For more than a decade, Katie fought a lonely battle with her mental health and had no answers. But now, after finally being diagnosed as bipolar, she faces the future with confidence
At 26, it seemed I had my life sorted. I had a successful career, an active social life, and a steady, loving relationship. However in my head, in my own reality, my life was crumbling.
I had been trapped in a cycle of extreme mood swings since I was a teenager, and all I wanted was for it to stop. In the months before, I had been manic and out of control. I hadn’t slept and spent money I didn’t have. I caused two car accidents and acted on impulse, while being extremely intense and talkative, or angry and irrational. Now, vicious voices in my head shouted and screamed at me to end it all. I couldn’t see a way forward, and I felt eerily calm about the idea of taking my own life.
My life had changed at 14. Although I was living in a stable, caring family home, I became severely depressed. It had been building for months, and I became more withdrawn; I didn’t understand why I felt numb and worthless, or why I no longer cared if I was alive. I ended up not going to school for six months. But then I saw a psychologist and felt I could speak openly about my feelings. I wanted to get better, which was vital to the process.
Yet something strange happened when I returned to school. I became increasingly confident, loud and brash – everyone noticed, but I felt like nothing was wrong. I felt the best I ever had.
I decided to go to university, and that’s where my behaviour and moods started to unravel. I would sleep less than three hours a night, hardly ate, and started to hear voices. I would go out partying, straight to my job at 5am, then lectures, and start all over again that night. I never felt tired, just full of life.
Without warning my mood crashed. I hid in my room, scared to bump into anyone and have to explain why my behaviour had changed so drastically. I dropped out of university in the first year, desperately depressed.
My life became a cycle of churning moods – from ecstatically high to incredibly low, and seemed to be controlled by them. I studied childcare at college, but became angry and combative towards my lecturers. I ended up walking out in a fit of rage, two months before graduating. Luckily, I found an apprenticeship in childcare.
This was when I first started taking antidepressants. But instead of stabilising me, they made me feel superhuman and I would stop taking them, convinced everything was all right.
I had two serious relationships, which both ended because they couldn’t deal with how much I would change, month by month. They never knew which Katie they were going to get.
I started to believe that I was a broken person, who was intrinsically flawed and would never find happiness. Then I started seeing Jimi when I was 23. We instantly clicked. He had a calming influence and wouldn’t overreact at my sometimes bizarre behaviour. We moved in together and I started as a family worker for a group of children’s centres – a job I was passionate about, making a difference.
I no longer feel frightened and alone, I feel in control and positive about the future
From the outside I seemed to have a perfect life, but inside I was struggling. Doctors didn’t understand why my physical health was suffering, or why I kept coming back depressed and exhausted.
The voices in my head grew louder and more intrusive. When I was depressed, I would lie in bed begging them to go away. Sometimes they would urge me to be more impulsive, more reckless. These voices filled me with confidence and a surge of adrenaline. They became a major part of my life and I missed them when they were gone.
This experience of psychosis, along with a long, intense period of hyperactive behaviour, led me to the lowest I had ever felt. I had to leave the job I loved, and became suicidal. It was like my life had come full circle, and I felt like that frightened 14-year-old again. I was exhausted from spending a decade in a battle with my mind. I felt there were no answers, and no hope.
Finally, in December 2012, I was given an answer: I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Although the diagnosis didn’t solve everything, it showed me I wasn’t flawed; I was ill.
Eventually I found a mix of medications that worked for me, and I began to experience times when I felt stable. I started going to a Bipolar UK support group, where I no longer felt alone. The group discussions helped me spot the warning signs and identify that alcohol, a lack of sleep, and stress triggered my episodes.
Jimi and I got married in 2015. He is compassionate, caring, and the most supportive person in my life. I feel truly lucky to have found someone who has taken my illness in his stride and been able to see beyond it – to see me as a person. With his support, I’ve been able to accept my diagnosis.
I started writing a blog, Stumbling Mind, and I’ve found it really therapeutic. This lead to me writing for charities and websites. I’m not afraid to be open with others, and have had so much support from friends, family, and complete strangers.
Although I can’t work full-time, writing has given me a renewed sense of purpose. I’ve learnt that although I’ve had to make adjustments to my life, I can still live well. Bipolar doesn’t control me, and I’m more than a diagnosis.
Bipolar is a life-long condition, but it can be managed with the correct treatment. I still suffer from difficult episodes of mania and depression, but I’m continually learning to educate myself and manage my condition. I no longer feel frightened and alone, but instead I feel in control and positive about the future.
Graeme Orr | MBACP (Accred) UKRCP Reg Ind counsellor, says:
Katie experienced mood swings and critical voices from her teenage years, which impacted her education and relationships. Things improved on meeting her partner, who helped her to cope. After getting her bipolar diagnosis, she finally found her self-belief, started receiving treatment, and met support groups. Mental illness can overwhelm us, and seem like we’re the only one feeling this way. But recognising symptoms, and getting support can really change our lives.