50 Shades of Depression

One of the reasons why it is problematic to talk about depression, mania and hypomania is that those words may mean many different things.

For instance, bipolar and unipolar depression are called the same, but they are not the same. In most cases, unipolar depression is caused by past events, and dealt with using anti-depressants and therapy. In fact, therapy is the better solution of dealing with unipolar depression, as it offers a possibility of removing the trigger that’s been hidden deep inside for years, sometimes decades. Anti-depressants deal with the symptoms, and are sometimes absolutely necessary because a person in deep depression is unlikely to respond to therapy (or to anything at all).

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“Bipolar For Beginners” is out now!

What a crazy time it was. The book, even though it’s short, took me eight months to write. I started by writing down a list of sections that I thought need to be covered; then I followed up by writing them one by one. I showed the book to people with bipolar, asking their feedback, which was overwhelmingly positive, which made me feel much better about my idea: a non-professional writing a book about mental illness? Surely that can only end badly! But it didn’t, so far at least.

The way I describe the illness is the way I needed someone to describe it to me when I got diagnosed. I am trying to avoid medical jargon as much as possible – you’ll get enough of that from your doctor. What my goal is: to explain things that are difficult to explain – in a way understandable to someone who hasn’t studied medicine and doesn’t necessarily understand the difference between an anti-psychotic and mood stabiliser. I wanted to write a book that I would like to be handed to me on the day of my diagnosis. It is short on purpose; there are enough thick tomes about bipolar, written by actual doctors, describing in great detail hormonal interactions inside our head and how each particular medication affects them. You’ll notice that often within the book I send you to your doctor – there are questions nobody else can answer. There is no magical pill that will work for everyone. You and your medical team need to work together on achieving what’s best for you.

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Why I wrote a book

I got diagnosed on my 35th birthday.

It wasn’t the present I expected. Truth be told, I watched the Stephen Fry documentary a few days earlier and said to my boyfriend “hey, that’s interesting, but it looks like I might not be depressed but actually bipolar”. You’d think I wouldn’t be too shocked with the diagnosis after that. But I was, extremely. I cried on my way home. This wasn’t meant to happen to me. I already had depression, surely that would be enough? And this period when I felt like I owned the Earth, when I walked the streets in my heavy army boots like they belonged to me, the time I spoke with gods and they responded, when I started a business fully convinced I’d make piles of money… this was all fake? All an illusion created by a bipolar brain? It was an awful lot to take, and especially on my birthday.

I don’t really celebrate birthdays, but I invited a friend over and bought a bottle of whiskey. I dried out more than half of it, while he was getting increasingly worried. I cried, I laughed, I cried more. This friend saved my life the morning after, when I woke up with mother of all hangovers and father of all depressions, determined to kill myself. I didn’t see a way out at that point. I thought: this was it, my life is done. The only sensible option seemed to slash my wrists and bleed myself to death. First, though, I called the psychiatric hospital that was meant to take me on board in a week, where they told me in a dry tone I am blackmailing them by talking about suicide and I should go call my GP. Then I called my GP who insisted I call the hospital again. Then I ran out of strength and started harming myself. And then my friend called and checked on me, and since I refused to tell what was going on, he came by and took me to a psychiatrist in person.

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