My Rollercoaster Life with Bipolar Disorder: An Interview with my friend Anfal Albuloushi

by Aisha E. Al-Saqabi
bipolar

Bipolar disorder formerly known as manic depression is a psychological condition characterized by its manic highs and depressive lows. It often causes major changes in mood, energy and activity levels.

Bipolar disorder is further broken down into four types: Bipolar I Disorder, Bipolar II Disorder, Cyclothymic Disorder/Cyclothymia and other Specified & Unspecified Bipolar and Related Disorders. All types involve shifts in mood, activity levels and energy but are often differentiated by their severity and duration. [1]

As a mental health condition, bipolar is often treated and/or believed to be a simple shift in mood, within our social contexts; automatically disregarding its seriousness.

Although, mental health talk is starting to increase in certain parts of the world such as the USA and the UK. As well as laws and legislations are being made and/or modified to support and help individuals who deal with psychological problems, I personally think more needs to be done, especially in the Arab world in order to fully be of support to those who are affected by any form of mental illness.

Therefore, I’ve asked a friend of mine if she would be interested in being interviewed and discussing her experience with bipolar disorder. I also thought that it would be interesting to open up about mental health and illness with someone who is both Kuwaiti and living in Kuwait.

AISHA: First of all, thank you for taking the time and doing this. I’m really glad that you were willing to share your experience with me. So, let’s get started. When were you first clinically diagnosed with bipolar disorder and what type was it?

It’s my pleasure Aisha.

I think it’s relevant to say that I was first diagnosed in 2009 when I was 23 years old with schizophrenia also called schizoaffective disorder. Although, my psychiatrist at the time was hesitant with my diagnosis. Two years later, in 2011, I was diagnosed with Bipolar I disorder (Type I), also by the same psychiatrist. I saw more than one psychiatrist in my course of illness since 2011, all of which agreed that I have bipolar type I. One of them even told me: “You’re suffering from type I bipolar is unquestionable.”

QUESTION #2: Before being diagnosed, have you had any knowledge on mental disorders or mental health in general?

Yes I did. I had a course on mental disorders in university. But it never ever occurred to me that I may suffer from any mental illness. It was way too early for my insight to appear.

QUESTION #3: Bipolar disorder often has symptoms of both manic and depressive episodes. What symptoms have you experienced and how do you deal with them?

As you may know, each and every person with bipolar goes through a unique experience. Each individual comes up with his/her own advice, tips and techniques, which may be completely irrelevant to others suffering from bipolar. I went through severe psychotic symptoms. In 2009, I was paranoid, terrified from my own parents, closest friends and family members; I thought they were infidels. I thought that people were looking for me, because I believed that I was “important person”. It was a very dreadful experience. But let me give you my own magical secret to deal with my illness; self insight. I deliberately try to be aware of all my actions, behaviours, and emotions. Second: I depend on my judgements on people I highly trust, like my father, or my psychiatrist. Third: Don’t stay alone, socialize, discuss, chat, go out with friends, spend time with your family. Believe me when I tell you that these tips definitely saved me from both depression and mania, and they still do.

QUESTION #4: As we both know, in Kuwait, mental health remains to be a taboo subject that people often avoid and have misconceptions about. Have you ever felt or experienced any form of intolerance or narrow-mindedness in Kuwait simply for having bipolar disorder?

I’m quite lucky to say no, I’ve never had to experience that. Almost everybody who knows me in social media, web forums, or in real life knows that I suffer from a type of mental illness. On the contrary, I receive high praise for my courage to talk openly and people think I’m very inspiring. I’m not here to minimize the suffering of the mentally ill from this stigma, it is very difficult indeed. But on the other hand, speaking up altogether will shatter the stigma associated with mental illness once and for all.

QUESTION #5: How would you describe your experience with bipolar disorder? What were/are difficulties that you had/still have to deal with or some things that weren’t/aren’t as difficult?

I would describe my experience with bipolar as a rollercoaster! I’ll explain you how it is similar. My life was so, so boring. Yes, I was highly successful in my academic and social life. But walking through a road, without any left or right side roads, only one, a single, straight, smooth road. No curves. No twists. No prickles. In fact, there were many different flowers along the way. But getting used to the sight of flowers can also be tedious, isn’t it? Bipolar disorder swirled my life and put me at last into motion, though fiercely. I failed one time after the other, in every aspect of life you can think of. For ten whole years. Since I was 21 years old, until I was 30.

Perhaps you didn’t come across a person with bipolar who compliments his illness! But honestly, without bipolar, I would be left in that boring, motionless, flowery life. It’s not only that, I can be certain to tell you, that in each manic episode I experience, I am able to observe how my intelligence grows significantly. A growth that never subsides due to a subsequent depressive episode. I also recognize how my writing skills in particular improve evidently especially, in the peak of mania.

To be honest, nothing is difficult. And although it is not, I’m not used to being extremely disciplined and committing to what should be done. I’ll talk specifically about my sleeping. I sleep a lot. And I’m too careless to wake up even if it’s something really important like studying for a final exam or going to work. My sleeping schedule started to be irregular since the onset of my disease, and continues to be until this day. Although, I’m extremely optimistic. I managed to accomplish in one year what people spend years trying to reach, and I also continue to grow each day. Another thing that I struggle with to this moment, which apparently is related in a way to sleeping, is boredom. Boredom is also related to depression. But luckily it’s diminishing with time.

QUESTION #6: What is the most common form of treatment for bipolar disorder and how long is it usually used for?

I heard from a famous psychiatrist that drug treatment is very crucial for patients with bipolar disorder in particular. It is also life-long. Psychotherapy is useful too. But personally, I don’t think that I need a therapist, you know why? Because I’ve involved a lot of people in my improvement. I have support from my parents, my family, and friends. A lot of people have contributed to my well being. That’s why I don’t think I need therapy. But of course I’m adherent to my medication. I wasn’t compliant until one year ago and didn’t leave it since. I have an awesome life now!

QUESTION #7: Now what would you say to people dealing with any form of mental disorder(s) especially in the Arab world that are having a hard time managing it or finding proper support?

I know this might seem too cliche, but don’t lose hope. I suffered through two whole years of depression, where I lost everything. It seemed like some demon sat on my head and sucked every meaning of life from me and left me helpless and motionless. I tell you, I really lost hope in having a normal life. But even when I lost hope, I rose again. Bright and shiny. Though, that wasn’t the only time that I faced depression. In fact, symptoms of depression surpass symptoms of mania. But I healed myself, by myself.

Maybe you’ll say that I’m a lucky person but probably you’re not going to. But I’ll tell you: there is also a chance that you will be lucky too, and the chance for a good life is worth fighting for. Second, maybe it’s very difficult to inform people about your illness, but at least let people who are understanding and whom you trust know about your illness so that you can ask for their support in critical times. Don’t be ashamed of your mental illness. It’s something that even the most successful of people face.

QUESTION #8: And lastly, what would you say to people who have no or little proper knowledge about mental health and how can they be of support?

What I would tell them is that mental disorders are no different than physical diseases such as hypertension or diabetes. In fact, your support to mentally ill patients may be more important than your support for people with hypertension or diabetes.

Be understanding. Read articles on how to be of support and trust me, the internet is full of them. Watch your words. They may be more painful than the disorder itself.

For more information on Anfal and her experiences, or if you would like to contact her, please feel free to do so via the following outlets.

Email: anfal.albuloushi@outlook.com

Twitter: @AnfalAlbuloushi

Blog: anfalsb.wordpress.com

References
[1] “Bipolar Disorder.” National Institute of Mental Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Apr. 2016, www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/bipolar-disorder/index.shtml.

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