Bipolar disorder Pendulum: stories and information Ten Things That I Took From the Bipolar UK Conference Anna Grace recaps ten of her emerging thoughts following the Bipolar UK conference. 1. I am not Alone Although this is something that I have known in principle, it was nice to be in a room where I was not the odd one out. I met some amazing people and had some conversations where I suddenly realised this fact. I heard a range of stories, both similar and different to mine. I found out that 1.3 million people in the United Kingdom live with bipolar disorder, in this country there are over 1 million people who live with similar experiences to mine. 1.3 million people who understand what my life may be like. 2. I can still have kids Something that I have worried about is having kids. From research I did when I was first diagnosed, I understood that bipolar disorder is likely passed down through genetics. Therefore, I was always worried about whether I should have kids incase they developed bipolar disorder too. However, I went to an excellent talk by Dr Clare Dolman and Dr Ian Jones who made it clear that despite the fact that bipolar disorder can run in families, so can diabetes, so I shouldn’t feel guilty. Furthermore, their advice on post-natal depression made me feel reassured, and I feel optimistic about the idea of having children in my future. 3. I may not have to be consistently medicated for the rest of my life Some people who have lived with the disorder for a long time are experienced enough to recognise their mood swings before they’re coming and medicate themselves only for that period of time. Although, this is not something that I am ready to do yet, it is nice to think that perhaps in the future I will be at a point where I only have to medicate myself if my mood is unstable! 4. I can make a difference by getting involved in research There are loads of organisations that run studies in order to understand more about bipolar disorder. Although I knew that there were studies, the Bipolar UK conference provided information on how to get involved in these studies. One of the organisations that I talked to was the NCMH who run studies from Cardiff University, they then provide information from the studies in order to help those who live with various different disorders. NCMH help us with research 5. I am not only my disorder Although I already have come to a place where I can identify outside of my bipolar disorder, it was nice to hear it being re-iterated. There were many amazing people at the conference such as April Kelley and Juliette Burton who talked about their careers that are not specifically related to their bipolar disorder. Although they bipolar disorder was a part of who they were, and contributed to their careers, they were able to live their lives with their bipolar disorder being only a part of who they were. 6. There’s a lot more to come (in terms of research and treatment) One of the first talks was by Dr Allan Young who discussed the medication Lithium in detail. Although it’s been used as a treatment for bipolar disorder for a long period of time there is still a lot of research to be done in terms of discovering its full potential as a treatment, and also what it’s long term effects may be. It was suggested that further research may show that lithium could be used to treat uni-polar depression and maybe even early stage dementia. 7. I have a purpose This seems like something that may be obvious, however, I have always felt like a backseat passenger in my life, like I had no purpose. By seeing all of the amazing thing people have done whilst living with their bipolar disorder, I was reminded that I can still have purpose too. 8. The importance of being informed This is something that I whole heartedly believe. The more you know about your bipolar disorder, the more you can be prepared for the uncertainties, work towards self-management and make decisions in the best interest of yourself. For me, I find comfort in information. I like to know that I have done everything within my power to look after myself and therefore having as much information as possible allows me to do this. I found the Bipolar UK conference fantastic in this respect and I feel a lot more confident in my knowledge of bipolar disorder. 9. Predominant polarity exists Predominant polarity is when someone experiences one mood more than another, for example 5% people with bipolar 1 experience only mania without any episodes of depression. Before I was diagnosed I experienced mainly depression with only a few minor cases of hypomania, this is why it took me nearly 4 years to get a diagnosis. It was helpful to know that it is common for people to experience more of one mood than the other as again, this made me feel less alone and also, more legitimate. 10. I can learn to embrace my bipolar disorder Although I have been trying to be positive about my diagnosis, all in all, I have found it very difficult. When we were asked to consider whether we would turn off our bipolar disorder or not, I was leaning towards yes, there are aspects about my life that are very difficult and things would be a lot simpler if I could turn off the disorder. However, after hearing the panel of fantastic speakers (Tony Slattery, Luyando Malawo, April Kelley and Juliette Burton) I started to reconsider. Bipolar disorder is one of the things that makes me unique. A fantastic point was made that bipolar is the extremes of mood, meaning that it adds things to me rather than takes things away. Yes, the additions can make life difficult but as stated by April Kelley, is also adds ‘a little spark of genius’.