I’m Cara, a mental health nurse and blogger from the South of England. I am a passionate advocate for mental health awareness having struggled with mental illness since my early teens, and I hope that through my writing and public speaking I am able to make a difference. I’m also a cat lady, veggie and a feminist and I love to travel.
How does it feel to live with bipolar disorder?
Bipolar can be a strange illness to have at times. It falls under a category of mental illnesses known as ‘severe and enduring’; everything we know about it so far suggests that it is a life long condition with generally poor outcomes, and it often increases in severity with time. With all that in mind, it sounds like a pretty scary thing to live with. And it is.
When I’m unwell, I am really unwell. I have been so depressed that I haven’t moved for days. My boyfriend has had to carry me to the bath and bring me water to drink. I have cried until my body is simply too exhausted to cry anymore.
I’ve been so high that I’ve spend hundreds upon hundreds of pounds on things I can’t recall. I’ve had ideas that have never materialised. I’ve thought somebody was in my garden and that my water was contaminated.
These episodes are horrible. They have a significant impact on my life and affect how I function. I feel either the worst version of myself or the best, yet neither are who I truly am when I am stable. With that said, most of the time I am well. That’s the thing about bipolar disorder. Although for some people they will find it very difficult to maintain any sort of stability, for most of us we can go long periods of time – months and sometimes even years – without any episodes at all.
Sometimes that can make me feel a little fraudulent. I recently went three years without an episode until a relapse in late 2018. How can I be a mental health campaigner when I have been well for so long? I questioned whether I even had the right diagnosis. I know through my job that there are people with bipolar who’s quality of life is severely impaired and I felt almost guilty that I was putting myself out there as somebody with the same diagnosis. But the thing about mental illness is that it sneaks up on you when you least expect it, and unfortunately I did find myself unwell again, as I know I will on and off throughout the course of my life.
This is why, for me, it is a strange illness to have. I can live huge periods of my life feeling well, safe and happy, yet it is always there. I don’t wake up in the morning with an anxiety about what I will be feeling that day, because I mostly feel the same as the day before. If I am depressed I’ll probably wake up depressed. If I feel okay I’ll probably feel okay the next day. If I’m manic then…well, I just wont go to sleep at all. This isn’t an illness that impairs my functioning day in, day out. Yet it is still there, lurking, waiting for a time when I am feeling more vulnerable to reappear.
So if, in future, somebody tells you they have a mental illness but they seem fine, please remember this: these things are not mutually exclusive. Most of the time I am fine, but I will always have bipolar, and the underlying anxiety that it will never leave me is there every day. Mental illness is invisible but very, very real, and it affects everybody in different ways. People are often surprised to find out that I have a mental illness because I am ‘high functioning’, but the reality is that most of us are. You don’t have to look ill to be ill.
Note from Libby:
Bipolar is such a misunderstood illness and I would like to say a massive thank you to Cara for sharing their experience with bipolar disorder and helping to raise awareness.