My name is Helen Moon, I’m an Events Professional and I have Bipolar.
I’ve always imagined if there was a mental health meet-up (which there never are by the way!) that that would be the opener I’d use, in a professional capacity, to open up about the mental health illness I’ve suffered from all my adult life, but only diagnosed with 8 years ago.
This is a tricky post to write, not because I’m fearful of being judged, I’ve experienced enough of that over the years to not be affected by it anymore, but because it’s hard to articulate the sometimes debilitating illness that controlled me for such a long time, but that finally 4 years ago I was able to tame.
My diagnosis came 20 years after my first episode of Bipolar, which happened when I was only 16, and which neither myself or anyone close to me knew was the problem at the time.
Bipolar Disorder, previously known as Manic Depression, is an illness where the sufferer experiences episodes of depression and mania or extreme highs ranging from hypo mania to psychosis, the experience of which can be very different from one person to the next.
I’m going to be as honest as I can in regards to my experience and how the illness affects me in the hope that it encourages others to speak out about their experiences, but also combat the stigma that can stop people asking for the help that they really need.
I honestly believe it was this stigma that prevented my full diagnosis for so long, as lack of understanding and awareness prevented the behaviour I exhibited from being recognised as mania, only treating my depression, and treated wrongly with anti depressants which resulted in my mania becoming worse over the years than it otherwise would and should have been.
That’s the thing with mental health illnesses, diagnosis can be tricky. There are no blood tests or CT scans you can have that will give you the prognosis you seek. It’s generally a matter of sitting down with a medical professional answering a series of behavioural questions, unless things have taken a more serious course.
My illness took a very serious course in my early 20s and 8 years ago there were 3 visits to hospital in very close succession so I’ve certainly had my difficulties, and sometimes still daily I have to take a step back and think to myself am I feeling like this today because this is how I should be feeling and it’s normal or is it because I am becoming ill again?
I’ve also found that even though I love what I do, the Events Industry is a tricky one to work in when you suffer from Bipolar.
It’s generally not a great idea for anyone suffering from any mental health illness to drink alcohol, not only is it a depressant, for a bipolar sufferer loss of inhibitions can be a big factor when experiencing a manic episode, and we’ve all experienced loss of inhibitions after a glass or two of Pinot! Imagine that inhibition loss on a completely different scale.
Probably not my proudest moment a few years ago was spilling a large glass of red wine down the front of the dress of the then Editor of C&IT Magazine at a Power 50 event, and then proceeding to tell her she should get over it. It’s not the greatest way to win friends and influence peers is it?
I stopped drinking alcohol in 2013 in an effort to better manage my illness without medication when planning my amazing daughter with my husband, and now soberly watch with interest and amusement the people at events doing not dissimilar things without even a sniff of a mental health illness (of course I’m joking, you are all crazy!).
There is quite literally an event you could attend every night of the week with complimentary food and drink.
From a wellbeing perspective it’s important to be aware and maintain a work-life balance when deciding which of the countless invitations to RSVP, as it can become all too easy to self medicate with alcohol in times of stress and this can too often lead you down a very slippery slope.
On a plus side I have only ever experienced a serious manic episode once and have never had a psychotic episode, I do though quite regularly suffer from hypo-mania however, it’s quite rare for me to experience depression.
My hypo-mania can also be good for me, there has been many a time that I’ve come up with some of my most creative event and business ideas when in a ‘hypo’ as I fondly call it, but the drawback to hypo-mania or any mania is the unwillingness to sleep.
Lack of sleep can be a huge negative for a bipolar sufferer and can trigger major mania and psychosis. Another factor can also be that a major manic episode can lead to a serious depressive episode, what goes up must come down, the higher the rise the harder the fall, whatever analogy you wish to use you get the idea.
Long event days, tight deadlines and heavy workloads in our industry can already prompt many of us to work until the early and very long hours with little sleep.
This for me combined with having a toddler, means I have to be extremely careful that I don’t allow a ‘hypo’ to escalate into something more serious. I’ve learnt very quickly the importance of self awareness, taking a step back and switching off.
Being self employed, which I’ve also found is the best way for me to work around my illness, means I am better equipped to do what I need to do to take care of myself.
This isn’t an option for some so it’s important to also be self aware and do a mental check in from time to time, almost like a mental body scan.
In view of all of the above the biggest point I want to share and get across from this post is that mental health illness is not to be feared or scared of.
I’m Managing Director of my own company, I’m a Freelance Event Director, I’m part of a great network of event professionals that not only do I respect but that also respect me. I’m a mother and a wife, I have a pretty normal (personally I think amazing) life.
1 in 4 of us will experience a mental health illness at some point in our adult lives, that’s a quarter of all of you who read this post, a quarter of the people you work with, a quarter of your friends and family.
There is help available, my treatment has been very positive and along with self management has resulted in me being medication free for the past 3 years.
Don’t be afraid to ask for support and talk about anything you may be experiencing, or you feel someone you know may be experiencing. Sometimes just offering an ear can make a huge difference to someone and there are far too many people who suffer in silence for fear of being judged, or thought lesser of.
I myself have sadly experienced prejudice and bullying. Thankfully it’s been a number of years since and it was due to ignorance and lack of knowledge, and mainly – stigma!
If this post encourages just one person to seek the help they need then I’ll have achieved my main objective for sharing my experience. How will you help someone you know? You can start by listening.
Until next time #eventprofs…