So, I made it! I’m officially in remission. I have on-going anxiety and eating issues, and I still get overemotional, but in terms of clearly defined mood swings I am in the clear. It’s been a long time coming - around three years since the earliest signs of relapse, and over two years since I first took sick leave.
Those years have been unlike like anything I’ve previously experienced. For a start I have been up more than down, in complete contrast to the depressions of my teens and twenties. Despite being mostly “high” I was often suicidal, especially when hypomania tipped into mixed mood, which remains the closest thing to hell on earth I can imagine. I have also had mild psychotic symptoms (predominantly paranoid ideas) for the first time in my life.
Different patterns of illness have necessitated different ways of managing my condition, including new types of drug. Learning about my new symptoms and side effects was a very slow process, but I think I am now clued up enough to notice any worrying signs. I have a detailed Wellness and Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) that I have shared with my doctors and my partner, and it gives me hope that if I start to wobble I can take action before I become ill again.
I feel as if I have survived something huge, and I suppose I have. Three years represents about fourteen per cent of my adult life, and the crises were very distressing. I lost my career of almost a decade, and I still have unresolved feelings of loss about that. Some friends have advised against the reviewing traumatic things, but I know I am changed by the episode and I feel a need to make some sense of it all. Some changes have been for the good. Having experienced a wider range of symptoms and treatments has given me a broader understanding of mental health and that can only benefit my activism. I have learned that I really am more than my job role, that even when not working I am still an interesting and valuable person. And I have emerged with a completely new career in mental health training and consultancy, along with a thriving mental health blog and an almost complete bipolar memoir. It feels amazing to have my bipolar seen as an asset at work, rather than a hindrance.
I’d like to mark my recovery in some way, to celebrate my survival and acknowledge the magnitude of all I have been through. This is the point where many I know would choose a meaningful tattoo, but I’m too chicken for that. I’d love to throw a huge party to thank everyone who’s supported me, but so many of the friends I have made live at the other end of the country or even across an ocean or two. Someone suggested a meaningful piece of jewelry and I like that idea, but I just can’t find anything that feels right.
What do other people think/do? I’d love to hear suggestions for celebrating survival. Tweet me your ideas or leave a suggestion on my Facebook page!