Blog Elle

Early Signs. Elle.

I was diagnosed Bipolar 1 aged 33…… looking back, (it’s a common scenario), the signs were there a lot earlier……

I was always a high achiever at school, but in 5th year of High School I was fairly flying. On top of sitting for 5 A grade Highers I was practising for Grade 8 piano.  I was Dux (an academic award) and Head Girl.  I ran the school magazine and organized the school discos.  Our school was setting up a new house system, and it faltered in its first year with lack of enthusiasm.  So for the school swimming gala I swam every event for my house – just getting out of the pool after one race to turn around and swim the next! I did much the same for the athletics competition.  It’s quite astounding to me now to think back to that one stellar productive year.  I blitzed the year and then crashed over the summer – in my first maths class exam in 6th year I scored 4%………

I’m going to talk about hypomania a lot in this blog, I suspect….. it makes diagnosis difficult;  it makes it quite quite difficult to figure out who exactly you truly are;  and it blessed me with several highly productive years and experiences I wouldn’t have had otherwise…

A teacher in my 6th year hauled me in one lunch time to discuss my problems (by this point I had withdrawn into myself completely and was spending all free time holed up alone in a study room).  What’s relevant here is that my depression was noted (it was never named as such) but only because I wasn’t performing to my expected standards – there was no follow-up to that one conversation. But the hypomania of the previous year was never noted…… People very rarely see hypomania as a problem because you’re too busy being super-bright, super-active, super-productive, and ever so brill….

I’m also going to talk a fair bit as we go along about keeping a lid on things, because I’ve done this to a remarkable degree my whole life.  Looking back on this period of my life I realise how much effort I was having to expend to keep that hypomanic energy under control.  Of course hypomania is not always a glorious time of productivity and brilliance – it can tip easily into terrible restlessness, anxiety, anger even.  But for a short period of my life I was able to keep the lid on all that and experience pretty ‘benign’ hypomanic episodes. My ability to keep a lid on things was related to pure, simple, denial, and that too deserves a bit of exploration.

Fast forward now to age 32.  Nothing was working anymore.  I had spent a hypomanic winter in the antarctic working as base doctor for the British Antarctic Survey soaking up the experiences of a lifetime, but I had come home unable to sustain that hypomania, and increasingly unable to work.

I was becoming delusional, too, and told a doctor friend over a pint that I could understand what causes mental illness – all of it – and that I was going to start writing a book.  He told me I sounded hypomanic, and that was the first time I took a look back over my life and start to put words to the experiences I could recall.  Hypomania, depression, hypomania, depression, in a relentless cyclical pattern.

Denial (one form of keeping lids on things) is a remarkable thing – and can be self-protective. I recall my Dad in his fifties staring at his hands at the kitchen table one evening saying ‘my God, I’m an alcoholic’ (he always had been but was turning it over like a pebble in his hand as if for the first time)….. In a similar way I found myself staring down my mind thinking ‘my God, I’m bipolar’…… All these years, and I’d never noticed that something was seriously up….





3 thoughts on “Early Signs. Elle.”

  1. I have no diagnosis (I’m fine!!!!) but both you and John describe episodes that I can relate to- especially in regards to school and achievement- both over then under…it helps to be able to name things or have the knowledge that others will understand..
    (I literally bounced around my poly student digs for what felt like years. I got a fair bit done [not academically] but have no idea what that must have looked like to my flat mates!)


    1. thanks for your thoughts leicester tora. i think that even without a diagnosis we can have a temperament that makes us struggle with our moods. If this blog can help you explore your thoughts a bit further then I’m delighted. Glad to have you here. (Elle)


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