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BY ANDREW ROYAL EMOTIONS REPORT PO AR BEING BIPOLAR IS NOT THE END OF THE WORLD. IT IS NOT A LIFE SENTENCE, NOR IS IT A DISABILITY. I CAN WRITE THE ABOVE SENTENCE, NOT BECAUSE I THINK ALL PEOPLE LIVING WITH BIPOLAR JUST NEED TO PULL THEMSELVES TOWARDS THEMSELVES, BUT RATHER BECAUSE I WAS DIAGNOSED WITH BIPOLAR TYPE 1 AND HAVE BEEN LIVING WITH IT FOR THE PAST 10 YEARS. I have managed to overcome my diagnosis. I am not a slave to my bipolar. I don't ''suffer'' from bipolar. It is a part of me and I have accepted and embraced that it is who I am. Some people live with high blood pressure, others with an underactive thyroid, and some of us live with bipolar. These are all chronic disorders, and all of them are completely manageable through a regime of medication and healthy living. Bipolar is a mental illness characterised by extreme highs and extreme lows. It affects every portion of your life, from energy levels and moods to careers and personal relationships. Yes, bipolar is officially a mental illness, but I hate that term. I hate to be thought of as mentally ill. I rather think of myself as mentally awesome, or as my fitness band's coffee tracker refers to me an unpredictable unicorn. What could be more accurate? It makes dealing with the ''illness'' a whole lot easier. The NIH (National Institutes of Health) reports that symptoms of bipolar usually start before the age of 25. It can, however, take many years before the diagnosis is made. In my case it was six years and three psychiatrists before the diagnosis was made. This is not to say that the first two missed the elephant in the room. In my case, the bipolar took a few years to rear its ugly head to the full. My late teens involved me drinking, a lot, and abusing some drugs, mostly prescription painkillers and cough syrup. I thought what I was doing was normal behaviour, but looking back on it, I can see now that it was anything but. Substance abuse is an indicator of bipolar. I led a promiscuous lifestyle, not caring whom I hurt in the process. I lost friends because of that behaviour and moved right along, as if losing one of your best friends was nothing at all. I alienated my family through my erratic and abusive behaviour. I tore through life like a whirlwind, uprooting everything and throwing it aside when I was done. This lifestyle caught up with me when I turned 20. On the night before my birthday, I had my first blackout car accident. One moment I was at the bar — next I was waking up at home, my mother screaming at me that I had crashed my car. This wasn't enough to stop me. A few weeks later, blackout drunk again, I wrote my car off against a pole. I very nearly wrote my life off on the same night eight days in ICU, 256 stitches in my face and a cracked skull. This still was not enough to stop me. Eventually six months later, another car accident would bring me to my senses and I decided that I had to stop drinking. Six months of no drinking and things were no better in fact, they were worse. This prompted me to see my first psychiatrist. My initial diagnosis was temporal lobe epilepsy. At the time it made sense I was struggling with severe bouts of depression and there was evidence in an electroencephalogram (EEG) that there may have been some seizure activity in my brain. The initial treatment was anticonvulsants (a very common drug in treating bipolar depression) and tranquillisers to try to control the depression. For a while it worked. Things got no worse and even, dare I say, a little better. But my feelings of wanting to run away were there. I couldn't hold down a steady relationship and financially I was nowhere. Every month I would run out of money, prompting me to ask my mom for help. This continued for a few years until I had a major bout of depression. I was in the deepest doldrums and my outlook was not positive. I couldn't see howl could get out of this. And so started my relationship with my second psychiatrist. The diagnosis this time was severe mood disorder. Again, the diagnosis made sense. I was suffering from extreme depression, interspaced by hypomanic episodes. I know what you are saying the diagnosis should have been bipolar Type 2. I was treated as if it were Type 2, but this time the treatment was anticonvulsants, tranquillisers and, for good measure, an atypical antipsychotic (used to prevent severe mood swings in bipolar patients) was added. During the four years of treatment with this psychiatrist, we went through three different anticonvulsants and four different atypical antipsychotics, trying to find the perfect balance. Again, my mood lifted, but I couldn't shake that underlying feeling of doom. Externally I seemed to be coping a bit better, and I was I was able to hold down a steady job (okay, maybe not steady — three jobs in three years) and I seemed to be coping with my finances a little better. Internally, however, I was still fighting the inner demons. My mind would never still I was constantly exhausted. Cue the second half of 2008 my first, and thankfully my only, manic episode began. I tell everyone who will listen I will cope with any depression that comes gladly, if it means that I never have to experience another manic episode again. In hindsight, it was the most frightening experience of my life and I still get chills when I think of what happened. Everyone throws around the word ''manic'' with casual disregard of what it actually means. My depressions have affected those closest to me on many occasions, but my mania almost destroyed those relationships permanently. PsychCentral.com defines mania as being a ''period of at least one week where an elevated, expansive or unusually irritable mood, as well as notably persistent goal-directed activity is present''. My episode lasted eight months unchecked. Some ofthe indicators of mania are an inflated self-importance and delusions of grandeur, a decreased need to sleep (I would sometimes pull three all-nighters in a week with maybe a few hours' sleep on the remaining nights), racing and disconnected thought processes, increased creativity, and irritation and aggression. The one symptom of my episode, a common symptom in all mania cases, was an increase in my spending, and I don't mean just treating myself to something new. I drove myself into crippling debt, buying things I didn't need. Who needs 40 pairs of sneakers, many of them expensive limited editions? It was shoes, electronics and other luxury items. Often I didn't have money to eat by the middle of the month. I would constantly leech off my mother, sometimes approaching my brother and sister. When my debt came to a head in February 2009, and I needed a bailout on the scale of Greece or Spain, I flew into a rage when my father said no. My mother did bail me out at the time, but sometimes I think they should have let me learn my lesson. Looking back at that rage, I am surprised that my parents still speak to me and that I have the amazing relationship with both of them that I do today. A blessing in disguise happened in March 2009. The anticonvulsant I was taking began to poison my body. My body was crashing. My mother called another psychiatrist and was told to stop all my medication with immediate effect.This shock of no psychotropic medication in my body dropped me into an immediate and severe depression. I have never welcomed a depression with open arms as I did then. Making the diagnosis of bipolar Type 1 was easy from here. I was prescribed lithium, together with another anticonvulsant and a new atypical antipsychotic. Since 2009, I have been on exactly the same medication, with only the doses changing slightly. When I heard the diagnosis of bipolar, it felt as though the weight of the world had been lifted from my shoulders. For the first time in six years I felt free! Within a few days of the new drug regime, I began to feel better. Within three months, my feelings of flight and uneasiness had gone. I began to live a slightly more ''normal''life. Things settled down and, for the first time in my life, I began to feel balanced. And for the first time, I had complete and utter trust in my psychiatrist, an important factor in recovery. If you do not trust your psychiatrist, you will never fully accept your diagnosis. And acceptance is the first step to conquering bipolar — acceptance in your diagnosis and acceptance in your treatment plan. For me, however, the regime of medication was not enough. I still could not engage in a healthy romantic relationship I was still lost in where I was going with my life, and I just seemed A Memoir of Love and Madness to be hopping from career to career. In 2012, I began to see a therapist, mostly to try to sort out my relationship issues. For the first year we didn't even touch on relationships. I began a journey of self-actualisation, and a meaningful discovery of who I am and what my purpose in life is. I believe, without a shadow of doubt, that had I not found my therapist, I would still be wandering the badlands of life without purpose. Regular therapy, with a therapist you trust, is the second important step in your recovery. Throughout history there have been many famous people living with the condition. Perhaps most famously is Vincent Van Gogh. Although the diagnosis was never made medically, doctors' best guesses indicate that this is the condition the artist suffered from. And suffer he did. With no access to modern medicine, his life was a mess. Arguably the most talented and creative artist of all time, his life ended in a tragic way. Whether it was suicide or an accident (there are opposing theories about his death), his death was a direct result of his condition. Van Gogh's life shows the completely crippling nature of this disorder. There are many support groups in South Africa for bipolar patients if you find that you are struggling with your condition http //www.bipolar.co.za has a full list of the support groups around the country and http //www.sadag.org also has a good collection of resources for bipolar. by Rahla Xenopoulos is a great read for both those with bipolar and their families. This book will not cure you, but it will help you to understand and identify with the condition. If you are bipolar and you are struggling with your condition, the only piece of advice I can offer is ''reach out''. I know it may seem that there is no end I've been there. The best thing you can do is talk to someone, whether it is a family member or a friend, or sometimes even a complete stranger. Just saying ''I feel shit'' is the first step. It may seem a small thing to do, but it is usually the catalyst that is needed for things to get better. Don't be afraid to reach out. It is not a sign of weakness. Bipolar is a serious condition don't mistake the opening of this article as a disregard for this potentially crippling disorder. But it does not need to be crippling. Those with the condition can overcome the debilitating effects of bipolar. With a regime of the correct medication, regular therapy and a healthy and balanced lifestyle, you can overcome any of the negative effects and live life to the full. Eating healthily and exercising are essential therapies for bipolar. Getting into a good routine, including a good sleep routine, is paramount. If you look after yourself, and listen to your body, living with bipolar is completely manageable, even quite fun. The more you understand your body and mind, the better equipped you will be should another episode occur. Today I am in a committed, but, more importantly, healthy relationship. I have a successful career, and the relationship with my family and friends is better than I could ever have imagined.