I first became ill just after finishing my final exams in Trinity College. It was the year 2000 – a milestone year for the world. I remember the global panic that there would be a widespread crash of computer systems and IT infrastructure – the bug of the year 2000. Nothing fell apart externally, but internally I did. I emigrated to the US just a week after my final exam, the world at my feet, or so I thought. Within a short number of weeks I was completely manic and not able to function. Manic in Manhattan. Quite a ring to it! Ultimately a friend had to fly me home and I was greeted by my very worried parents at Dublin airport, disoriented and confused about what was going on with no real concept of how ill I was.
To summarise, I spent 6 weeks in a local psychiatric hospital at that point. 6 ECT sessions and an overactive thyroid diagnosis later and I begged to go home. I thought I’d feel normal once home, but the reality was so different. What goes up must come down and I went through the most debilitating low. I went from eight stone in New York to fourteen stone in a matter of weeks. I felt like an empty vessel, devoid of life, merely an object existing.
I went on to recover and return to my role in the US a year later. September 11th happened that year and even that could not keep me from fulfilling my dream. I went on to experience many ups and downs, including another hospital stay and complete breakdown in 2004. Still no diagnosis. Life changed for the better when I met my wonderful husband in 2006, but it wasn’t until 2010 when I sought pregnancy advice from the consultant psychiatrist in Holles St hospital, that I was given my bipolar diagnosis.
Finally a label! It would take me time to accept this and the fact that medication would help me stay well. When I had my 1st child in 2012 I was manic leaving the hospital. Again, what goes up must come down and I ended up with suicidal ideation and attempts before my son was even 6 months old. This time I checked myself into hospital as I felt I was a danger to myself.
Fast forward to my second pregnancy and a new medical team. I learned from experience and was so closely monitored through my pregnancy and beyond. I went onto a new (to me) medication the very day my second son was born and I’ve never looked back. He is now 8 and I am flourishing, in a job I love, with a happy family, and many self-care rituals including journaling, yoga, and my daily hour long power walk to stay well.
I feel so blessed to have come out the other side. I feel stronger and more empathetic as a result of my experiences of mental ill-health. I hope to use my experience in my career and to help others. My mother always said time was a great healer and she was right although I didn’t believe her at the time. Every journey starts with a tiny step.
I would like to urge people suffering to take one tiny step. It might be a solo trip to the shop, it might be having a shower and putting on a comfy jumper or watching a TV show you used to enjoy – what will spark joy for you? I have a profound appreciation for life now and take nothing for granted. I have my bipolar diagnosis to thank for that. There are silver linings to everything.
This blog is by Stephanie Nolan as part of a blog series for World Bipolar Day (March 30 2023).