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...

Western Mail - - SHARES -

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

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