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Bipolar disorder: 11 pivotal moments that brought balance to my life during the pandemic

Dave, a life coach, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder type II at 57 years of age. Here he shares his experiences following his latest mental health episode and each 'moment' he identified along that journey.

Readers of my previous blog may recall I try to adhere to living a ‘Whole Life Balance’ in nine key areas, namely:

  • Career
  • Contribution (gift)
  • Domestic responsibilities
  • Family
  • Friends
  • Health
  • Hobbies
  • Personal development
  • Relationships

During my latest mental health episode, I withdrew from all areas while in a numb state, which must be familiar to many people.

However, in the last year there have been pivotal moments which have helped me regain my balance, starting with the beginning of the pandemic.

Moment 1: March 2020 – Domestic Responsibilities 

I know that for many people with mental health issues the COVID-19 lockdown has been a horrible, isolating and potentially scary experience. For me, however, it was liberating. At last, I felt I was no longer the only man of working age at home all day.

Everyone’s movement was now restricted, which for me removed the pressure of having to venture out.

COVID-19 became a subject of universal discussion with neighbours and anyone else I spoke to.

My father was also in the ‘at risk’ category which meant I had to ‘step up’ and take on more of his responsibilities, reinstating a feeling of self-worth.

Moment 2: June 2020 – Friends

Below was the outline of the note I sent via email to friends, most of whom I’d not communicated within eight long years.

I started with my dearest friends who’d contacted me in my absence – with no response from me – and those I knew who were low-risk in rejecting my advance. The email read:

How are you?

It’s been ages since we last spoke, I hope everything’s going well for you.

I’m sorry I haven’t been in contact. I’ve been meaning to drop you a line, but the presence of the ‘Black Dog’ meant I’ve not been able to. I hope you can forgive me.

What have you been up to lately?  I remember you <insert> since we last spoke, I have <insert>.

I’d love it if you could drop me a line, but if not, I understand.

Hope to hear from you, dear friend.

To my huge relief they all came straight back to me with notes of kindness, support and consideration and many of them sought my permission to “let so and so know” that I’d contacted them. I was incredibly happy for them to do so.

Over the next three weeks and with my confidence restored, I wrote to my wider circle of friends, again, an to almost universal response.

Moment 3: June 2020 – Family

My immediate family have always been extremely supportive during the ups and down of my adult life.

However, this time I wrote an action plan to save me explaining my condition to them. With that done they would now understand and know what to do should they witness me slipping into depression or mania.

I also tried to “repay” them with support and help in any way I could. In this case, with the assistance of my cousins, I researched and completed our family tree, drawing us closer as a group as we made discoveries along the way.

Moment 4: June 2020 – Health and diagnosis

In a telephone appointment with my GP and feeling upbeat, I was able to explain how I was feeling and demonstrate my bipolar symptoms and how I’ve been in past. Previously, I’d only ever sought medical help when low, so I was treated as a “depressive”.

My doctor took me seriously this time and referred me to a specialist to assist with a potential bipolar diagnosis. I was energised! I’d, at last, demonstrated my true self without recourse.

With that relief I gained new focus.

I started to juggle lots of projects in all areas of my life. I filled up many journals, started to sort out my possessions in storage, took on extra caring responsibilities and started reassessing my past mental health condition and symptoms.

My newly-found enthusiasm allowed for lots of self-analysis and renewed referral to the support material I’d been provided with. I wanted to research and learn all I could about bipolar in preparation for my forthcoming telephone appointment.

Moment 5: June 2020 – Independent assessment

The telephone appointment arrived and was seemingly positive. I felt able to demonstrate a lifetime spent on the bipolar spectrum.

However, two weeks later, I received a bland, standardised letter stating there was no evidence of bipolar and I was sent back to my GP.

My newly-found confidence took affront to this short-sightedness and I felt able to challenge the comments.

I wrote back, having at first showed the draft to my sister to tailor my vigour. I didn’t even get the courtesy of acknowledgement.

My heightened emotional state wanted to keep fighting but my logical brain kicked in and I sought a private consultation with a specialist. Lo and behold, she confirmed within one session, what I had known all along, that yes, I displayed all bipolar II disorder symptoms.

What a huge relief. It provided a reason for my 39 years of hurt and misdiagnosis, allowing me to finally attach a label to my condition.

The psychiatrist advised my GP a course of action and for the first time in my life I was prescribed appropriate medication.

Moment 6: June 2020 – Contributing to society – NCMH webinar

With my newly-found awareness I started to further research bipolar disorder. I signed up to various support group websites and found a webinar due to be hosted by NCMH and Bipolar UK.

Again, this was a pivotal moment.

A room full of people who understood my condition, who offered practical advice, action planning and ongoing support. From then on I knew I wanted to support the organisations in anyway I could.

I’ve since written blogs, been part of research groups and attended more webinars. This has led to me to volunteering roles for mental health charity Mind.

Moment 7: July 2020 –  Friends

During a hot summer week I met up with two dear friends for the first time in eight years.

On reflection, I had a degree of mania driving me on both occasions.

That elation was caused in part by being back amongst friends. Meeting up with them boosted my feelings of self-worth and I felt good.

Moment 8: July 2020 – Career

I was in a fortunate position that a Permanent Health Insurance policy with my employer provided me with 75% of my pay while absent from work since April 2012.

I felt I’d been forgotten about as I had minimal contact with my firm in the intervening years. They may have felt by financially supporting me that they had met their obligations.

I’d have preferred some emotional and practical support, which was unfortunately lacking. With the support of a dear friend who runs his own HR consultancy, I decided to contact them.

Ironically, before I could send my letter, one arrived from my employer, apologising for the absence, and wanting to get back in contact.

That dialogue ended in my redundancy in March 2021 and a release from the chance of my having to return to my high-pressure career, which proved to be a crucial moment in regaining my Whole Life Balance.

Moment 9: August 2020 – Continuous Improvement

Work was finally going in a new direction.

I still can’t remember where I saw it advertised, but I signed up for an online life coaching qualification, which was something I’ve always wanted to do.

I jumped into it without much due diligence and adopted a “here I am” approach, and felt somewhat arrogant in the introductory Zoom sessions.

My enthusiasm wanted to befriend all 24 delegates and it set me the challenge to be first from the group to qualify.

My over-excitement spoke up positively and tried to make an immediate impression and demonstrate I had a lot of relevant experience.

I thoroughly enjoyed the next six months of self-discovery. It created a whole new career for me. It also allowed me to meet with people from all walks of life and, more importantly, feel like I was “giving something back” to society.

I’ve since qualified to deliver several personality profiling tools. I now deliver 1-2-1 and group coaching, business mentoring and facilitation services, providing continuous improvement for others as well as me.

Moment 10: August 2020 – Hobbies

I slowly started to reacquaint myself with my new self-worth and hobbies, now believing that I deserved to follow them again. I was back in the saddle!

Feeling positive, I serviced and started to ride my bikes, and even bought an exercise bike to help with the training.

I started walking 10,000 steps a day, and joined a rambler group. I retrieved my music collection from storage and started to scour charity shops to replace the books I had given away when vacating my home.

All this helped to restore my sense of identity. I felt like me again.

Moment 11: September 2020 – Relationships

Not taking anything for granted, I arranged to meet up with my fellow coaching trainee face-to-face for the first time.

We built an immediate rapport and she made me comfortable enough to discuss mental health issues with her. I knew I’d found a kindred spirit and she has become one of my dearest, closest friends.

She taught me how to love again, starting with myself.

COVID-19 has limited our subsequent meet-ups but we speak daily, and I’m so happy to have her in my life.

Don’t give up hope

It took some reflection to piece together, but those eleven moments were pivotal on my personal journey to restoring the nine areas of my ‘Whole Life Balance’ after being diagnosed with bipolar II disorder.

I hope this in some way may be of assistance to you on your own journey and I wish you the best of luck.

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Dave

Dave has lived experience of bipolar disorder but wasn't diagnosed until his late fifites. He is a keen advocate for raising awareness of mental illness and how to care for your mental health, and is an NCMH Research Champion.

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