Page last updated at 08:11 GMT, Wednesday, 26 July 2006 09:11 UK

Living life to the full with Bipolar

Robet Westhead with his son Thomas.
Robert now has a young son

Government advisers have issued new guidelines to treat and diagnose bipolar disorder.

The condition, formerly known as manic depression, is a serious mental health disorder characterised by swings from elated mania to deep depression.

Because of the complexity of the condition it is often unrecognised or misdiagnosed, patients can be left without the correct drug regime or frequent enough tests.

Robert Westhead, aged 33, from London, who works for the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMHE) tells how the condition he has suffered since his late teens almost cost him his life.

I resolved to end my life before making the commitment of marrying my partner of seven years standing and having children

"I was 19 when I first fell ill, although the signs were probably there earlier. At school I was a very high achieving grammar school boy.

"I was very popular and a bright sort of person. But, by the time I reached the sixth-form I'd become prone to extremes of mood.

"I ended up withdrawing socially and experience bouts of feeling very low, sometimes bursting into tears for no apparent reason.

Serious illness

"Then when I left school I decided to have a year off and go travelling.

With me it went in eight day cycles, eight days 'up', eight days 'down'

"I went to South-east Asia and that was when I first fell seriously ill.

"At first I was getting more and more mood swings.

"It was when I was in Kashmir, in India, I first experienced a real high - I became the life and soul of the party. I became much more sociable and fun than usual.

"It was then that I started to realise that there was a problem.

"With bipolar disorder some people can be 'up' for three months and then 'down' for three months, but with me it went in eight day cycles, eight days 'up', eight days 'down'. They were as regular as clockwork.

Bitter contrast

"When I felt high I had so much energy. I would be having the time of my life.

"Then, inevitably, I would have a down and would feel just awful.

"I would withdraw from all the friends I was travelling with. Coming down was like having a rug pulled from under me. I felt such utter misery.

When manic, I started spouting poetry spontaneously, talking gibberish, and charging around the country in a state of euphoria

"What made it so difficult to bear was the contrast between the euphoria and the depression, going from one extreme to another.

"Over three months travelling these mood swings got worse and worse.

"When high I wouldn't sleep and would have grandiose delusions, and as I became worse this behaviour became more extreme.

"I realised I had got to come home and flew back.

"My parents met me off the plane at Heathrow and I was as high as a kite. I had all the characteristics of someone who is very egotistical.

"My parents were dumbstruck. I was talking 10 to the dozen and told them I only needed two hours sleep a night.

Condition worsened

"As the weeks went by without treatment, my mood swings became even more extreme.

"When manic, I started spouting poetry spontaneously, talking gibberish, and charging around the country in a state of euphoria.

"The thing about mania which I've always found hardest to deal with afterwards, notwithstanding the shame and embarrassment, was the religious delusions.

"Despite not having had a Christian upbringing, when seriously manic I read religious significance into anything and everything.

"Where other people with mania might think they are Tony Blair or a multi-millionaire, I was on a divine mission seeing God personified in a black dog and the eyes of a cat.

"At one point even just glancing at the pavement God seemed to 'stare' back at me.

Hospital care

"Eventually the week before I was due to start university I was sectioned and was prescribed the mood stabiliser Lithium.

"A week later I was released, but the cycles continued.

"University was deferred for a year and it wasn't until my second year that the doctors got my medication of Lithium and carbamazepine right.

"Then with the agreement of my psychiatrist I cut back my dosage and because of that spent, without realising it, six years feeling mildly depressed.

"Because I had forgotten what it was like to feel normal I didn't really notice the depression.

"I knew what it was like to feel 'normal' when I was younger but when I stabilised at this depressed level I just thought that must be the right mood for me.

"I qualified as a journalist and started to develop a number of physical problems - back and neck pains and mysterious tingling in my arms and legs, caused by the depression.

Overdose

"I took a pressured job as a government senior press officer in London and hated it.

"My mood worsened and I felt hopeless about the future. I decided that life was not worth living - a reasonable conclusion to draw after feeling so awful for years.

"Eventually I resolved to end my life before making the commitment of marrying my partner of seven years standing and having children.

"It would have been to awful, I reasoned, to kill myself after having had a child.

"I survived a massive lithium overdose.

"And my suicide attempt finally prompted my psychiatrist into action and changing my medication.

"He prescribed the anti-depressant mirtazapine and this was a revelation. I started my cycles again, but started to realise that before I had been depressed for ages.

"Now even though my mood was yo-yoing I was on 'average' much better that I had been.

"It took me over a year to stabilise trying different drugs - eventually finding that the 'anti-psychotic' quetiapine combined with lithium was very effective.

"I was very angry with my psychiatrist, who was not aggressive or pro-active enough in my treatments and I feel had he been it might have saved me from wasting six years of my life.

"I am now married with a toddler, working in mental health doing a job I care about - and glad to be alive and kicking."



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