My name is Rita and I have bipolar affective disorder, suffer with anxiety and depression, and I am a recovering alcoholic. Who else has these words after their names?

"Alcohol was the answer to all my problems. Or so I thought. At first we were besties, me and the booze, but slowly and surely like most alcoholics it got me in its claws and I spiralled for many years".

It would be better if I had PhD or Dr instead - much more respectable. But over the last decade I have managed to make these words work for me. They are illnesses which I will never recover from, it’s more of a daily reprieve. I live my life differently now, taking it one day at a time.

"I remember experiencing mental health difficulties even when I was young"

My childhood was unquestionably idyllic. I was incredibly spoilt and loved by my parents and siblings. If I wanted something, I got it and maybe this was the problem. I was always looking for the fastest route to everything. Always rushing, my mother would tell me to slow down more than once. I remember experiencing mental health difficulties even when I was young. I would get overwhelmed and go into shutdown... it’s hard to explain but I always felt frustrated.

It was around this time I started pulling my hair out. This is called trichotillomania, a disorder classified as being both related to obsessive compulsive disorder and other impulse control disorders. I looked like a monk for a while as I only pulled out the hair at the top of my head. Not only did I look ridiculous but I felt ridiculous, yet no help was sought as my parents thought my hair was falling out due to alopecia. I was unable to articulate to them that I was doing it to myself.

Alcohol and me

As I got older, I hid my anxiety and depression through being loud and the class clown. And inevitably alcohol. Alcohol was the answer to all my problems. Or so I thought. At first we were besties, me and the booze, but slowly and surely like most alcoholics it got me in its claws and I spiralled for many years. I had the night sweats, shaky hands, nausea, and red eyes. I looked terrible. I managed to hide it for a while but eventually everyone caught on and I was ordered to a residential rehabilitation facility for a month. Rehab was my saviour. Yes, at first I was scared, especially when I had to do the detox process. I was worried and didn’t know what to expect.

Once I had got through the detox, I attended therapy sessions every day. Where I spilled my guts out and felt cleansed and free. Meeting other ‘sick’ people at rehab made me realise I was not alone and that everyone had their stories. I attended AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meetings and found ‘my people’ and I began not to feel so alone anymore. I felt part of a gang, a good gang! Partly thanks to AA, I am now currently six years sober and long may it continue.

'It wasn't on my radar'

I thought all in my life was great and things were looking up until bipolar came for a visit. I wasn’t that aware of what bipolar was - it wasn’t on my radar. It crept up slowly on me.

I was working at the time in a male-dominated environment where I was constantly getting hit on. I had to contend with this alongside heavy workloads, causing my brain to snap so to speak. The day my family and I knew things were bad was the day I ran away and broke into my neighbour’s home. The neighbours were incredibly nice and supportive, ringing my sister and brother in law before I was scooped up and plonked in my nearest hospital's mental health unit.

Once again, it was the best thing that ever happened to me - I felt seen.

My consultant and psychiatrist were on hand and diagnosed me with bipolar affective disorder (BAD) and the word ‘BAD’ was not lost on me. I was given medication, a place to rest my head, and new friends who were as crazy as me if not more. Whilst I was in the hospital I was taught to cook and read books by the dozen and I also exercised. I remember feeling sad when I was allowed to leave. Once again, I was part of a gang who understood what it meant to be different.

Now I feel strong. I feel supported and I feel well now that I am used to my little friends, alcoholism and bipolar. I know what to do if things get bad and I have good friends and family who are there for me. Yes, I may have those words after my name, but I should also add four more. I am a survivor.