My battle with bi-polar

Following the recent news about Catherine Zeta-Jones suffering with bi-polar disorder, I felt it was time to share my story in the hope of helping others with mental health problems.

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My struggle with bi-polar disorder began when I was about 10 years old (although it was not diagnosed until much later).  It escalated at about 14 years old and like most teenage girls this was coupled with self-confidence and self-worth issues, I was obsessed with my image, I hated the way I looked and my attitude towards things and people reflected this. I would often take myself away from the crowd and sit alone, thinking sad thoughts and hoping someone would find me and take pity on me.

My mood was continuously low or erratically high, and my diary entries would be “I hate myself” or “I wish I was happy” and “I want to smile more”. Around 17 I turned to drugs and alcohol to boost my mood and I craved male attention to boost my confidence; both having the opposite effect.  I even looked miserable in the hope that people be sympathetic (why they should I don’t know), eventually I just seemed unable to smile. I would get upset at the slightest thing and people called me sensitive. I had very few friends and felt really unhappy.

In my late teens I was prescribed anti-depressant drugs, Diazipan, Prozac, Carbamazepine, Amitriptyline, St Johns Wort, Citalopram etc. etc. none of which worked for long, just a temporary fix.  After I’d experienced a fairly major ‘trauma’ in my mid-20’s I attended psychotic and psychiatric sessions once a week, along with some counselling and later CBT (which was costing me £120 a fortnight, Ouch!) Again, this only helped while I was in the session, a short-term fix.

When I became a Christian in my late 20’s, I expected Jesus to heal me from my illness, I kept coming off my anti-depressants and having to go back on them again, although they weren’t making much difference they slightly took the edge off the lows.  But, I was embarrassed to take the medication, it was as if I’d failed in my walk with Christ, why couldn’t I either ‘pull myself together’ or fully rely on God?

After the birth of my second child in my mid-30’s, I became quite poorly.  I was not taking any medication and was really struggling.  I didn’t give a thought to my marriage and I didn’t like anyone or anything, the children were a burden, I just wanted to stay in bed, my mind was complete mush and I couldn’t concentrate or remember much at all.  I actually stopped driving because I was too dangerous on the road, my memory was failing and I couldn’t name familiar objects easily, I felt confused and very low.  Jez remained strong and amazingly supportive throughout it all, but it was a really hard time for him too (although I didn’t know this or care, at the time).  I hoped the feelings would go away, but then it got worse.  I was physically and mentally ill and was admitted to hospital under the care of the neurology and obstetric departments where I had numerous tests carried out, including a lumbar puncture, CT and MRI scan (to name a few). The doctors were worried that I had Encephalitis, but the tests showed up negative, there was nothing serious going on, praise God!  I was discharged and put under the care of the peri-natal mental health team to assess me for a rare form of post-natal depression.

At about the same time, my friends encouraged me to join them in an evening of prayer, I dragged myself along and they prayed over me, for a diagnosis and cure. They reminded me that we live in a fallen world and that there is suffering and pain while on earth. I’d heard it all before but during the time of prayer the Holy Spirit came upon me and for 1 week I was ‘normal’. I was able to cope, think and enjoy life, it was as if God was giving me a glimpse of heaven and telling me it would be OK, I’d never experienced this feeling of ‘normality’, especially as I was not on any medication at the time.  At the end of the week my condition returned, fortunately this coincided with a visit from the peri-natal mental health team consultant.

My consultant was amazing and the level of care I received was fantastic.  I was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder which I guess had been exaggerated due to an episode of post-natal depression.  It was a complete relief because when I learned about the illness it described me perfectly. The swing between extreme low-mood and manic-highs was something I’d lived with all my life affecting me both mentally and physically. I’ve included a table below which briefly describes bi-polar disorder.

Symptoms of a manic episode include: Symptoms of a depressive episode include:
Mood Changes

  • A long period of feeling “high,” or an overly happy or outgoing mood
  • Extremely irritable mood, agitation, feeling “jumpy” or “wired.”

Behavioural Changes

  • Talking very fast, jumping from one idea to another, having racing thoughts
  • Being easily distracted
  • Increasing goal-directed activities, such as taking on new projects
  • Being restless
  • Sleeping little
  • Having an unrealistic belief in one’s abilities
  • Behaving impulsively and taking part in a lot of pleasurable,
    high-risk behaviours, such as spending sprees, impulsive sex, and impulsive business investments.
Mood Changes

  • A long period of feeling worried or empty
  • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed, including sex.

Behavioural Changes

  • Feeling tired or “slowed down”
  • Having problems concentrating, remembering, and making decisions
  • Being restless or irritable
  • Changing eating, sleeping, or other habits
  • Thinking of death or suicide, or attempting suicide.

Some of the lows have been almost crippling, a real attack on the body and mind. As for the highs, they explained why I was a ‘starter’ and not a ‘finisher’ and why I’ve had so many friends, boyfriends, jobs, cars, holidays, projects/ideas, and houses in my lifetime, often resulting in debt and disappointment.

The imbalance in my brain means that no amount of soul searching, prayer, spiritual warfare, hormone supplements, change in diet and counselling was going to change my need for medication.  It’s taken me almost 12 months to get used to the side effects of the medication I am on, and to get the dose correct. Life is so different now – I feel alive, I feel I can be a mother to my children, a wife to my husband and a child of God, all with purpose, joy and a smile.  I am able to make sensible decisions, evaluate situations and am in control a lot, lot more.

However, I feel I’ve wasted a large part of my life to bi-polar, but with prayer, medication and great friends, my life is now enjoyable and I am grateful to God for all His blessings. I will probably need medication for the rest of my life and do not believe that I wasn’t ‘cured’ permanently by God because of any lack of faith or confession of sins, but sometimes I did struggle with that old age questions “if there is a God then why does bad stuff happen?”, so I’ve written a bit about that in my blog “Does God Heal?

If my faith depended on how I felt I would have NO faith at all! Fortunately, my faith is based on the belief that Christ is Lord, and that doesn’t change with my mood!  The Lord is Sovereign in all things, including the use of medication.

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5 thoughts on “My battle with bi-polar

  1. Jo, reading this stirred me a lot – thank you for sharing this so honestly and clearly. As someone that saw you during your low episodes i want to testify of the work of Christ in you – i was so moved when i visited you just a week ago at how bright, together, relaxed and happy you are now! what a difference the Lord can make to what can often seem the most dreadful of situations.
    I am so blessed to know you and your gorgeous family and pray that our friendship will see us through all our circumstances, high and low!
    Thank you for always being there Jo x

    • Thanks Cathy, you have a very special place in my heart. It is lovely to receive such words of encouragement and I really thank you for walking with me on my journey, for accepting me for who I am (and how I was!) for remaining firm in faith and firm in friendship. It is a privilege and blessing to have you in my life, for someone so young you have taught me so much, there were occasions when you reigned me in and others when you dragged me out, all at the right times and probably without even realising, I guess that is how our Lord uses us. Thanks matey. Love ya! Xx

  2. Thank you so much for your honesty and openness. You have been through so much and are a shining example of God’s grace and the strength and hope we all strive to maintain. I know this post will help many people. Thanks so much. God bless you.
    ~Carrie-Anne

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