'We can also be happy if we’re just given a chance': Pretoria man with bipolar disorder shares his story

By admin
30 March 2016

Bipolar. To those who don’t suffer from the condition the word evokes thoughts of high emotions and dark moods. But bipolar is so much more, writes Herman le Roux of Pretoria.

Bipolar.

To those who don’t suffer from the condition the word evokes thoughts of high emotions and dark moods. But bipolar is so much more, writes Herman le Roux of Pretoria, administrator of the online group Bipolar(s) for Bipolars. He suffers from bipolar disorder.

“Those who suffer from it, like me, could write books on how it affects us every day, from the time we get up until we go to bed, from our work until we rest.

I’m now 42 years old. My own road with bipolar disorder began 27 years ago. I was a child. I did well at school and wanted to become a doctor. But that wasn’t my destiny. In the space of a few weeks I went from someone who lived to someone who could barely function. In the course of three years I seriously attempted suicide twice and spent months in hospital.

Read more: What it’s like to love someone who has bipolar disorder

I was diagnosed with major depression. For the next 20 years I went from someone who functioned well to someone who abused drugs and alcohol. To round all this off I drank up to 25 cups of coffee and smoked 60 cigarettes a day. The only reason I did all this was to find a way of going on with my life, just to feel a little better.

It was only at the age of 30 that my diagnosis was changed to bipolar disorder, after my first manic episode. Depression took me to staring at the walls for hours and mania took me to psychosis and another series of visits to hospital.

Then everything changed. I decided I was going to live with my illness. I would have hope again. Over the following five years I gave up drugs, alcohol and coffee and stopped smoking. About six years ago a friend and I started an online support group. We had only five members. The group has grown to become the biggest of its kind on Facebook, with 28 000 members.

Together we looked for answers. The answers weren’t simple but they were doable. Now, even though it’s very difficult, I look for the beauty in every day, I look for consolation in animals and find fulfilment in plants and music. And after years of longing to do so I’m at last going to finish school. The thing that means more to me than anything else is my dog, Seun. He has been with me for 15 years and I believe no doctor or medication has brought me more healing than him.

I still have a long way to go. I’m still dependent on pension but this is changing slowly because I’ve chosen life. I hope to study law after I’ve completed school next year.

If there’s one thing I want people to understand about bipolar disorder it’s that we’re also people with dreams, with hope; we can also be happy if we’re just given a chance.”

BIPOLAR DISORDER

There are two clearly distinguishable types.

Bipolar disorder 1 is characterised by manic or mixed episodes of mania and depression at the same time, alternating with depressions.

Manic moods last for at least a week. Sufferers sleep little and are extremely energetic. Their self-image is exceedingly good. They recklessly partake of pleasures that can have painful consequences, such as sex, shopping sprees and gambling.

Bipolar disorder 2 involves at least one hypomanic episode and one episode of deep depression, each of which can last for days, weeks or even months. Hypomania is milder than mania and less disruptive of the sufferer’s daily life. Sufferers run around full of ideas and enthusiasm and then fall into depression.

They experience intense feelings of sadness, lose interest in what they previously enjoyed and battle to concentrate and remember things. Months can go by without any symptoms but sufferers must keep taking their medication during this time.

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