Today is World Bipolar Day – a day to raise awareness of bipolar disorders and eliminate the stigma surrounding the illness. While I necessarily haven’t experienced bipolar myself, I have seen the effects of this mental illness on my family after my grandad was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2010. As such, I would love to share the impact this mental illness has on, not only the individual themselves, but their family and friends, to help raise awareness of a disorder so often misjudged.
I was about ten or eleven when my grandad’s bipolar disorder started to show itself. In 2007, he was in an extremely high, manic phase which resulted in him blowing thousands of pounds on electronics, new cars and other unnecessary things. As a kid, I never really understood what this meant and it never really crossed my mind that something was “wrong” with him. For my sister and I, we were loving the new laptops and DSLR camera he had bought us. However, my family – particularly my nan, were getting frustrated at the fact he was spending my grandparent’s pension and savings. It was hard to get through to him though; he had no cares in the world, he thought he was invincible because that was what his mind told him.
After three years, it came to a point where my family couldn’t control my grandad any longer and his spending was getting out of hand so they made the hard decision to place him into a mental health unit. I was just twelve at the time so I didn’t really understand where he had gone but I just knew he wasn’t very well and he would be better off there. I remember having a discussion about mental health in PSCHE class at school and telling the teacher my grandad had bipolar. She looked at me very concerned and threw out some words of comfort but I didn’t really understand why she had been so taken aback by it. A few years later, I started to pick up on the stigma attached to mental illnesses – particularly bipolar disorder, and I stopped talking about it openly.
My grandad spent just a few months in Basildon hospital before being allowed back home. I was still pretty young at this point, but from my understanding, he was still depressed when he got back from hospital but my grandad was no longer manic like three years previous. In this low phase, my grandad would sit for hours on end watching all kinds of crappy TV shows – and by that, I mean every quiz show and reality TV show going! He didn’t want to talk to anyone. You were lucky if you even got two words out of him in a day.
My grandad remained this way for about eight years. You could feel the frustration from my nan who no longer knew the man she lived with, the man she had married. This extended to my mum and her siblings who had lost the dad they knew. In his younger days, my grandad had been an adventurous and ambitious kind of guy. He was a keen runner and managed to run the London marathon twice – with a time of 4 hours and 20 minutes the last time round. My grandad, at the age of 50, also cycled 877 miles from Lands End to John O’Groats (basically from the bottom of England to the top of Scotland) in just 10 days. It makes you wonder if he had bipolar all along and if he could have achieved all these things without his mental illness. In 2018, my grandad entered another manic phase – sparked by an interest in genealogy which had him staying up all night to track his family tree. It was from this point that he began spending lots of money again and stopped taking his medication to keep him in a low mood. There was a point where my grandad was spending £700 on food every week, visiting our local Waitrose each day to purchase discounted products.
Now that I am older, I can understand most of the things that are going on. It’s sad to see your family mourn the death of the person they once knew – even though he’s still alive. He is controlled by a delusional voice in his head, which makes him think he is on top of the world and nothing can stop him. Unfortunately, this means he is in and out of hospital quite regularly as he struggles to take the medication given to him, which ultimately sends him high again.
I know we are not the first or last family to be shaken up by mental illness. But I would give anything to get back the grandad I once knew for the sake of my nan, my mum and my aunt and uncle – even for my cousins who didn’t even get to the know my grandad as he truly was. For me, I am lucky in that I got a childhood with my grandad. I remember him taking my sister and I to the park to play on the swings and how we would follow him around the house wanting to copy everything he did. However, for my youngest cousins, they only remember my grandad as the ‘grumpy grandad’ who would sit in the front room and watch TV all day and all night, isolating himself from everyone. As it is World Bipolar Day, I want to give back to those who have helped my family including my grandad during his time with bipolar so I have donated £50 to my local Mind branch (Basildon Mind) and I encourage people to do the same.
Mind is one of the UK’s top mental health charities and I have first hand experience with both using their services and working in their offices. I was lucky enough to do work experience in one of the local Essex Mind offices where they provide counselling and I came into contact with lots of individuals with mental health issues over the phone and in person. I also received therapy from a counsellor at Mind when I was struggling with anxiety and depression during sixth form. They really provide such an amazing service but there are plenty of people out there who need counselling and don’t have access to it. That’s why donations are so important!
To donate to your local Mind, please see their website: https://www.mind.org.uk/donate