed what it is like to live with complex post-traumatic stress disorder and work as a paramedic. We have also heard from Michael who shared his experience of finding work after his OCD diagnosis.
Next up we have EPIC employee Rachel who has shared what it is like to live with bipolar II disorder.
“Like any physical illness, my bipolar is something I must look after and treat.” – Rachel
When we talk about mental health, depression and anxiety are usually at the forefront of the discussion. Whilst more complex mental health conditions like bipolar, borderline personality disorder (BPD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and schizophrenia are often left out of the conversation.
For me, living with the complex mental health condition bipolar II disorder comes with a lot of perceived barriers and stigma. Many people are quick to judge my behaviours or emotions because they lack an understanding of what bipolar is and what effect it has on my life.
Bipolar isn’t just a quick change in mood from happy to sad. People living with bipolar experience intense mood episodes of extreme highs (mania/hypomania) and extreme lows as well as periods of ‘normal’ or levelled moods in between. These episodes can last from days to months at a time.
I have been called lazy, insane, useless, an attention-seeker and a liar when experiencing both depressive and hypomanic episodes. This failure to understand and empathise only increases the embarrassment and shame I am already feeling.
I am usually aware when I am having a depressive or hypomanic episode and I understand that my behaviours can be disruptive but unfortunately, I can’t always control or mask my symptoms.
When I am depressed, I feel an overwhelming sense of dread and guilt. I struggle to get out of bed, I withdraw socially, and I cry regularly with no reason. Sometimes the thought of doing a simple daily task, like showering seems exhausting and impossible. I have constant negative thoughts racing in my head amplifying that I am worthless which can sometimes lead to suicidal ideations. I also experience physical symptoms including panic attacks, headaches and a feeling of dissociation from my body.
Experiencing a hypomanic episode is on the complete opposite end of the scale. I feel completely euphoric yet easily irritable, I do not sleep but never lack energy, I take over conversations with no filter. I feel like I am unstoppable which makes me less inhibited and I engage in risky behaviour that has sometimes endangered my life.
Like any physical illness, my bipolar is something I must look after and treat. Whether it is talking to my therapist, taking my prescribed medication or tracking my mood, there are things that I must do daily to ensure that I stay well.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for my bipolar. Like all mental health conditions, my bipolar will ebb and flow throughout my life. I know that inevitably, I will struggle with episodes of depression and hypomania but that doesn’t mean I give up on trying to stay well. I work really hard every day to ensure I give myself the best chance of living happily in recovery.
When I am experiencing a depressive or hypomanic episode, being surrounded by non-judgmental, supportive and understanding people is incredibly important to me. I often struggle to reach out and ask for help but a close friend telling me they are here for me, my housemate offering to cook me dinner or my boss extending extra support at work can make all the difference.
Although it is sometimes overwhelming to think about, I do not shy away from my bipolar. I talk openly about my condition in the hope that it will give people a better understanding of mental illness and encourage them to offer support first and judge last.
National Support Lines
- Lifeline: 13 11 14
- Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 497
- Kids Helpline (up to 25 years): 1800 551 800
- Men’s Line Australia: 1300 789 978
- Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636
- Q-life LGBTQIA+: 1800 184 527
- Lifeline Text (6pm-12am): 0477 131 114
- GriefLine: 1300 845 745