12 July 2007

Living with a bipolar secret

What is it like to be bipolar? Although it was difficult for her to do so, Thelma has decided to tell us her story.

Being told you have a chronic condition that makes you feel miserable, hopeless, like a social outcast and that it will get worse over time, feels like a life sentence.

As a woman living with bipolar disorder, life can be tough and sometimes the hardest part is that people just don't understand, and you find you are always trying to hide.

Writing about this today is maybe one of the most difficult articles I have ever written. To tell a story about someone else is easy, but when it comes to reflecting on yourself, that is something else.

Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that causes extreme mood swings. It is a genetic disorder, so you have it when you were born, though it can get triggered by a number of things, at any point of your life.

A rocky road
For me it started to show in my early teenage years. I first tried to commit suicide at 16, for actually no good reason. Thankfully, I did not succeed. I did not know that I had bipolar yet. In fact, I was only diagnosed two years ago.

Through the years, psychologists treated me for different kinds of depression, from postnatal depression to breakdowns. No one could put a finger on what was wrong with me, because one moment I will feel fine and be having a manic episode, and suddenly I would explode for no reason, fighting with my loved ones, and after that I could not stop crying.

At times, when I was in a certain mode, I would feel very happy, full of energy and able to do anything. I would re-arrange my whole house right through the night. This is the manic stage. At other times, I would feel very sad and depressed.

Shifting emotions
People with bipolar disorder can quickly go from mania to depression and back again if they are not on the right medication. Perhaps the most disabling episodes are those that involve symptoms of both mania and depression occurring at the same time or alternating frequently during the day.

So that is my story, and maybe you can now understand the challenges facing a woman with this illness. People like me who have a mental illness sometimes just need a bit of consideration for our situation. - Thelma Jacobs

The writer lives in South Africa. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service that provides fresh views on everyday news.

Related articles:
Riding the bipolar roller coaster
Learn more about Bipolar Disorder


Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Live healthier

Mental health & your work »

How open are you about mental illness in the workplace?

Mental health in the workplace – what you can do to help

If you know that one of your colleagues suffers from a mental illness, would you be able to help them at work? Maligay Govender offers some helpful mental health "first aid" tips.

Sleep & You »

Sleep vs. no sleep Diagnosis of insomnia

6 things that are sabotaging your sleep

Kick these shut-eye killers to the kerb and make your whole life better – overnight.