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Here's what it's like to live with Bipolar at uni

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There is no easy way to talk about this, as it's something that has caused me a lot of distress and hurt - but I feel in a good enough state of mind now to talk to you, the readers, about what it is like to live day in and day out with Bipolar 2.

I am a third-year Drama student currently studying in Lincoln. In September 2014, when I first came to Lincoln to study, I was diagnosed with Depression, and this was tough enough - then in November 2016 I was diagnosed with bipolar, and told that I'd probably been suffering with this condition  from the start.

What is Bipolar?

Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that mainly affects your mood. It is different to depression because it can cause you to have highs as well as lows; when you’re on a high you’re described as manic, which can lead to over-happiness, feeling like you’re floating and everything is racing, including your heart beat.

Doctors don’t completely understand the cause of bipolar, but it seems to often run in families. Experts believe it is partly caused by an underlying problem with specific brain circuits and the functioning of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters.

What does being bipolar feel like?

Even though I was diagnosed not so long ago, that was not the start of my journey - as it's now believed that I was diagnosed incorrectly and I have had bipolar for a long time, if not forever.

It is a hard condition to explain. When I’m low I can feel suicidal, although that is rare - but I can also feel just run down and horrid, as well as extremely depressed. This can lead to me questioning whether I belong here, but also can lead to fits of rage, anger, depression, feeling low, hating myself, hating others and pushing people away.

When I'm high it's a whole different game, and let me tell you this – being high is not a good thing; it can be a very difficult thing to be around and have to deal with personally. When I'm high, I am not necessarily happy - I'm not always, when high, in a good mood. Most of the time when I'm manic I am in a kind of ‘crazy’ mood; I am on a scary high, I can sometimes feel like I am floating and on top of the world.

My thoughts, like most things when high, race around like racing cars and most of the time I can’t lock down an individual thought because they are running around and around. I am much more active than usual and can get easily irritated and agitated.

How does it affect me day-to-day?

I can never tell when I am going to be high or low so, planning what I am going to do each day can sometimes be very difficult. If I can’t tell what mood I am going to be in then I can’t plan what I can and can’t do on that day.

My brain does not work like someone without bipolar would, when in manic moods I cannot really control how I feel and sometimes make bad decisions linked to this; these decisions can sometimes be with money or with being brutally honest with someone and hurting their feelings.

During my biggest episode, I walked miles and miles and cannot remember how I got there, whether I walked on roads, whether I was safe. Like a kind of floating feeling. 

It is always super difficult to manage any kind of mental health problem when studying for a degree, mainly because the workload is a lot more than school and college and managing this alongside an illness is always hard.

My university have been supportive, as supportive as they can be - and this is great. They have helped me a lot but I  really struggled with my attendance when I was first diagnosed, because when down I couldn’t get out of bed - but when on a manic episode I would do all my work in a . I always had to go through the work and check it because it’s like a mist in the mind; not being able to remember what happened or what you did – a very weird thing to get your head around. Sometimes I would hear voices and feel like I was floating.

Studying has been very tough at times, because as you would expect there is a lot of work involved and when I can’t get a solid moment of concentration because my mind feels like it’s all over the place this can have a bad effect on the coursework and exams. I also suffer from anxiety which does not mix well with the bipolar. 

What is the difference between Bipolar 1 and Bipolar 2?

A person who has Bipolar 1 has manic episodes whereas someone with Bipolar 2 has hypomanic episodes.

You must have had at least one manic episode and one major depressive episode to be diagnosed with Bipolar 1 disorder. The depressive episode must have occurred either before or after the manic episode. The symptoms of a manic episode may be so severe that you require hospital care.

Bipolar 2 disorder involves a major depressive episode lasting at least two weeks and at least one hypomanic episode. People with Bipolar 2 typically don’t experience manic episodes intense enough to require hospitalisation.

Bipolar 2 is sometimes misdiagnosed as Depression - when there are no manic episodes to suggest bipolar, the depressive symptoms become the focus. This is what happened to me; I was diagnosed with depression as I had not had a manic episode at that point, but now have - so they re-diagnosed me with Bipolar 2.

I have Bipolar 2 as I have less manic episodes and more depressive episodes; my bipolar is mainly linked the sadness and it is very rare I have a manic episode although they do happen every so often. They probably happen two or three times a month and last no longer than a day. A manic episode includes feeling like I am floating, speaking fast, doing everything very quickly, lack of concentration or emphasised concentration, and overspending - basically having very little control over myself and who I am at that moment. 

What help is there for sufferers?

An important thing to note is that there is help available out there. Accessing it is sometimes a little daunting, and it is sometimes about jumping through the boxes - but it does exist.

For someone who has a solid diagnosis of Bipolar 1 or 2, there is a lot of help available. If you speak to the person who diagnosed you, this may be a doctor (GP), counsellor or psychotherapist, they should be able to advise you on what is available. They may suggest medication (antidepressants, antipsychotics, mood stabilisers), NHS counselling - although be aware there may be a waiting list, this is dependent on where you live in the UK - or other art therapies like drama or art.

There is also a national charity called Bipolar UK, which can advise you on your next steps when you have a diagnosis. This group of people arrange talking therapies and help around Bipolar and are specialists in it, so completely understand.

You also have Mind, Samaritans, Turn 2 Me and Blurt, who are all mental health charities, and can offer confidential support and advice.

My advice is tell your family and friends and doctor and they can help you find the right support.

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