Mental health issues and in particular Bipolar have recently made headlines because of high profile individuals experiencing this condition.
Finn Prevett, 34, is a leading mental health advocate and co-founder of The Positive Planner. She lives with her husband and son in Kenya. Finn lives with Bipolar 2.
As Finn explains “Bipolar 2 is a label that is accompanied with some pretty negative stigma, but for me the diagnosis has enhanced my life far more than it has hindered it. Being diagnosed with Bipolar 2 gave me a passion for life again.”
The Positive Planner produce beautiful planners and journals to support mental health and wellbeing. They currently have three journals and have recently published their first children’s mental health journal, The Positive Doodle Diary.
Finn has lived with mental health illnesses since childhood. It started off as anxiety and escalated in her teenage years into what she now understands was a cycling pattern of mania and depression.
Finn remembers the first time she went to the doctors to discuss her mental health. “I was just fifteen. I went alone and told no one. I left with a prescription of antidepressants.” She is horrified by this now. “I remember feeling overwhelmed and alone, confused by what had just happened and questioning my worth in the world; how I could possibly articulate these feelings to family and friends. I was overcome with shame.”
Just two days later Finn took an overdose. “In hindsight I now know I could not find the words to describe what I was experiencing, and taking an overdose seemed like the quickest way to show how desperate I was. It would take a further eighteen years to receive a formal diagnosis of Bipolar 2.”
Exactly one year and a day after Finn’s son was born, she finally received her formal diagnosis. “The signs had been there for many years”, explains Finn “I was just unable to find a doctor who really understood the symptoms of Bipolar, and this is not uncommon. People living with Bipolar face an average of ten years of living with symptoms before receiving an accurate diagnosis. Now I understand the condition more and I can trace my symptoms right back to childhood. This extract from The National Institute of Mental Health rings very true to me”:
‘When manic, children and adolescents, in contrast to adults, are more likely to be irritable and prone to destructive outbursts than to be elated or euphoric. When depressed, there may be many physical complaints such as headaches, and stomach aches or tiredness; poor performance in school, irritability, social isolation, and extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure’.
“I tick every box on that list, it’s heartbreaking to remember how lonely I felt.”
In the months leading up to Finn’s diagnosis she was struggling to get from one day to the next, “I had no self-esteem and a voice inside my head told me on repeat that I was a ‘pointless person’” she says. “I was experiencing life in a very dark place. Everyday I wanted to die. I had no desire to be alive anymore and it was the most awful way to live, I suppose it was not living, it was merely surviving.” People assume getting a diagnosis like Bipolar would be a terrible thing, I am sure for many it can feel this way initially, but my experience was very positive. I say that I ‘live’ with Bipolar 2, I do not ‘suffer’ from it. This is not to say I live in a constant state of utopia, but since having a diagnosis I have learned how to thrive whilst taking care of my mental health.”
Finn has good days and bad days, low weeks and high weeks, but she now has compassion for herself and accepts her moods are fluid.
“By removing the pressure to always feel good the lows become more bearable. I know they will pass. I made a choice the day I was diagnosed to take ownership of my condition, and not let it own me. I set the boundaries and expectations and actually it has enriched my life in ways I could never have imagined before all this. Living life on the edge of being alive means you embrace it with every cell of your body when you are feeling happy to be alive.”
Every area of Finn’s life has improved since her diagnosis. Her relationships with friends and family are stronger, she is more successful professionally, and Finn gets more joy from life.
“Being Bipolar means I am empathetic and experience emotions in a very vivid way, it enables me to connect with others on a level that many are unable to do because I have experienced most emotions so intensely. It feels like a gift to be able to share these experiences with people” states Finn.
“Without my diagnosis I don’t think I would have learned how to take care of myself properly and learned how to truly love and respect myself; it has led me to explore what my version of wellness is. I have learned so many amazing things like hypnotherapy, meditation, mindfulness and yoga, all in pursuit of a happier healthier self. On being diagnosed with Bipolar 2 I started psychotherapy with a trauma specialist. This has been the single most important gift I have given myself.
It takes a daily commitment to myself to put my mental health and wellbeing before anything and anyone else, because if I don’t work then nothing else in my life will. I have a lot of people who rely on me, and I want to be a support to them, and to do that I need to make myself a priority and not let my needs get forgotten about. For me, navigating life with Bipolar2 actually comes with a lot of amazing experiences.”
Finn hopes her story helps to raise awareness about Bipolar in a positive way and gives hope to those going through low periods of mental health.
“There is always hope”, says Finn, “things always pass. Hold on and live each day for tomorrow believing it will get better, because one day it does, and that is beautiful.”