Having bipolar, and the rollercoaster that it is, means you have periods where you feel a million bucks (highs) and then the other end of the spectrum, down and depressed (lows).
Amy-Ruth lives with bipolar disorder and started presenting with the Black Dog Institute in 2022
My psychiatrist first introduced me to the Black Dog Institute in 2011 to use as a resource of information, and to help me manage my bipolar disorder. In 2022 I saw that they had opportunities for presenters with lived experience of mental illness. I’m passionate about reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness in the public domain, presenting is a practical way I can do this. Presenting also enables me to meet new people who I can share my story with about how living a life, not driven by your mental illness, is possible.
“Before my diagnosis, I had become used to experiencing poor mental health, as that was my ‘normal’ for a lot of my teenage years.”
I began to realise that what I was experiencing wasn’t healthy at about 16, but I didn’t receive formal treatment or a diagnosis until the age of 20, when I very reluctantly went to see my GP. She then referred me to a psychiatrist, where I was finally able to explore my disorder in a safe space, and everything I had been experiencing finally began to make sense. Whilst I received the professional support I needed, I didn’t get a lot of support from friends and family.
They didn’t want to know about my disorder, or what was going on with me. It felt like people wanted me to hide my disorder away and deal with it in ‘private’. Sorting out whatever ‘it’ was, was the main prerogative.
“Having a diagnosis and accessing professional help was a critical part of my mental health journey. It really was the defining moment when things began to change for the better.”
When I received my diagnosis, I finally understood why I was experiencing emotions to extremes. In the past, it had often felt like I was riding a never-ending rollercoaster, where I had no control. My diagnosis provided me with a positive way of approaching my mental health so I could manage and live with bipolar effectively.
At that time, my clinicians recommended that I establish a day-to-day routine, including exercise, prioritising sleep, as well as taking the medication prescribed to me. Since then, I’ve also learnt how to look for my triggers and how to recognise when I’m heading towards a high or a low, as well as educating my family and friends more. It has been a slow process, and lots of work and trial and error, But through working with my psychologist and psychiatrist, I was able to start repairing relationships, refocus on my education and move forward. Focusing on the future was and is really important to me.
“I had to learn to set manageable and achievable goals, to take time for self-care and realise that it’s important that I take time out to manage my mental illness.”
Now, I manage my mental health through exercise, routine, and organisation. I live religiously by my calendar – if it’s not in the calendar – it doesn’t happen. This includes putting in scheduled downtime for me, so I don’t “burn out”. This lets me take stock of where I’m at and enables me (for the most part) to keep myself on an even keel.
Exercise-wise, I regularly do pilates, hot yoga, and lots of walking. This is probably the most critical part of how I manage my mental health, as exercise is a huge outlet for me. It helps me destress, take time out and refocus on myself and my day. Being in regular contact with my mental health clinicians is an important component of my mental health maintenance now too.
I encourage everyone to speak their GP if they are struggling with their mental health like I was. This was the turning point for me in my journey to get the ball rolling. It’s ok to not be ok, as cliché as it sounds. Not understanding your own brain and why you think and behave the way you do, is a hard and scary place to be in. I remember feeling confused, exhausted, and just tired of going from one extreme to another. But you’re not alone. There is help out there and your GP is the starting point.