My name is Jenny-Anne and this evening I visited my first Bipolar UK support group.
Due in part to huge amounts of family and internalised stigma surrounding mental health and bipolar, I lived with the condition undiagnosed for at least 22 years. I was finally diagnosed in September 2018, and in April 2019 I fully accepted the diagnosis and started to tell people I had bipolar disorder.
Once I realised that I was stigmatising myself by not telling people, I came to the conclusion that – for me – full disclosure equalled empowerment. I refused to keep this as a ‘dirty little secret’ – it’s just part of who I am, after all.
Accepting I have a mental illness that I will never cure has been extremely hard for me, and turning up to a ‘mental hospital’ was so difficult that I nearly bolted.
This evening was the first time I have not felt ‘alone’ for the past 11 months – even though I am surrounded by very supportive and empathetic people.
I wept about my pain and got nods of agreement, instead of ‘I feel so sorry for you’ stares. I belly laughed with another person, who I happened to already know, about the absurdities of the things our illnesses make us do.
I felt empathy, discussed shared experience, and heard other people’s stories. I was told about different therapies and strategies for living, and I was given hope.
I walked into that room as a wreck, and walked out on a complete and utter high. However, I did not follow any of my previous pre-diagnosis urges to binge drink or smoke like a chimney. I’ve not touched either of those things since the day I was diagnosed.
Now that I finally know what is ‘wrong’ with me, I am doing whatever I can to become well. Choosing to walk through the door of that support group was one of those such things.
So thank you, Bipolar UK, for providing something that the NHS should be providing – but can’t.
Thank you for existing and for enabling peer support groups to happen.
Thank you for introducing me to my tribe.
You can visit www.bipolaruk.org.uk for more information about Bipolar UK’s work.
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