Daniel Evans explains the absolute lows of hitting rock bottom and his experience of the path of redemption whilst living with bipolar disorder.

Bipolar is exceptionally challenging

I began getting sick (or rather, severely sick) approximately five years ago. After several misdiagnoses, largely of severe depression (and the unsuccessful treatments that went with it), and after a complete mental collapse, professional implosion and falling from a great height, relational disintegration, hospitalisation and various brushes with the law I was diagnosed with 'acute bipolar 1 disorder with psychosis'.

I will not try to downplay the severity of the bipolar I live with. It is exceptionally challenging. The mania, of which everyone is familiar, spills over from the delusional and paranoid to the actually psychotic (hopefully I don’t need to explain to people that a person living with psychosis is not the same as a psychopath). This is when horrendous things happen, extremely aggressive and hostile, extreme self-harm and an entire disconnect with reality. The depression, at its most extreme has rather the same effect. There is absolutely no control or ceiling whatsoever on my mood and, generally triggered by some sort of stress, positive or negative, it ascends into space or disintegrates into oblivion. These worlds then meld into a dystopian horror where I see things that aren’t there, hear things that aren’t said, feel things that aren’t real, and have been, I am sorry to say actually dangerous in the psychotic episodes when they have occurred. Put it simply, bipolar disorder as it has worsened over the years has rendered me the definition of a maniac. I am a diagnosable lunatic, an allegedly prodigious man of great achievements entirely wrecked and ravaged by bipolar disorder.

Bipolar medication

Once the diagnosis was made, my doctor (I am lucky enough to have been able to afford private care) had the unenviable and mammoth task of trying to dismantle this disaster and try and put the pieces back together – of my brain, my psyche, and my life. In one of the great fortunes of my life (and my fiancée’s), this man is an expert of the mind and has, over time, done the impossible. First, he had to quell the mania as this was generally speaking the most dangerous aspect of my case, and needed to be done urgently before I either died or someone else did. So, I was prescribed Olanzapine for that. This immediately squashed the manic episodes and rendered me immediately “safe” again.

This was in November 2019. Various side effects such as weight gain, dulled thinking, faulty memory, anhedonia, dykenisia, but on balance gains outweighed the losses. Next by February 2020 he had to treat the depression, so we went on lamotrigine for that which takes an age to work but lifted my mood, after a flirt with Fluoxetine which was a disaster and caused me to be talking gibberish, insomniac and weeping. More time passed but still the mood not lifted enough and very anxious. So he then added Lithium to the mix in December 2020, which further dragged the depressive mood up and enable me to do some basic functioning (like self-care and leaving the house), as well as reduced the Olanzapine. Many side effects at this point – drinking 6 litres of water a day, constant need to urinate, upset stomach, very dull memory, no drive or creativity, no feeling pleasure, dulled emotions, still sleeping too much from Olanzapine, tremor, shaking and quasi-diabetic symptoms, problems with coordination, generally pacing and chain-smoking with perpetual anxiety. The 'bipolar' (in the literal sense) was gone but I was living a pretty miserable existence. Even going to the corner shop was a fairly terrifying task and I would lie on the bed constantly worrying about whether I would ever have my  life back again.

Getting a medication review

But tackling these various symptoms in order of severity, wiggling around with the doses, and giving time for them to settle to establish what remained a problem was all part of the doctor’s careful plan. I went back to him in May 2021 and said to him that whilst I hadn’t had any manic or depressive episodes in 18 months (which was some achievement!), I was essentially living a husk of a life downtrodden by side effects and without pleasure or hope. So, he thought for a bit, we discussed some options, and then he decided to add Sertraline to my ratatouille of pills.

The result was nothing short of a miracle. I’m not sure if I believe in God, but if there is one then this was him finally giving me a break after half a decade of the devil having grabbed me. It did nothing for a month, and then like some bolt of lightning over the space of about a day, it came to me – I realised I was no longer anxious, I was no longer sad, I was no longer afraid, I was no longer hopeless. But, bizarrely, all the side effects (of which as I’ve said there was a litany) of the other drugs had gone. All the lithium problems, gone. The olanzapine dullness, gone. Emotions, joy, excitement, a connection with the beauty in the world, the savouring of the time in each day rather than the impatiently waiting for it to end, all back! Most of all, I was returned. My brain, my intellect, my memory, my coordination, my speed of thought. My character, my real personality, my nature, the person I am rather than what illness turned me into. I’m told I am by nature a kind, obliging, very eccentric and gentle being (ill, I was none of these things). I could be myself again – and finally give my fiancée the real version of me rather than the wild invalid she had cared for in the hope that the goodness lay beneath.

Recovering from bipolar

Therefore, I hope I can illustrate that even from a horrendous case of this illness that we share, if one is blessed with a capable and compassionate physician, there is endless hope and light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. I sincerely believed I would either die from this illness or that my life would be reduced from a privileged existence to living in wretched penury for the rest of my existence. As it stands, I now live in a beautiful house in one of the smartest areas of London, with my beautiful fiancée who has supported me through every step of this journey, fully possessed of my faculties again, and can say, aged 33,  I have been afflicted with a extremely severe illness which I am now in complete remission from and see no reason (provided I take the stabilising drugs that enable me to function for the rest of my life) to ever relapse again. I am now fully able to experience love, happiness, joy, wonder, euphoria, humour, and the miracle of life with even more excitement than before I became sick. This is not a life sentence, it has taken some two years of my life from hitting the trenches of the awful to find the cocktail of wonderdrugs that exactly balance my brain but we have succeeded and I have the rest of my life to look forward to.  

Daniel Evans