It’s not easy to forget the date, as the diagnosis came on the eve of my 42nd birthday.
I was signed off work for 15 days, initially. But those days stretched into weeks, then months. I finally felt sane and stable enough to make a decision and negotiate my way out of my contract in early January, signing the exit papers in March, a full (*counts on fingers*) 7 months later.
That day remains a bit of a blur, to be honest, but here are the things I do remember.
It was a Monday.
I was a mess but I dragged myself to work because, for the first time in my life, I found myself afraid to be at home alone.
I’ve never come close to contemplating self-harm, but that day my brain was racing around in ever decreasing circles, like the needle on a record, and there were voices (well, my voice or, to be more accurate, a whole cacophony of my voices) echoing in my head. I couldn’t pick up the phone or write an email. I hadn’t slept. My heart was racing. My palms were sweaty. I’d lost about 7 kilos (a stone!) in a single week.
But despite all this, I didn’t want to stay at home, even though a note from my GP, allowing me to do so, was burning a hole in my pocket.
I spent a good deal of time that day in the staff toilets, head firmly wedged between knees, trying to focus on breathing. I spoke to the nice lady from HR, at length. I went for a long walk at lunchtime (because eating wasn’t an option). I took Lysanxia after Lysanxia, but the drug no longer seemed to be having any discernible effect.
Mostly I waited. For my appointment in the late afternoon with a psychiatrist at the Centre for Stress and Anxiety, conveniently located close to my place of work.
Extract from an email to my Mum, at 00:07 on Sunday: “I had some blood tests today – well actually it’s yesterday now – just in case thyroid or some deficiency could be to blame. In the meantime I have some pills to calm the adrenaline (remember my A-levels) and am seeing the psychiatrist I saw once before on Monday. I think I’m willing to get some proper medical help with my ups and downs which are getting a bit too extreme for me to cope with.”
I’d seen the same psychiatrist exactly a year previously. September always seems to be a bad month. Back down to earth with a crash after the holidays. Back to work for me. Back to school for the kids.
The last (and also first) time we’d met, I remember her asking me some questions about the highs and lows I’d been describing. Did I spend more money during the highs? Did I engage in any risky sexual behaviour? A colleague of hers had been seeing me on and off for “anxiety issues” for the past three years, but I think this lady put her finger on the problem that very day and, if memory serves correctly, the word “bipolar” was even spoken aloud.
I didn’t return to see her for a whole year. I must have felt better, shortly afterwards. Or perhaps I wasn’t quite ready to face the music just yet.
The day before my birthday, when I returned to see her, I tried to explain how out of control I was feeling, in between the sobs.
Gently, she explained to me that I was experiencing what is referred to by psychiatrists as a “mixed state” – a state combining features unique to both depression and mania. The despair, blended with fatigue, contradicted by the racing thoughts, the flight of ideas, the nervous energy, the depressive ruminating (moo!) … all this madness could be labelled, explained, and even knocked on the head, simply by taking a small, white pill.
As I walked along avenue Marceau, prescription filled, I called my husband, in floods of grateful tears.
There was something wrong with me, but I wasn’t broken.
I could be fixed.