Time To Talk Day, marked on 1 February, gives everyone the opportunity to open up about mental health. It’s a subject close to my heart, because it took me 11 years to talk openly about the fact I have bipolar disorder and anxiety.
My story begins in 2003, when, aged 15, I experienced an episode of depression, anxiety and psychosis, where your mind loses touch with reality.
I wasn’t sleeping, my heart would suddenly race, I would cry and have regular panic attacks and couldn’t concentrate on anything. I was incredibly frightened and exhausted.
My parents, as well as teachers at Immanuel College, were hugely supportive and understanding and I sought help from a psychiatrist for the first time.
But that year, while on Israel Tour with my youth group, I also experienced a manic episode and had to come home early. I felt so ashamed, even though it was not my fault that my mind wasn’t well.
My madricha was an incredible support to me and I thank her to this day for all she did to make sure I was safe and well.
Months later, when I started studying for my A-levels, I had a further severe depressive episode.
For the next four months, I was kept in hospital and, aged just 16, I was finally diagnosed with bipolar affective 1 disorder (formerly known as manic depression), which causes both depressive and ‘high’ manic episodes.
The disorder can be medicated and therapy helps, but it’s about finding the right medication and support, which can take a while for each person.
For the next 10 years, I managed my condition and in that time achieved A-levels, went to university and travelled.
But when I turned 25, I again found myself spiralling into illness with a bipolar manic episode.
People suffering with this can have racing thoughts, reckless behaviour, increased activity and movement and delusions, which can, in the worst cases, turn into psychosis. This is what happened to me.
Through no fault of my own, I was back in hospital again. It was extremely frightening. Owing to the severity of the mania, I couldn’t see how ill I was and felt incredibly vulnerable.
At that time, I had no idea if I could recover and get back to some kind of normal life again. It affected everything and even when I began dating, I felt I had to hide my condition.
In fact, from the moment I was diagnosed as a teenager, I didn’t feel comfortable talking about it. I was a shy teenager and just wanted to fit in with my peers and not feel different, so I hid my condition from those who were not close to me. I wasn’t aware of any mental health blogs for teenagers or any charity campaigns at the time that could help me.
But my family and friends have been a huge support and it’s been amazing to see the change in attitudes to mental health within our community just over the last five years, thanks to the incredible work of charities such as Jami, which are helping to fight stigma and support those who are unwell.
For the past two years, I have worked as a volunteer for Jami’s Mental Health Awareness Shabbat, which has been a huge success, and encouraged more people to start conversations about the issue, up and down the country.
But I feel more still needs to be done to educate people and help normalise mental illness. One in four of us will suffer from mental health issues during our lives. It’s important we feel comfortable saying we are unwell and need support.
Now, 13 years after my diagnosis, I am trying to do my part by sharing my story through writing and blogging, to fight the stigma that still exists within our community and beyond.
There remains a lack of understanding about mental illness, but I hope my story can help others feel less alone.
Read here: http://jewishnews.timesofisrael.com/time-to-talk-i-hope-my-story-can-help-others-feel-less-alone/