A lonely place – surviving the private hell of bipolar disorder
Here, 27-year-old Lauren May Jenkins, from Bridgend, gives an honest account of what it’s like to live with bipolar disorder...
It’s shocking that we live in a world where if you have the courage to talk about your mental health then you’re deemed an attention-seeker.
But I feel obliged to say something. I have suffered with poor mental health as far back as I can remember, which got progressively worse as I hit puberty.
As a teenager I’d hallucinate, hear voices and frequently self-harm. It would be a common occurrence for me to go to school with my arms wrapped in bandages, feigning a sprained wrist or something equally unbelievable when, in fact, I had cut my arms to shreds with a razor blade the night before and wanted to hide the wounds.
But I never told anyone how I was feeling. I completely bottled it up for fear of being made fun of, being deemed an attention-seeker or being told “Oh, you’re only a teenager, you don’t know what depression is”. And I continued to bottle it up throughout my teenage years and into my adult life. But bottling things up gets you nowhere. I lost numerous friendships and relationships and got to the point where I just couldn’t find the strength to carry on.
Just last year I would regularly pick up a kitchen knife or razor blade and cut myself, then pull on my work uniform and go work a night shift wearing a jumper or hoody so the sleeves were long enough to cover the incisions. I’d be asked by everyone why on earth I was wearing long sleeves when it was warm inside the factory. I’d pretend I was cold, when in truth I just needed to hide all the wounds on my arms that were still bleeding and soaking into the material as I painfully tried to work and pretend nothing was wrong.
I have a beautiful son who is my primary reason for standing here today but it got to a point where even he wasn’t enough for me to find the strength to carry on, and I started to plan my own suicide.
I’d spend hours researching lethal doses of pills, then buy them and keep them in my bedside cabinet, just praying for the courage to take them and for it to all be over with. I took out life insurance, made a will and put plans in place ready for when I’d be gone.
It’s hard to explain what goes through your head when you’re overcome by sadness and depression. I think it’s different for everyone, and trying to put it into words and speak to someone about it is really difficult. When I’m at my lowest it’s like I’m not really here. I’m on autopilot and feel like my body is present but my mind is not.
I’ll hide away, spend as much time in bed and asleep as possible, but if I do have to venture out to do the school run or anything else then I’ll put my head down and blank out everything and everyone. I know a lot of people don’t understand selfharm or why people do it if their intention isn’t suicide. For me, every time I cut myself it was a release. The pain I felt from causing harm to my body would temporarily distract from the pain inside my mind and, strangely, it would help. I don’t think I fully understand the reason for doing it, other than the relief from what you’re battling with in your mind – for the briefest moment. It was never for attention, I made sure nobody ever saw. And bipolar disorder doesn’t just mean the downs. It’s the extreme manic highs too, where suddenly you feel invincible, like a superhero and nothing and no-one can hold you back.
I would spend obscene amounts of money, that I didn’t even have, and rack up enormous debts. I would embark on wild business ventures or take on two or three new hobbies, wanting to do everything and all at once. I’d hallucinate, hear voices and not be able to sit still, then the next hour, or the next day, I’d hit an extreme low again and be back to battling suicidal thoughts and not feeling present in my own life. Bipolar disorder means flitting back and forth between an insane low and an insane high over and over again.
I didn’t tell anyone what was going on, I didn’t want to burden anybody with how I was feeling and it had got to the stage where I truly believed everyone in my life would be better off without me and that they’d be grateful if I took my own life and got out of the way. Luckily, my family picked up on my behaviour and noticed that something was wrong, and I was rushed to my GP.
From there I was sent on an urgent referral to a psychiatrist, where I literally sat on a couch like you see in films, with three psychiatrists opposite me holding clipboards. They managed to prise out of me everything I was feeling and thinking. I was then sent to the mental health ward of the local hospital, where I had to see yet another consultant and was finally given an answer for everything that was going on in my head.
In January I was diagnosed with severe bipolar disorder and emotionally unstable personality disorder. Neither are curable and I will suffer with them for the rest of my life. But they can be controlled to an extent with medication and therapy. And so I was put on anti-depressants and anti-psychotics, put on the mental health register, declared unfit for any type of work and offered extensive therapy (which I haven’t taken yet, although I know I should).
Today I am so grateful that my family intervened and made me seek help. I am so proud of myself for taking those steps into the unknown and speaking out and getting the help I need because if I hadn’t then I probably wouldn’t be here today.
There are still days I really struggle, still days I don’t feel I can function as a human being. But the difference now is I do pull through and I hold my head high and fight it because I have to – I have a wonderful son who needs his mummy. I am a stronger person now than I have ever been. I’ve had my life turned upside down and inside out, from losing a very well-paid job in June, to my fiancé last month, and then my home.
All those things would have broken me before, but now I refuse to let anything take me down.
Please, please, if you are struggling with depression, anxiety or any other mental illness, get help. Talk to friends and family, talk to your GP, talk to anyone who will listen, and make yourself your number-one priority. Unfortunately we live in a world where if you break your arm, everybody runs over to sign your cast, but if you tell someone you’re depressed they run the other way. That’s the stigma. We accept any body parts breaking down except our brains. And that’s pure ignorance.
If you are struggling with depression and need to speak to someone you can call the Samaritans 24 hours a day on 116 123. You can also contact the mental health charity, Mind at www.mind.org.uk
> Lauren May Jenkins has revealed what it is like to live with bipolar disorder and how she spent years hiding it