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Living with bipolar disorder: SA comedian tells her story

Written by Nompilo Gwala

Wednesday marked Bipolar Awareness Day which aimed to bring awareness to those living with bipolar disorder.

This year, The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) is raising awareness to eliminate the stigma around bipolar disorder that many feel in their homes, workplaces and in society by talking about it, sharing resources and encouraging others to share their stories so citizens can better understand their condition.

According to Healthline, bipolar disorder is a disorder associated with episodes of mood swings ranging from depressive lows to manic highs. Actress and comedian, Nina Hastie shared how living with bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, has affected her life.

“I cannot tell how important it is to maintain the basics.  Physical activities, 8 hours of sleep enough water. So I had the trifecta, a tummy bug where I was completely dehydrated.”

“Dehydration always triggers an episode for me, lack of sleep and not good food,” said the actress.

Impact on relationships

Hastie also explained that bipolar disorder has affecting many relationships in her life. She said that because of her mental illness she did not realise that her actions impacted the people around her.

“There’s causalities on this journey and the casualties are generally the people that are close to you. My family had to put up with this, my mom. You know the episodes that I have had, the suicide attempts, waking up in an ambulance. Imagine having a child in an ambulance, it’s not a fun experience,” she said.

“My little sister, only years later she said to me, ‘you know Nina, I was only 14 years old you were in an ambulance. I did not know what was going on’ and I said to her I hadn’t even considered the impact of my actions on my younger sister.”

“It’s cost a lot of relationships, romantic ones and friendships and business relationships,” she added.

Bipolar disorder diagnosis

Hastie shared that before being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, she never really understood her episodes that would come in different forms.

“At first it was difficult to explain the sensation of the episode. Not all episodes are the same experience. Sometimes it’s aggression, sometimes its tearfulness but what it is always is especially when you’re at a level 10, I have had times where I am collapsing or I’m drooling, I’m shaking. I have no control over my body like I get very extreme episodes especially then when I was not on medication. My episodes were very intense,” she said.

Hastie also had some advice to share with people diagnosed with bipolar to ensure that relationships are not broken.

“Don’t dump emotionally on your friends,” she said. “As soon as you start dumping stuff on other people it creates two things. One, those people have their own capacity. They can only deal with so much. Two it creates a toxic relationship between you and that person because they don’t necessarily want to be supportive of you and they resent you for what’s going on and they can’t be in a space where they are supportive.”

Feeling alone

Thembi Dlamini, an advocate for LGBTQI and a support group leader started a group for people with bipolar. She said that most of the time people diagnosed with a mental illness feel alone.

“People who are diagnosed with mental illness always feel so alone, so misunderstood and they sometimes get into this isolation. So with started a support group I wanted to create some sort of community, something that would bring you to a place where you feel that you are not alone, a warm space with with people that are going through what you’re going through,” said Dlamini.

People with bipolar disorder are at a greater risk of suicide. According to Sadag, the average suicide is 17.2 per 100 000 (8% of all deaths). This relates only to deaths reported by academic hospitals. The real figure is higher. Dr Antioinette Miric, a psychiatrist for patients with bipolar disorder said that this mental illness requires a patient to stay on their medication to avoid episodes.

Mood swings and suicide risk

“The moods episode  actually last from days to weeks to months even so it’s much longer that just days. In terms of just talking to yourself and saying just calm down, unfortunately bipolar disorder is one of the psychiatric conditions that requires medication and we know it requires medication because people without medication don’t do well,” explained Miric.

“The other big thing about bipolar disorder is it’s got a very  high suicide rates associated with it, completed rate so not even attempted rate. So the consequences of going off medication needs to be understood,” she said.

The global pandemic has been a serious global health threat to everyone and Miric said that people with serious mental health illnesses are more prone to developing COVID-19.

“Research is still coming through but we do think that patients with with SMI (serious mental illness) are more prone to developing COVID-19,” she said.

Miric shared five tips that can help people with bipolar disorder to avoid having an episode including monitoring the amount of hours that you sleep, maintaining a regular structure, taking your medication, having a healthy diet (avoiding substances), and exercise. – Health-e News

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Nompilo Gwala