Michelle is a former psychiatric nurse from Newport. She’s also an NCMH Research Champion, helping spread the word about our research. This is her story:
My name is Michelle, I’m 46 years old and I live in Newport. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder four years ago.
I was considered a challenging child and visited a psychiatrist on several occasions when I was growing up. I’m sure I would have been assessed for ADHD had such a diagnosis been available at the time.
My first experience of depression started when I was about 13. First instances of teenage love plus disagreeable parents who ‘didn’t understand me’ caused tears and tantrums but were never thought to be anything more.
Through my mid-teens I was a larger than life personality, great fun to be around and always eager to party with friends. I had unknowingly started self-medicating with alcohol and at 18 I moved away from the family home. My teenage years were rife with problems so I felt a sense of relief (as well as a shred of sadness) when my family and I parted.
I returned home at 20, after giving up my flat as I descended into a massive low that saw me stranded in bed for several months. This was when I first started taking anti-depressants, which I still use to this day.
At 23 I trained to become a psychiatric nurse and worked in the role until I was 35, by which time I was experiencing more symptoms than my patients!
One of the difficulties I’ve found with bipolar disorder is that diagnosis can take years. During a low, you could be mistakenly told you are suffering from depression while during a high, you’re unlikely to acknowledge you have an illness of any kind.
I’ve had three major highs and many more lows between the ages of 18 and 40. The last significant high occurred during September 2010 and finally led to a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and treatment. Although the treatment was successful it did take a long time to start seeing results and the interim period was difficult and fraught with desperate behaviour and numerous suicide attempts.
My partner, who I met in 2009, had a tumultuous time and admits that she would have made a hasty retreat if she’d known what was to come. I can’t say I blame her. Now, however, she is my partner, my carer and above all my best friend. I’m very lucky to have a fantastic network of family and friends; their stabilising force helps me maintain a level of balance that wouldn’t be possible without them.
I came across NCMH when I saw a leaflet advertising their mental health research in the reception at my psychiatrist’s practice. I was eager to help and contacted the researchers to find out how to get involved.
Taking part involved having a researcher visit me at home. Together we chatted about my experiences and completed some questionnaires, and I gave a small blood sample. It was a relaxed and friendly atmosphere and I was encouraged to speak freely.
We need a greater understanding of bipolar disorder and other mental health conditions to develop new medicines and treatments to help those affected by them.
Taking part in research is a great way to contribute to the progress being made and to help reduce the stigma and ignorance that still has a negative impact on people who live with a mental illness.
After volunteering with NCMH I took part in Bipolar Education Programme Cymru; a 10 week course of one hour meetings covering the different aspects of living with bipolar. I met other people with bipolar and learnt so much. The outcome was extremely positive, with information on mood triggers, coping strategies and overall knowledge very useful. My family and I owe the research programme a debt of gratitude for the help and guidance they have given us all.