I first came across Megan and her blog, The Manic Years, through WordPress. I spent a bit of time reading through it and found it fascinating. I try to spend time reading other people’s work but I don’t have as much time as I’d like. But Megan’s really resonated with me at the time. She was also asking people if they wanted to share their stories. A few emails later and she had mine which she blogged here Music and Blogging. I asked Megan if she’d reciprocate which she was happy to do. I sent her some questions and a few days later I received her replies. And here they are:
Would you like to say a few words about yourself?
Hello! I’m Megan, I’m 26, and I live with my 4 year old daughter. I like to write in my spare time, and I run a mental health blog called The Manic Years. I also have a degree in Biological and Biomedical Psychology, and have a working background in academic and clinical research. I love my life, but unfortunately it has been scathed by a battle of mental illness.
When did you first start showing signs of mental health issues?
The first significant memory I have of when things started to get difficult for me, was probably from the age of 12. Back then, I was having a really difficult time at home with my mum being ill (she had clinical depression, social anxiety and OCD). She was constantly bleaching the house, in a world of her own, talking to herself, you know. I suppose I started to withdraw myself from the outside world, and that caused a whole lot of other issues for me. I just wanted to rebel. Drinking, a change in temperament and eventually, self-harm. Other than that, looking back from now I suppose I could say there was something wrong with me even earlier than that. I had a large group of friends, but I always felt like an outsider ever since I was a kid. I felt too much. I was so sensitive to the world around me. Extreme emotions which I couldn’t understand. It made me a shy child. I think what was happening at home kind of escalated that, it was too much for my little soul and unfortunately I retaliated by reaching out for dangerous coping methods.
How did people react to you? Did you get the support you needed?
People certainly noticed. But I didn’t get support. I was confused, and I was scared, and I didn’t know what was happening to me. Generally I was socially withdrawn and depressed for the last few years of high school. But then I had times where my mood elevated up to the point where I was the complete opposite to myself. I was loud, extroverted, and impulsive. There were times when I would channel this in to creative arts (I used to paint) and writing. I write a whole novel throughout my last years of high school. Who does that at that age?! Sometimes I would get so severely exhilarated with life, that I’d lose control of it and my memory would black out. I’d wake up having taken large doses of pills and I would have attacked myself, quite viciously in some way or another. That’s when the self-harm became more apparent to the people around me. The first time I lost control of myself I was at a house party that I had organised. I was having a good time, my mood escalated even higher, and then the next thing I knew I turned nasty and tried to cut my nose off with a knife. I had no idea why. I still have the scars on my nose today. I certainly didn’t draw the connection to psychosis back then. Afterwards, I would become withdrawn again, indifferent to my peers. I didn’t know what was happening to me, so I kept to myself.
How did you try and deal with your issues? Are there things that worked better (or worse) for you?
My extreme mood cycles continued after I left high school, and I can hold my hands up and admit that I went down the wrong path and dealt with them in the worst way possible. My self-harm behaviours went from occasional to a daily struggle; I developed an addiction to caffeine and prescription pills in an attempt to self-medicate my symptoms (which I ended up in rehab for), promiscuous activity, impulsiveness, even more ‘Black outs’. I thought these were my coping methods, my conscious choices. I didn’t realise it was something else altogether. At one point, when I was 17, it even went as far as me packing my things and moving to another country. That was the first time somebody had mentioned that I might have Bipolar disorder. I dismissed the thought; “But I’m not happy?” I had a total misconception of the disorder, so much that even though my symptoms were extreme and apparent, I still didn’t relate them. I thought that Bipolar was a case of being sad one minute, then happy the other. I thought my self-harm and my intense behaviour was me dealing with depression; turns out it was mania! I finally got diagnosed ten years after my first symptoms showed and it was only then when I was provided with the right tools and the right knowledge to approach the illness from there on. After a long process of getting the right medication, my life finally began to feel settled.
How are you at the moment? Do you feel like you’re doing okay?
I am just coming out of a bit of a manic spell (my medication started failing), so I am still a little unstable, but I’m getting there. I have come a long way from how I dealt with episodes in the early years. I have a solid platform to keep myself well after years of psychotherapy, counselling, CBT and well…. Practice! There was no self-harm, no destructive actions and less consequences after this one, and I was strong enough somehow to come out of after a matter of weeks (I wasn’t fully untouched however, it affected my ability to work and I am now dealing with those financial implications!). These days, I think I finally have a better understanding of how important it is to track my moods, surround myself with the right people in my life, practice a healthier lifestyle; having a routine, strictly taking my meds, regular contact with my doctor, not going out drinking as much. I have a daughter now as well, so even more reason for me to strive for wellness. I suppose with Bipolar, it feels like a constant fight to keeping your stability; she definitely provides my safety net that keeps me from swaying.
My support network is my lifeline. My friends are incredible, even though I have a smaller circle now. They have been nothing but supportive over the years. My family and my partner have been my rocks too, I’m really lucky. My life is far from perfect, but comparing it to my teenage years and earlier twenties I can finally come to the conclusion that yes, I am doing incredibly well!
Tell us about the blog you started. How did that come around?
My blog, The Manic Years, came about as a therapy assignment back in 2013 when I finally got my diagnosis. It was an outlet to track my thoughts – my moods were all over the place back then – and I suppose when you are in the midst of feeling so down you can’t cope one minute, then ecstatic the next; writing makes a good reference for you to look back and gather your feelings in to something solid that you can understand. It helped with coming to terms with the disorder, it helped with venting my emotions when I was in such states, and it finally helped me on the road to forgiving myself after a lifetime of harmful behaviour towards myself and to others.
What do you feel the blog gives you? Do you find it a good outlet for you?
I am really proud of the way the blog has transformed over the past 6 months. I used to only write posts when I was in the fog of extreme feelings, and I think that’s when people started to take interest and connect with me. I have a way with words when I’m stuck in an emotional state, I am in no way a ‘writer’ so to speak, but when I’m trying to describe how I am feeling it somehow works. I have had a lot of feedback recently of people reaching out and saying “this sums up exactly how I feel in words!”, and the feeling of helping people and making something useful from my experiences with mental health.
Recently, trying to stick with the ‘real experiences’ feel to the blog, I started a Sharing Stories feature, where I encouraged people to tell their own stories drawn from their experiences. So far, we have had a good range of mental health topics such as eating disorders, PTSD, social anxiety. The feature has definitely broadened the blogs theme from being a one way perspective of mental health that it was originally. I feel relatable experiences of what it is really like to suffer is exactly what was lacking on my journey to understanding what was wrong with me to begin with; and so I wanted to produce something that portrays a real life account of information that people can say ‘This is me!’, rather than your usual detached facts and figures approach in to mental health issues that you so commonly find on Health websites and leaflet these days. Bipolar is a very complex disorder, and is not usually picked up for diagnosis until years later; as it was with my diagnosis experience, the average being 10 years from onset of first symptoms! Can you believe that? That’s ten full years of consequences, pain and even suicide numbers. I really feel we need to evaluate our approach to mental health, and that is exactly what I have planned for the future of my blog.
The feature has had a great response, and the amount of support and lovely comments from readers is overwhelming. If you would like to take part, please feel free to drop me an email.
In closing, do you have some final words for people?
I cannot stress how important it is to reach out to people if you feel you are struggling. Depression and other things are nothing to be ashamed of, I think it is more common these days than people realise; particularly with it becoming more of normality in this day and age. I think people who have battled to fight the stigma of mental health have done an incredible job in that past few years, especially now with higher influencing people and celebrity statuses opening up about their own personal encounters. Sharing really does save lives.
Fight for yourself, speak out, connect, help people, and drop the judgement. Forgive yourself. Share your experiences. Break the stigma.
I’d really like to take some time to thank Megan for taking the time to answer my questions. You can read her blog over at The Manic Years. If you’d like to take part in sharing your story you can drop her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You’ll find it a rewarding experience.
If you want to get in touch with me you can drop me a line at email@example.com. Also, you can join our closed Facebook group, The Order Of The Dog by going to The Order Of The Dog. It’s there for people who suffer with mental health issues as well as people who want to support or just get a better understanding. Also, please feel free to share this blog wherever you think it’ll be of help.
The Order Of The Dog