I had a big bipolar mania episode two years ago. I'm still recovering. I told my psychiatrist that the medications were like putting a bucket under the Huka Falls. The Huka Falls is a powerful waterfall in Taupo, New Zealand that could fill an Olympic sized swimming pool in sections. You can hear the roar before you see it. The intensity and energy of emotions being released that had been shut down with PTSD was so powerful that it was a huge challenge to try to harness.
Medications were like giving me a life-jacket and helmet. To try and stop me from being killed. Counselling was giving me some instruction on how to paddle a kayak, yet not having opportunity to practice in calm waters. I still had to navigate down the powerful gorge and waterfall with rocks on either side myself. If the medication prescribed was too aggressive, I'd crash suddenly into depression, which was also dangerous. At times I felt like I was drowning. At one stage, my psychiatrist said, 'I'm trying my best to keep you alive right now.'
I had another bipolar mania episode a few years before that. I liken it to falling off a cliff. I was hospitalised for two months and it took a long time to make any improvement. So frustrated, I told my psychiatrist that I don't believe I have bipolar and therefore I don't want to take the medications anymore. Part of my not believing I had bipolar was that my symptoms had not been explained to me.
Refusing treatment was like throwing away my life-jacket. I felt better at first. I felt alive. But then things became scary and I asked for help again when I could feel myself crashing again. My psychiatrist was amazed that I was extremely unwell, yet had the insight to ask for help. But for me, falling of the cliff hurt, so I didn't want to do that again and again. Although I had done it for the past few decades, only the cliff had gotten much higher.
Making it through the Huka Falls alive is no easy feat. Some very experienced kayakers choose to do it. Although, I did read about one kayaker getting stuck sideways in the gorge trying to turn back. They had been winched out by rescue helicopter. It's a bit like a metaphor for being hospitalised. Experienced kayakers can get into trouble and die.
I've just completed my first painting of the Huka Falls, called Whitewater Roar. The kayaker represents me and the onlookers from a distance represent my psychiatrist, psychologist and family who can only support me in what way they can. Yet, they do not experience first hand the mood episodes of bipolar disorder nor process the trauma. I am doing that. The medications after several changes and several extremely difficult months have reduced the intensity. Lowered the height of the waterfall. But I still have at least a year of trauma therapy ahead of me.
Xanthe finds writing and painting to be therapeutic. She has lived with mental illness for over 25 years. She has been diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and social anxiety disorder after originally being diagnosed with 'treatment resistant' depression with general anxiety.