Amazingly Living with Bipolar

Today I decided to write about Bipolar a complex and chronic mental disorder that I have. During the first days when I was diagnosed it was very difficult for me to accept it because I would see myself at Parirenyatwa at Annex with all those people with different mental disorders shackled in chains, I would see myself walking up and down the streets naked and what did not make this easier is that one of my doctors would always want to refer me to Parirenyatwa to the Annex Department.

I really felt embarrassed at first but I have now embraced it and I am leaving an amazing life with bipolar disorder. Some could ask what is Bipolar disorder? It is a mental illness characterized by episodes of elevated mood and periods of depression. Individuals who suffer from bipolar disorder experience severe mood swings that impair their daily life and negatively affect their relationships. These mood swings include “highs” (mania), when individuals feel either on top of the world or on edge, and “lows” (depression), when they feel sad and hopeless. Suicide attempts are common in bipolar disorder, especially during depressive episodes.

What has prompted me to write today about my ‘embarrassing’ condition which I have embraced but is somewhat misinterpreted and is usually regarded as a mental illness-the kind that will see you running in the road naked and going all crazy? Two things did, firstly I have of late noticed how the mainstream media and social media has been awash with stories of people who have committed suicide and in my circles I know a couple of people that did commit suicide. A case that quickly comes to my mind is that of the lady who jumped from the 13th floor at Trafalgar court in Harare last week over suspicions of her having an altercation with her husband over issues of infidelity. I was terrified upon reading comments from people on social media when people were literally lambasting the woman, some alleging she was possessed by the evil spirit. I saw comments such as, ‘ she is stupid, silly, what has she solved by the act, she is possessed by evil spirits from her family and all sorts of distasteful comments.’

I realized that the judgments that were expressed on these posts could probably have been out of ignorance or rather some beliefs-not for me to judge but they made me very uncomfortable. I felt that society was a bit harsh because a lot could have resulted in the woman making the decision that she made, for all we know she could have been suffering from undiagnosed bipolar. Secondly I have decided that if I write about it someone might benefit from it and get help or someone out there can appreciate they are not alone and can be motivated to soldier on. Living with Bipolar disorder has made me see some good days and some real bad days in my life when I have lost it and attempted suicide and fortunately there were people that cared around me that helped me seek help.

I have been castigated a couple of times for having attempted suicide, asked what kinds of lessons am I teaching my children? Told that I am a failure and at one workplace that I was at I was told how embarrassing that was for the organization…..several hurtful things have been said about my several episodes of attempting suicide that I have gone through which is one of the things that people with Bipolar go through. Atleast now with the treatment I am much better. What quickly comes to my mind is how as Africans anything that we cannot explain is, ‘chivanhu’, there is some evil spirit troubling the person.

I have gone through episodes where people that were close to me also thought some people were casting evil spirits on me but hell no it was undiagnosed Bipolar disorder. Many people do go through a lot of depression and rarely do they seek for help which leaves them at risk of losing it and inhibiting suicidal tendencies. There is need to support our friends and relatives especially as they go through depression or stress which are triggers for Bipolar. I for one started depression treatment when I was 16 but it could not be effectively managed. At times I was calm but in other instances it totally got out of hand. I was later diagnosed with Bipolar in 2013 and it all made sense why I was struggling with severe depression and with my medication I am doing well.

One might ask what causes Bipolar disorder? There is no single cause for bipolar disorder. Indeed, like all psychological disorders, bipolar disorder is a complex condition with multiple contributing factors, including:• Genetic: Bipolar disorder tends to run in families, so researchers believe there is a genetic predisposition for the disorder. Scientists also are exploring the presence of abnormalities on specific genes. • Biological: Researchers believe that some neurotransmitters, including serotonin and dopamine, don’t function properly in individuals with bipolar disorder. • Environmental: Outside factors, such as stress or a major life event, may trigger a genetic predisposition or potential biological reaction. For instance, if bipolar disorder was entirely genetic, both identical twins would have the disorder.

But research reveals that one twin can have bipolar, while the other does not, implicating the environment as a potential contributing cause. With me what caused my depression in early childhood was the history of childhood sexual, physical and emotional abuse that I have written about previously compounded by the fact that I never did receive any counseling or psychotherapy. These traumas I believe have been the triggers in my life for Bipolar which probably was being treated as depression from the age of 16. It is however essential for friends and relatives to be observant when it comes to their loved ones so that they can read the signs and symptoms and seek for help at the earliest possible time. Although it is a chronic illness Bipolar can be managed and one can live a normal life with the necessary care and treatment and support from friends and relatives. Unfortunately it cannot be cured but it can surely be managed so that one can live a fulfilling life. Fortunately Michael Gelfand in Harare now offers a programme for Bipolar Disorder and survivors can check themselves in the institution when they have hit rock bottom and they get services which incorporate an individual’s support system.

It’s also important that when someone you know has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder you just read around the condition. To conquer and be able to live amazingly with Bipolar I have adopted healthy habits which include exercising. I actually embarked on a weight loss journey because I was obese from compulsively eating due to stress and depression. I literally exercise every day of my life and this helped a great deal as I feel amazing every step of the way in losing weight. I also make use of a lot of stress management techniques like breathing, yoga, when I feel like crying I cry like there is no tomorrow and when I need a hug I call in my friends and get a tight squeeze and this has totally helped me in balancing myself. I eat healthy and for me this has meant no sugar, no processed foods, no junk food, no soda drinks, no alcohol and no meat or any meat based products as I am now a vegan.

Ever since I adopted these healthy eating habits I have so much energy it’s amazing and I easily manage my depression levels. Embedded in my healthy habits is that I make sure I have enough hours of sleep for mental stability, 8 hours plus because sleep deprivation exacerbates bipolar disorder and seriously derails treatment. Above all I have made a conscious decision to avoid any potential triggers like toxic environments, negative energy and any stressful situations and I have surrounded myself with positive people.

I have also learnt with the help of my friend Tendai Wenyash Garwe that I can throw a pity party for myself when need be and I constantly remind myself that no one owes me a damn thing and this has made it easier to accept disappointments and generally it has assisted me in never having high expectations especially with regards to people. It is important for society to give support to people that are stressed or are suffering from depression so that cases of suicide might decrease. As Maya Angelou said lets be a rainbow in someone’s cloud and lend a shoulder to those in need of it and make this world a better place. Just a few indications someone has bipolar:

What Does Mania Look Like?• Feelings of euphoria and elation or irritability and anger • Impulsive, high-risk behavior, including grand shopping sprees, drug and alcohol abuse and sexual promiscuity • Aggressive behavior • Increased energy and rapid speech • Fleeting, often grandiose ideas • Decreased sleep (typically the individual doesn’t feel tired after as few as three hours of sleep) • Decreased appetite • Difficulty concentrating; disorganized thoughts • Inflated self-esteem • Delusions and hallucinations (in severe cases) What Does Depression Look Like?• Feelings of hopelessness and sadness • Inability to sleep or sleeping too much • Loss of interest in formerly enjoyable activities; loss of energy (sometimes to the point of inability to get out of bed) • Changes in appetite and weight • Feelings of worthlessness and inappropriate guilt • Inability to concentrate or make a decision • Thoughts of death and suicide A Note about Suicide Because of the high suicide risk in those with bipolar disorder, it’s important to note the warning signs. In addition to those mentioned in the depression symptoms above, others include: • Withdrawing from loved ones and isolating oneself • Talking or writing about death or suicide • Putting personal affairs in order • Previous attempts

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