I’ve felt a little ashamed as friends have tried to raise awareness of mental illness on Facebook and Twitter. I’ve shared the posts, I’ve even commented, but I haven’t used my public platform to share my own diagnosis. Like others in the same situation, who struggle with mental illness daily, I worried about the consequences, the affect on my career and the whispers the announcement would create.
I was diagnosed with bipolar over 3 years ago, it took the NHS over 15 years to diagnose me. I have cyclothymia, the one Stephen Fry was labelled with before he was upgraded to bipolar 1
Cyclothymia is considered to be the “best” type of bipolar for working mums like me. (These are not my words, they are the words of the psychiatrist who diagnosed me). This is because I’m not considered a risk to the children, so don’t have to deal with social services as I would should I be diagnosed with bipolar 1. (Which terrifies me, if I’m honest!).
As soon as I was diagnosed I began to shout about it to raise awareness but found that this is a double edged sword. Some clients dropped off and others refused to hire me, believing that this diagnosis would suddenly make me unreliable and difficult to deal with.
Without boasting, (ok, maybe a little bit) before the diagnosis, I won many business and copywriting awards along with over 600 five star testimonials. How could one little word, such as cyclothymia, change all that, especially in the creative industry?
I’m paid to think outside of the box (to not use phrases like that too), I’m used for my ideas, my knack of revealing the truth and my psychology skills that give me a unique empathy with a consumer that is ideal for building a brand voice.
Apparently, according to some bipolar means a bit less than that, it throws up images of sick days, (when in reality I’ve never taken one, I actually work more than most as I find it hard to stop), of victimisation, of selfishness, of unreliability and instability. It’s madness, and probably the reason so many avoid the diagnosis, or keep it hidden.
The ironic truth is, if I didn’t have bipolar, I probably wouldn’t be as good at my job as I am. The two go perfectly together and heightened emotions give me extraordinary insights not afforded to others, whereas, on a high, my creativity blossoms.
I’m lucky, I’m a marketer and a writer, I’m also very hyper, most of the time. My family actually look forward to the lows as I stop and take time out, and I’m easier to pin down, whereas on a high, trying to have a decent conversation is like trying to nail jelly to a wall. I can be quite rude, I can interrupt and lose interest quickly but I’m also told I’m a lot of fun too. Just ask my kids (and the family members who call me immature occasionally).
In both states I can be highly creative, like two different people I see arguments from two sides. My empathy overflows, which can leave me feeling raw and vulnerable but as the yin to my yang of the high, the balance, for me is just right.
I know I’m fortunate here, as others, without medication, don’t have this luxury and do need to hide from the world until the low passes. On medication, my lows don’t sink too far, I can handle them, whereas the psychologist generously made sure I could still enjoy the highs – who needs alcohol? Seriously though, it’d kill me so I really don’t.
For a long time I became ashamed of my diagnosis. I regretted my decision to write on it for Yahoo! Lifestyle and begged them to take the article down (it’s still there and rightly so, I did sign a contract). I hid my bipolar from everyone and envied Stephen Fry for being at such a stage of success in his life that it didn’t matter who knew. In my fuzzy state and self-deprecation I couldn’t see further than my own nose. As a writer I wanted to raise awareness but self-preservation prevented me from making any noise.
Then came an epiphany. I found myself in a corporate rut where I lived to work, not worked to live. In the trappings of modern life, I’d taken on more and more jobs I hated just because I saw the pound signs. Our houses grew alongside our bank balance and useless technology made me feel like a success that was until I stopped my medication and woke up and smelt the coffee (albeit the superior Sea Island hand ground type).
I realised I was deeply unhappy, and by hiding a truth from everyone else I was hiding from myself. I’d become superficially successful, but forgot the meaning of true success.
Did I want to be a pen pusher that lived in a world where individuality was ignored and corporations ruled? Did I really set out on the path of copywriter to be a marketer that cared more about search engine position than the quality of the article?
In this rut I was stuck. If I left, we’d be homeless, if I stayed, my bipolar would easily jump to the next level.
Yesterday I made the first step and this is why I’m writing this article, I want to embrace my cyclothymia for clients and editors to see it as an asset rather than a disability, and to get back on the path I’d drawn for myself when I started as a writer over 10 years ago… it’s a risk, but I’m confident that if I can find a way out, and still maintain a roof over our heads, anyone can!