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What it’s like to be trapped in a bipolar mind

“I threw all my medication into a fountain, and then got on my hands and knees to fish out as many pills as possible… I feel like I am on a bullet train, or I am a bullet train, or a bomb; my fingers themselves feel like they are made of lightning…”

Bipolar Disorder is one of the most stigmatised mental illnesses out there. Often misconstrued in TV and film as a romanticised flitting between being happy and impulsive, and depressed. However, there is much more to the illness than that. In fact, there are two forms of the disorder referred to as Bipolar 1 and Bipolar 2.

In the first case the sufferer fluctuates between moderate sadness, “normal” levels and extreme mania. The second between moderate mania (or in this case elation), “normal” levels and extreme depression. Bipolar disorder can never have both extreme depression and extreme mania present in a sufferer. The following video is by Kati Morton, MFTI., a therapist with a wide range of Youtube videos explaining different disorders. She further explains the variations of Bipolar.

Below Imogen Iliffe-Lyons tells her story of dealing with Bipolar 1 Disorder: how she dealt with the realisation of her illness, hospitals, medication, self-harm and more, which in turn give us insight into the mind of someone who is forced to deal with this burden. In doing so we hope to battle the stigma of Bipolar Disorder and raise awareness about what it is really like to live with these illnesses everyday.


“It is three in the morning and I have not slept more than eight hours over the past five days. Even typing this is hard – hard to focus, to stop myself from going off on tangents. If I were speaking, I would be talking so quickly that it is almost impossible to understand me. This sentence, the one I am typing right now, is taking a while; my brain is going much faster than my fingers.

I am bipolar… apparently. I say “apparently” because I’m starting to doubt this, which is common behaviour in bipolar. See, I have the insight to recognise that it is a symptom, but fairly soon I might not. I threw all my medication into a fountain, and then got on my hands and knees to fish out as many pills as possible, in case it damaged the ecosystem.  I feel like I am on a bullet train, or I am a bullet train or a bomb; my fingers themselves feel like they are made of lightning or maybe ichor.

I was diagnosed at twenty, after years of mood swings. They say bipolar is a rollercoaster (typing this has sent my mind off on a tangent about playgrounds; I’ll try to rein it in. Except now I’m looping around the punning possibilities of reign/rein…) and that’s accurate as far as my experience goes.

“Around 5.7 million Americans suffer from Bipolar Disorder according to the National Institute of Mental Health”

During A-levels, I was depressed, day-drinking to try to feel better, self-harming multiple times a day, and dreaming of death. By freshers week, once I’d stumbled my way through my exams, I was on the upswing: sleeping around, insulting people, getting into arguments with my new flatmates. Then, I hit a new high, and started believing I was special and that God had anointed me and I had a mission. This mission was never revealed to me. I wrecked a new, wobbly friendship, spent all my loan and flung myself deep into my overdraft, buying clothes I’ve still not worn. After the rise comes the fall and I crashed back down to a dark depression. This was bad.

During this depression, my housemates told me they could not live with me next year – they had to focus on their dissertations, which I suppose is somewhat harder to do when your housemate is rambling about Thoreau or something. Still, it upset me, and – depressed as I was – a solution presented itself. I took an overdose of medication. In hospital, where I was kept overnight, in a room full of snoring, coughing strangers who looked at me oddly I was assessed by staff. They sent me home, and the Home Treatment Team came round that day with two weeks’ worth of the antidepressant Fluoxetine.

“As many as 1 in 5 sufferers of Bipolar commit suicide if not treated correctly”

This was a bad move, because like it does for many people with bipolar, it sent me completely loopy. I thought I was Joan of Arc, and that Google was reading my thoughts. I was writing reams and reams of unintelligible poetry, and my essays grew bloated and strange. (My mind has now hit upon an image of bloated corpses and marshes and the stench of death, which at this moment is inconvenient). Somehow I was maintaining good marks in my university work while sleeping two or three hours a night. During those early hours of the morning when I was awake, I would pace and pace and pace, reading for hours about conspiracy theories or religion. I started going to church again, where I sat there with my hands pressed to my head in an attempt to quieten the thoughts, stopping myself from singing or laughing.

I saw a mentor at university, since I was diagnosed with depression, and in this state told her how I was going to be a ballerina. I had watched Billy Elliot the day before, and it seemed pretty easy to me. I wrote a book, full of strange thoughts and paranoia, in three days. I was drinking more and more, taking drugs, sleeping with people I’d met half an hour ago, and I was deliriously happy. She dispatched me to the GP, who gave me a sedative. I slept.

I am fairly sure that sleep was the only thing standing between me and hospitalisation. I saw a psychiatrist, who told me I was bipolar, which I found quite funny at the time. This whole episode came just before my exams in second year, which I have yet to take since they were deferred. I started rhyming everything I was saying, posting long rambles in Facebook groups about the universe and its nature and the hidden, secretive universe which only I could see.

Teetering between extremes is really difficult. I am meant to be on soul-sapping medication. I have terrible scars and wrecked friendships, and my mind is hard to control sometimes. It is hard to explain the rush, the sheer euphoria, of mania apart from it feels like how a fire might feel, or how the sun feels as it rises. This feeling is why I threw my medication away. It feels like the whole of creation is here for me to witness, like I am chosen and special. The crash will come, the tide will turn, and I will be miserable in a while – but for now, I am holy.”

While often times medication can create ugly side-effects in patients there are still huge benefits for those suffering from mental illness; especially Bipolar.

If you think yourself or someone you know may be suffering from Bipolar check out the following links for more information:

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