Extreme mood swings

The first time I can remember feeling depressed was when I was about 14-15. I remember just not seeing the point in life and I wasn’t excited for the future. When I was 16, I was prescribed Prozac, which initially helped me to feel better. This quickly escalated into me becoming very reckless, overtly sexual, argumentative and aggressive with nearly everyone around me.

Eventually I had a full meltdown in the middle of our very small town and at one point laid down in front of a bus in the middle of the road. I was not actually suicidal, but I just lost it and felt like I had no control over myself, what I said or what I did. I did not have much awareness for the chaos I was causing around me.

I decided that the pills I had been given just did not work for me and were making things worse, so I just stopped taking them and carried on with my life.

Over the years that followed my life was very turbulent. In hindsight, I now realise this came from a mixed place of undiagnosed bipolar and CPTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder). One triggered the other and I was in a relentless cycle of being ‘very busy’ or extremely low and in turn numbing out using substances, alcohol, work, food, fitness, control etc.

Symptoms of hypomania

My friends would always describe me as someone who bounced off the walls with 100 projects on the go at any given time. I would say that I spent a good 10 years in a typically higher state than a lower state, never needing much sleep and always full of new ideas. I was riding the hypomanic wave and it felt great… most of the time. I felt like I was acing life, running the show, everyone else was either too slow or stupid, or just generally needed to get out of my way. I was like a steam train that had no way of stopping, even if I wanted it to.

Eventually life threw some unexpected bad news my way which triggered me to go higher & higher. I had two family members die around the same period and my mum suffered a seizure that left her in hospital unable to move one side of her body. I was so worried we would lose my mum. She had very little recollection of where she was or what had happened, and at one point suffered a very violent fit in front of me. Thankfully, she went on to make a full recovery. During this turbulent period, I left a long relationship, met someone else, got married and had a huge fallout with my stepfather.

My mental state was reaching all-time highs! I needed very little sleep, was running several businesses whilst starting several more, being reckless with my finances and arguing with just about everybody (I could have argued with a wooden door given half the opportunity!). I was also going to the gym and working out for 4-5 hours per day, 7 days a week.

Depression hits

Then BANG, overnight I could not get out of bed, I could not think, I couldn’t function, I just couldn’t do any of it anymore…

From this point I slipped in to a deep & dreadful depression. I remember the feeling of utter devastation each & every time I would wake up in the morning. Nothing to look forward to other than darkness and a day plagued with regular panic attacks. Hot tears would burn my cheeks, I just couldn’t do another day.

Because of my experience of taking Prozac in my teens I did not want to take any medication. I was terrified of what it would do to me and ultimately what it would mean. I had convinced myself over the years that healing was simply mind-over-matter, and with a positive outlook you could achieve anything.

I went to the doctors and they offered me medication for my depression, I refused. I tried everything. I tried crystal healing, colour therapy, spiritual healing, herbal remedies, acupuncture and many others. Truth be told, by this point I had been in a state of deep depression for over six months. I was suicidal and was planning how I could end my life.

Assessment and diagnosis

I had hit rock bottom, something had to change. A lot of this period is a blur. With the help of my friend, I eventually decided to go back to the doctors and accept a low dose of antidepressants (a new kind that wouldn’t make me feel as bad as the Prozac). I took my first dose with tears streaming down my face and felt a wide array of emotions. I was resentful, fearful, hopeful.

Within less than two weeks I started to feel a lot better, and in the weeks that followed I felt even better again… and then it tipped, I felt twitchy, paranoid, frightened and I couldn’t sleep. I started to feel crazy and was struggling to gather my thoughts - everything was racing. I stayed up all day and all night with the curtains closed, researching god knows what information on the internet, to this day I still cannot remember.

There were some painters that were working on the outside of the apartments. They came every day over a few weeks and in my paranoid frenzy I was convinced they were there to spy on me. I started shouting and screaming at them out of the windows, telling them to stop spying on me and that I was going to call the police etc.

The truth is, I hadn’t washed for two weeks, I was living in the dark with the curtains permanently shut, pointlessly shuffling papers from place-to-place in my apartment thinking people were being sent to spy on me… I really wasn’t well.

My friend came back to see me and said “Emma this can’t be depression alone, this has to be something more.” We went back to the doctors and I was referred to the psychiatric team for assessment.

I got assessed and had to track my mood every day using the Bipolar UK mood scale. I remember looking at the scale and reading the description of ‘5’ thinking it was some kind of trick, surely it was impossible that anyone in the world could actually feel like that:

5 - Mood in balance, no symptoms of depression or mania. Life is going well, and the outlook is good

After a full assessment I was given the diagnosis of bipolar. I was prescribed mood stabilisers. For the first time in my life my thoughts were navigating in a straight line, there was some peace and quiet in my head as opposed to the constant racing of thoughts and ‘always on’ mode that I had had for so much of my life.

Now I manage my life with a whole range of tools. Medication is just one of these tools and I am forever grateful for it. During my darkest hour it truly saved my life, and probably the lives of those around me too considering how reckless I had been at times!