Throughout my teenage years I really struggled with mental illness but, at the time, I had no idea what was going on. All I knew is that I was lost, confused, feeling out of control, and in emotional pain. For a long time I thought that I was "just a bad person".
In my mid-twenties I received my bipolar disorder diagnosis and finally got the help I needed.
"I always felt like I was being held down, like I needed to break free. I felt like I constantly needed to be doing something".
Looking back, I understand that during my teenage years I had very few - if any - periods of mental stability. I fell from the dizzying heights of hypomania down to soul crushing depression and back up again, over and over again. It was a truly horrendous, destabilising time in my life.
Now that I understand my disorder and I have more self-awareness, I can recognise clear signs of hypomania throughout my teenage years.
Acting out of character
Most of the time I was hypomanic in my teenage years I can see that I was acting extremely out of character. I knew that at the time, sometimes even while it was happening, but I felt like I had no control over my behaviour at all. It was terrifying. I was saying and doing things that I would never have done if I was my usual self.
Unfortunately, I engaged in a lot of risky behaviour in my teenage years during episodes of hypomania.
I was binge drinking a lot, I partied a lot, and because of this I was often around people I didn’t really know, in situations that probably weren’t safe. I often walked home alone or ended up in places I’d never been with no way to get home. I’m incredibly lucky that nothing too awful happened as a result of these situations.
As much as I am ashamed to say it, hypersexuality was one of the hypomanic symptoms I struggled with the most during my teenage years. It’s one of the risky behaviours I engaged in, and it has been difficult to get past that.
Coming home from parties or nights out during the early hours of the morning meant I barely slept when hypomanic. I was going to bed around 4am or 5am and even then, I was lucky if I slept for a couple of hours before I woke up again.
Many of these nights of not sleeping were the catalyst for me crashing back down into a deep depression.
I would suddenly ‘come back down to earth' and be absolutely distraught at what I had done and the way I had been acting. Those depressions were some of the worst, and most dangerous, I have ever experienced in my life.
I remember finding it really difficult to sit still or to engage in my usual activities, like watching TV with my family or going for a nice day out. I always felt like I was being held down, like I needed to break free. I felt like I constantly needed to be doing something, which usually meant doing something risky, going out with friends, or going to a party.
As much as I tried to focus on education and various jobs, I found that I was entirely incapable of focusing on ‘normal’ life. As hard as I tried, my mind would race ahead to other things that seemed far more important, even vital, at the time.
Spending money I didn’t have
I spent money I didn’t have on silly things which seemed like the most important thing in the world at the time: a night out with friends, a whole host of new outfits, or a trip to visit a friend who lived far away.
When my parents or friends couldn’t keep up with how fast I was talking, or with the thoughts I was having, I became very frustrated and irritable.
When they didn’t understand my actions it reminded me that I too didn’t understand them and I felt increasingly alone. I often was short tempered, snappy, and harsh with those I love.
The present day: learning to release guilt and forgive myself
Thankfully I now have the treatment and support that I needed when I was younger.
My hypomanic episodes are far less frequent. I’m able to recognise indicators of their arrival and when I do experience hypomania, it’s far less severe.
I no longer struggle with hypersexuality and very rarely struggle with excessive spending or other risky behaviours. My hypomanic episodes tend to centre around racing thoughts and ‘great’ ideas which I never finish even though they seem absolutely genius at the time.
I have a medication regime which works for me and the tools through therapy to manage my disorder. A combination of an anti-depressant and mood stabiliser to be the most helpful for me, along with a sedative to take when needed. I had to try a lot of different combinations and types of medication to get to where I am now . I find general talking therapy to be helpful in supporting me to address the root issues and triggers.
I have an amazing husband who helps me to manage my episodes when they do happen, and I feel so much more in control of my life. While bipolar disorder is lifelong, now that it’s well managed, I feel more ‘me’ than I have since I was a child. I’m happy and I’m thriving.
As a teenager I was aware that I was acting out of character a lot of the time, but didn't know why or know that it was mental illness. Now that I know it's hypomania and I have my diagnosis, I tend to be able to feel rising.
However, once I'm actually in a hypomanic episode, I'm rarely aware that this is the case until afterwards. My husband may tell me that I'm having a hypomanic episode but, at the time, I often refuse to believe him. Sometimes I'm able to grasp that self awareness, but that's something I'm still working on.
- See more: Navigating Bipolar Disorder has made my marriage stronger - but having my boundaries respected is invaluable
- See more: The label of bipolar disorder has freed me rather than pigeonholed me
- See more: Bipolar II - for years I tried to hide from the other me
Now I know that that time in my life wasn’t my fault. I understand my behaviour back then was the result of a powerful, uncontrolled mental illness combined with a very lost young girl in immense pain. So, I have been able to forgive myself.
That period of my life is still hard to talk about and to think about, but I’ve released the guilt and shame I carried with me for so long. Instead, I have replaced those negative emotions with a sense of intense pride in myself that I got through that, that I survived, and that I am here today.