Living with bipolar has undoubtedly been a challenge. I was diagnosed at the age of 27 after years of mental health struggles. I have been in hospital several times, sectioned, declared bankrupt twice and I have attempted suicide many times. Unfortunately, I have also spent time in police cells, convicted of criminal offenses and nearly been sent to prison because of the way my behavior manifests during a manic episode. I have lost friends, relationships and caused my family a lot of worry and stress.

That aside, I have gained strength, courage, and a voice. I have learned to use the difficult times as fuel for my future. I am now working with junior doctors to educate them on the illness and teach them the importance of fair, fast treatment.

Some behaviours can be symptoms of bipolar

We are often mistreated, judged or dismissed with this illness and that’s what needs to stop.

Instead of being punished for having an illness that is so difficult to understand, we need acknowledgement that we are unwell, crisis support, treatment in hospital, appropriate care plans, regular medication reviews and if necessary we need to be sectioned under the mental health act and monitored closely by ward staff to keep us safe.

During a manic episode, I become a monster version of myself - but I don’t have control of it - it’s not a choice to act that way, it’s my illness taking hold and rearing its ugly head.

Mania is for me the most challenging part of bipolar. For me it happens very quickly - it often stems from a low mood, sometimes it can be triggered by trauma, such as a bereavement or a difficult relationship breakdown. At other times it seems to creep up on me out of nowhere.

If I start sleeping less, I’m becoming unwell

I know when my sleep begins to deteriorate that I am becoming unwell, then before I know it I am wide awake most of the night, getting up and out of the house at 5am with no clear plans or structure to build my day around.

My mood is elevated, my behavior is strange, I become hostile, aggressive, over reactive, promiscuous. I present myself differently - wearing loud colours, strange hairstyles and too much makeup.

I engage in risky behaviours, I have endless, unhealthy amounts of energy, I spend excessive amounts of money on things I don't need, get tattoos on the spur of the moment, take drugs if they are offered to me. I drink a lot of alcohol and gravitate towards people who are a bad influence.

I appear confident but I’m actually very vulnerable

I push those who truly care about me away, refusing to acknowledge their concerns. I don't have the capacity to recognise how unwell I am, putting stress and strain on my friends and family - disrupting their lives and in turn, their mental health suffers as well.

Although outwardly I appear massively over confident, flamboyant, loud and full of myself during a manic episode this is actually when I am at my most vulnerable.

Instead of being told my behaviour is unacceptable I need someone to acknowledge that the way I am presenting is part of my illness - in the same way a physical illness would be recognised. If I had a broken arm I would get assessed, treated and appropriate aftercare.

I have often been met with rejection, no recognition that I am unwell, my medical notes not so much as glanced at, then told I can recover in the community. Then as my symptoms continue to worsen and the mania escalates, the police get involved and in my case I was pushed down the criminal justice system along with many others.

I want our voices to be heard

It is so hard to rebuild your life after an episode of mania - your world falls apart and you are left trying to pick up the pieces along with the burden of a criminal record, financial struggles and a lot of trauma to carry around.

The feelings of guilt and shame are very triggering for me, but I now have an amazing psychiatrist, a good balance of medication that has taken years to figure out and I have had some therapy that has been helpful. But it has taken complaints to the trust and many meetings, a lot of long discussions and ultimately it has been a real battle to get the care I need.

All I want is our voices to be heard and a shift in the way we are thought of and handled when unwell. If I had control during an episode I would NEVER act this way.

When I am well I am calm

When I am well I am a kind, calm, loyal, respectable person and I keep myself to myself. There are a lot of blurred lines around capacity and as long as I live I will keep working and talking to support myself and others with bipolar.

If you have a diagnosis of bipolar, always remember you are never alone, you are strong, brave and loved and you deserve to be happy.

There is always a way forward. Use your experiences of the illness as an opportunity to make change. Rather than giving up, try to adapt and overcome hurdles. Most importantly, never ever quit.

Find Ruth on Instagram: @imhereforyou__.__

Last updated: 28 February 2023