I’m a Science teacher in my late twenties. I’ve never had a job in the “real world” as I went straight from school to university and, essentially, straight back to school to my PGCE before qualifying in 2012. In my late teens and early twenties I had a few “hypomanic” episodes culminating in a full mental breakdown in my final year of my undergraduate course and another during my second PGCE placement.
I wasn’t diagnosed with bipolar disorder “officially” until March 2011 but I knew before this that this was the most likely cause of my so-called “issues”. Until March 2016 I hadn’t had another episode, and I genuinely believed I would never be unwell in that way again as I had stopped behaving like a student and stopped my risk-taking behaviour that can be typical of someone with my illness.
Everything changed in the run-up to my recent wedding. I was so excited and nervous that I began to lose sleep. I kept thinking of other little things to make the day go even better and I ended up overspending money I didn’t really have. My father asked me if I was okay a few weeks’ before my most recent episode. He knew something was wrong before I did because he knows me far better than I clearly understand myself. I was so worried about being “sane” for my marriage that I became unwell – the very definition of irony.
Before Easter I had a whole week (four days due to Good Friday) off work. In my time at the school I have only had five sick days – including that week – so it was very out of the ordinary for me to have a few days’ off in a row. I was the same as a student; I was never ill in the traditional sense. I have a very good immune system. Unfortunately my mental health has not always been as good. But I’m learning all the time about my illness so that I can understand it, and therefore get better at managing it.
My wedding and honeymoon went to plan, I returned to school after Easter as normal, which is what I wanted more than anything. Someone at work described me as “brave”. I don’t see myself as such. My father has a chronic condition – type 1 diabetes – but I don’t see him as “courageous” because he has to take a load of medication a day; it’s what most people just have to do if they are in that situation. I do, however, see my parents as brave in another way – dealing with a bipolar teenager is not, and was not easy. It wasn’t easy for them, my teachers, my friends and not for me either. It is hard sometimes but I have to get through. I know my bipolar is not as severe as other people; I’m lucky in that sense, but it is still hard for me and my loved ones to deal with, especially my new husband.
It is my new mission to spread the word that having a mental illness is not, or does not have to be, the end of the world. Just learn about your condition, find out how you can best control it – be it with meds, therapy or something else or a combination of them all. I take medication, I enjoy writing, discussing politics, listening to music, amongst many other things. I do those things as often as I can – I even try to incorporate them into my teaching where appropriate.