Once upon a time in a land far far away, lived a little girl with her mother, father and big sister in a very turbulent home environment (domestic violence). The little girl was very close with her Oma (Grandma) and Opa (Grandpa) however and she got LOTS of love from them. Around the time the little girl turned 5 her parents divorced and she and her sister stayed living with their mother. When the little girl was 11 her Opa passed away, which was a very sad time for her. Home life was still turbulent too, even after the divorce, and by the time the little girl turned 15 it was clear that living at home was no longer safe for her emotional well being. In what may have been her first manic episode she summoned the courage to leave home and live independantly in a small unit not far from her high school, which she continued to attend.
Not long after leaving home, her (undiagnosed and quite frankly unrecognised) manic episode dissolved into a deep depression and she was diagnosed, by her local GP as having depression and was put on anti-depressants. As time went by she developed obsessive compulsive tendancies and just after graduating from high school she was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder and put on medication to help suppress those urges.
It should be noted also, that she met her now husband in high school and they started dating before she even moved out of home. He was instrumental in helping her with her mental illnesses as he had personal experience with mental illness in his family.
She didn’t recognise it at the time, but she experienced a number of manic episodes over the next couple of years, episodes that led her to start a number of life changing things, starting degrees at university, taking on new jobs that she wasn’t qualified for etc etc, all of which disintegrated when the manic fizzled out and she found herself back in a major depressive episode and back at square one.
During this time also, her relationship with her boyfriend broke down for a number of reasons and she found herself single for the first time as an adult. Whilst her boyfriend had done a number of things wrong himself, the primary reason their relationship broke down was due to her mood swings and obsessive compulsive disorder and the fact that she was modelling her behaviour off her parents.
After another manic episode led to her running away to Perth with a new found boyfriend, this too wasn’t to last and within 18 months, she was back in Brisbane. She had learned a lot about herself during her time apart from her high school sweetheart and she was determined to keep her moods more stable in order to regain his trust and reestablish their relationship. With his help, guidance, patience and love, they managed to rekindle their relationship and have been together ever since. In fact they bought a house together in 2005 and got married in 2007 in a beautiful ceremony in Vanuatu.
Another manic episode in 2008 led to the purchase of a small business near their home in Bellbowrie, Brisbane. A quaint little florist shop that was well established. It sounds lovely, but the reality of the matter was that she was not a qualified florist, nor an experienced business owner and so the learning curve was very steep, but fuelled by mania, which made it seem possible and plausible and indeed, luckily, this turned out to be true on this occasion. The shop flourished, and her moods remained fairly stable, her OCD was in full swing but that was to the benefit of the business, even though it was exhausting for her.
A few years into owning the business another manic episode developed and this time it manifested itself in an extreme health and fitness regime. She found herself boxing three nights a week, exercising in the pool another three times a week and jogging regularly. She was very healthy, eating well, obviously exercising enough, but totally exhausted after over a year of doing all of this. Simultaneously while the exercise was happening, she began caring for injured and orphaned native wildlife on a volunteer basis. This required around the clock care for up to 20 animals at a time, some requiring 2 hourly or 4 hourly feeds throughout the day and night. Whilst this bought her a lot of joy it too was exhausting.
So as she clearly had too much time on her hands (note the sarcasm) she decided in her still manic state, to open a second florist shop in an up and coming suburb, not far from her pilot store. This required an exorbitant effort, in planning and organising the fit-out of the store, managing the new staff, and juggling funds to meet budgets among other things. Unfortunately, the store was not a success for reasons out of her control and had to be shut down, at a massive financial loss, a number of months after it was opened. This failure spelled the end of her manic phase and prompted the beginning of a depressive episode.
So being back to one shop only and having cut back some of her exercise regime and the number of animals she was prepared to take in at any given time, life re-stabalised for a short time. That is, until the floods hit in January 2011. Her entire store went under and her mental health floated away with the flood water as it subsided. As fate would have it, a week later her Oma suffered a major heart attack and she had to fly to Adelaide to see her which caused her deep anxiety. When she returned, and was fairly confident her Oma would be alright, her first point of call was to reopen the shop in a new location, which she did with the help of her husband and staff. But the reality was that her heart wasn’t in it and she was falling deeper and deeper into a depression and before long the new store had to be closed, so that she could seek the help she needed from professionals in the psychiatric field.
Over the following months she saw MANY different psychiatrists who all gave diagnoses of major depression and OCD and prescribed various different medications and admitted her for treatment in mental health wards/hospitals. She attempted suicide a number of times and was self harming regularly and her poor husband was at the end of his tether, just trying to keep her alive and frustrated as hell with the lack of assistance he was getting from the mental health professionals (especially in the public system).
As you can read about in another blog I’ve written, the public health system was dismal, and it became evident quickly that we needed to stay within the private health system wherever possible to gain proper care. Eventually through doing this we met a psychiatrist who actually asked for my entire history (pretty much what you’ve just read) and it was he who put two and two together and diagnosed me as bipolar. A diagnosis that had been a very long time coming and a blessing in a weird way.
He then changed my medication to suit my new diagnosis and suggested a round of electroconvulsive therapy. As terrified as I was, I trusted him and my husband (who had researched it himself and was confident it could help me) and I agreed to a round (12 sessions) of ECT. Miraculously, after completing the ECT I was well enough to go home and be safe.
This was not a cure for my bipolar but simply a way to subdue the symptoms for an extended period of time, which is exactly what it did. Since that first round I have had another few rounds (to treat both mania and depression), and each time I come out in a better frame of mind, without the urge to harm myself and with the strength to face everyday life. I must add however that it is not just the ECT that does this, it is also the medication and my lifestyle that must all be balanced just right to keep me in a good state of mind.
So that is the story of how I came to be diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder (and OCD). If you have any questions please feel free to ask them.