I’ve always been a writer. It’s been something I’ve loved and felt at home in ever since I was six years old and making up stories in my old battered notebooks. I progressed to journaling and blogging, and now I find I can lose myself in words. In allowing them to swirl around my mind, I can find clarity on the page.
The year 2004 was extremely hard for me. Aged just 15 years old, I experienced agitated depression and anxiety. This episode led me to see my first psychiatrist, who put me on anti-depressants and psychiatric medication. After six weeks off school, and with the love of family and friends, I recovered and sat my GCSEs, which, thankfully, I did really well in. As summer approached, however, I became more and more manic, which presented as being hyper – unusual behaviour for me! The manic episode happened when I went to Israel with friends, meaning that I had to come home early to see the doctor. They didn’t suspect bipolar at this point, however, and put the mania down to the heat and my tiredness.
Bipolar runs in my family. It’s a serious mood disorder where you can cycle from mania to normal functioning to depression. Sometimes you even get a mix of episodes, which can be very hard to deal with!
I also experienced severe depression with psychosis. This is when your mind loses touch with reality, and you can have delusions or hallucinations. In my case, I had the common delusion that I was in danger of being poisoned or hurt by my family. I couldn’t sleep and was very unwell. I felt confused and vulnerable.
Luckily, my parents could see how unwell I was. Seeing as this was the third episode of mental ill-health in one year, it was clear that I needed treatment and a diagnosis. My psychiatrist at the time had to act very quickly to find me a place in hospital, since I didn’t feel safe in my own mind.
As a teenager, I was put under the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service and was found an NHS bed at the Priory Hospital in North London. I remain so grateful for that! I was on a specialist mental health unit that really helped me to come to terms with the diagnosis, and recover. Due to the nature of my episodes and my family history, my psychiatrist diagnosed me with bipolar disorder. This didn’t fully sink in for a long time. To be told you have a chronic illness at such a young age is really hard going – you have your entire future ahead of you, but this diagnosis can make it feel like a terrifying prospect.
After four months I was discharged into that future, having recovered through a combination of psychotherapy, group therapy and medication. The road would be a long one. Over the course of my recovery, I developed social anxiety and had panic attacks at the thought of going to parties or socialising with friends. I was ashamed of having bipolar disorder and of to where my mind could go when unmedicated. I had low self-esteem and was scared to be around people so I often withdrew. I was depressed and felt suicidal. Living this way proved extremely challenging. It was then that I began to write about my feelings in my own private journals. This was so liberating because I could share my heartache and troubles on paper. However, I didn’t speak online about it at all – I just wanted to fit in.
In 2014, aged 25, I ended up back in hospital again with the worst manic episode of my life so far. My thoughts were racing, I couldn’t sit still, and my mind rapidly went into a state of psychosis, which again came with delusions of being harmed by those close to me. I had no insight into how ill I was, but the psychosis meant that I needed urgent hospital treatment, and so I was sectioned under the mental health act. Things were different now though – I was an adult. It was incredibly frightening to be on the ward again – and I was there for another four months! I left hospital feeling deeply traumatised due to the experience.
I also left hospital feeling driven. I had been thinking for many years that I wanted to help others, and the trauma of my re-hospitalisation and being sectioned gave me the fight I needed. ‘Life was too short,’ I reasoned, once my mind had recovered. I needed to talk about mental health. I needed to express the reality of what so many people go through. I remembered how the letters from friends and family had helped me when I was hospitalised, and knew that I wanted to help others feel less alone.
In March 2016, I set up my blog Be Ur Own Light (beurownlight.com) to share my recovery process with friends and family. I found happiness and freedom in putting my thoughts out to the world. I wanted to educate people about anxiety and bipolar conditions, and show them that it’s possible to live a happy, fulfilling life. Amazingly, the blog just turned two and is nominated for a UK Blog award!
Alongside my own blog, I began to share my experiences with mental health charities to help spread awareness. I slowly started writing more and more, including a few articles for HuffPost on mental health. This year I decided on a career change and became a full-time writer with the goal of beating mental health stigma. I now blog about mental health and lifestyle for Metro Online. I also had a dream come true when I was featured on the Glamour UK Magazine website, writing about dating and mental health! This month I was featured in an article in Cosmopolitan and Elle, which was just amazing! I also shared my story with my local Jewish community in national newspaper the Jewish News, which was nerve wracking at first. I also volunteer for the mental health charity Jami in order to bring a mental health awareness weekend to the Jewish community!
I have found freedom and recovery through writing and sharing my experiences. When I was so ill at age 16, mental health was far less talked about. Now, with my experience behind me, I feel like I can contribute to the wider conversation and help other people by raising my voice. I don’t want anyone to feel alone or isolated like I did, and I hope my writing can help to lessen that.
Want to see more from Eleanor? Keep an eye out on our Inspirational list – you might be pleasantly surprised next year!