"People don't always understand."
How do stories impact you or your life?
I have been an avid reader and book worm since I was a little girl. I have always loved the beautiful and imaginative impact of delving into a story and its characters. The story I loved most as a young girl was “Charlotte’s Web” by E B White. I was 8 years old when we read it at school and I loved the peaceful, innocent and whimsical story about friendship, love and saving lives. As a teenager I was (and still am) obsessed with Harry Potter. When I was unwell (experiencing depression), I re-read all seven books! It brings me hope as I forget my worries and follow the Harry Potter magical world of hope triumphing over adversity.
Describe yourself in three words (and describe, in three words, how you think others see you).
I see myself as warm, friendly and caring (I hope!). This is a hard one but probably creative, kind and hopefully fun.
Tell me about mental health. What does it mean to you? How do you define what it means to be “mentally healthy?”
Mental health means always working towards positive mental health, optimism and recovery. I have bipolar (BPAD) and anxiety disorders, so I need to manage this carefully. It means managing my symptoms through eating and sleeping well and resting when I need to. Being mentally healthy means talking about my feelings, taking care of myself and seeking support if needed. It also means taking my medication every day and on time. At it is worst, m illness turns my life upside down and brings chaos, so when I am well and stable I strive to be as mentally healthy as possible.
Tell me about life before your diagnosis. What was day-to-day life like before BPAD and anxiety?
I first got ill with depression when I was 15, but I had anxiety attacks from an earlier age. Life was far less chaotic before my bipolar diagnosis—although now my medication keeps me on a stable path. I think that illness can be a burden but also a blessing as it teaches you self-belief and strength. I have always had a very supportive, loving family and that hasn’t changed.
Chaotic how? What are the biggest changes you notice between pre- and post- bipolar diagnosis?
Pre-bipolar I was more carefree and didn’t worry about taking medication, avoiding things that harmed me, or getting adequate sleep. Post-bipolar I had to be far more vigilant about it all.
You’re a plant in a garden. What plant are you (and why)?
Even though one of my names means rose, I would choose to be a sunflower. They symbolise happiness and are bright and hopeful—that is what I am striving to be.
When did you first realise / notice that you might struggle with anxiety or BPAD? How old were you? How did you react at the time?
My first diagnosed depressive and anxious episode was at the age of 15 after my first relationship broke down. A year later, I was diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder which runs in my family. In that episode took six weeks off school and experienced heightened anxiety. My first memory of anxiety is when I began primary school at the age of four and had really bad separation anxiety from my mum. I was very fearful of some of the bigger children and made myself so anxious I was sick at lunch every day. At the age of about seven, I was bullied at school and Sunday school. I remember refusing to go. Anxiety has been with me since an early age, but I eventually settled and loved school and made good friends.
How did you eventually settle? Do you remember distinctly when you started to love school and make friends, or was it a gradual adjustment?
I made some good friends throughout school and from the age of about nine or ten and started feeling a lot better.
Had you always known that BPAD ran in your family, or was it a surprise to you? Did your family’s connection to it impact you or comfort you in any way—how?
My family member was diagnosed when I was just 12… yes, it comforted me in many ways as they helped me understand what was happening.
If you could write a letter to your younger self, what would it say?
It would say: “You are strong, you are capable more than you know, you have the power within you and the strength to overcome adversity and pain. Your illness will be a blessing and a difficulty but with the love of others you will thrive.”
Does your family or friends know about your mental health struggles? Why or why not?
Yes, my parents and sister have been my absolute lifeline throughout my mental health struggles. They support me and have even gone to psychiatry appointments with me. They drive me to appointments from time to time, liaise with services when I am unable to and always ask me how I am. My Mum also helps me with my tablets as I take so many. I am very blessed to have an incredibly supportive family. My close friends also know and read about it through my blog. When I was in hospital, my friends came to visit even when I was really ill. Due to stigma I am not yet “out” among strangers but I hope that I can be one day.
If you could say anything to those people you will “come out to” today, what would you tell them?
I would say that you can get better, you can recover and life will not always feel as bad as you are feeling now.
What is your worst habit? What is your best habit?
My worst habit is letting my laundry build up until the last minute. My best is working towards my goals.
What is one of your current goals?
To be a published author and help others suffering with mental health issues.
What’s the most reassuring advice you’ve ever been given? Who gave it?
I have received a lot of reassuring advice from psychiatrists, therapists and my family. One of my favourite sayings is “This too shall pass”—however, I have also found India Arie’s music and lyrics to be extremely helpful. This is my favourite lyric of hers: “Thankful for relaxation, hibernation and irritation, seclusion, confusion, all my impurities and insecurities, ‘cause I know it’s God just perfecting me. That’s why each day I take life as it comes.”
Have you been treated differently (for better or worse) because of your mental health? In what way?
Sadly, yes. People don’t always understand social anxiety, panic attacks and psychosis in a bipolar episode. There is a great stigma still. Some people can’t comprehend mental disorders—but I’ve also seen a lot of positivity and support on my blog Be Ur Own Light and on Twitter, too. Friends and family have also been hugely supportive.
What makes you happy?
So many things! Helping others, blogging about my struggle to help others, going to the theatre (my favourites are Wicked and In the Heights), spending time with friends and people I love, travelling and seeing new cultures, curling up in a blanket drinking hot chocolate. Too many things.
Do you have a favourite film or book? What is it, and why?
My favourite films are romantic ones—The Notebook and Titanic. I am also a major fan of the Bridget Jones films, Harry Potter (of course) and comedies. My favourite books (I love too many and can’t choose one!) are deep and spiritual—they take me on a journey. I am currently loving “Light is the New Black” by Rebecca Campbell. It’s about following your heart and passion—what lights you up.
If you had to bring any object to Show And Tell that represents you best, what would it be (and why)?
I don’t know but my friends often compare me to a fairy… so probably something girly and glittery!
This feature interview thanks to Rose at Be Ur Own Light. Be sure to check out her blog on living (and thriving despite) BPAD and anxiety.