Written by Hannah Hardy-Jones Five years ago, after the birth of my first child, I thought my kite was damaged beyond repair because of a crippling and rare mental illness. Today my kite is soaring and I would like to share with you the journey I took to rebuild that broken kite.
Hello. I’m Hannah. I’m many things--a mum, a wife, a daughter, a sister, an HR professional. I have recently become the owner of a tech start-up. I have a degree in psychology. I’m a friend to so many beautiful people. I also have Bipolar Disorder.
Bipolar doesn’t define who I am but it is a huge part of me, which is why I tell new friends about my illness very soon in our relationship. Sometimes even on the “first date.” It has become a bit of a running joke with my husband--when I come back from a drink or coffee with a new acquaintance he says, “So, did you tell them about your bipolar?" Invariably I say, “Yes!”
To be honest, I haven’t always been so open about it because for a long time, I felt so much shame.
If you had told me six years ago that I would end up having bipolar, I wouldn’t have believed you. One of the reasons I would have had that reaction was because I saw myself as “normal”--whatever that means. I had a successful career, a loving marriage, and stable friendships. I wasn’t on the fringes of society. I didn’t take drugs. I wasn’t a creative person and I wasn't particularly “moody.” I was the opposite of all the stereotypes that exist for people suffering with bipolar.
After the birth of my daughter, my first baby, I became unwell. Very unwell. I became severely manic, followed by cycles of crippling depression, and was eventually diagnosed with Postpartum Bipolar disorder triggered by childbirth. I had no idea that this form of bipolar even existed let alone what the warning signs were. None of us did. What was meant to be the most exciting and special time of our lives became an absolute nightmare. This illness came storming into our lives like a hurricane, ravaged us, and left us to pick up the pieces.
There are many reasons I wanted to share my story. The biggest reason is that mental health still has such a terrible stigma. There are so many people hiding the fact that they are suffering for the fear of being judged. Unable to tell friends or their employer and who feel so isolated and worthless. It absolutely breaks my heart.
Which is why I'm pouring my heart out to you, to help you understand what this illness is and how it affects people. I want to normalize it by speaking openly and honestly, to share some sad stories but also to share some amusing ones--to make the subject of maternal mental health seem less “scary.”
Mental illness, especially illnesses such as bipolar, schizophrenia and personality disorders scare people. We are scared of the things we don’t understand. We make judgements based on very little knowledge of the facts. Before I had bipolar, I based my opinion of it on movies, TV shows and text books.
When I became ill, I frantically searched online for other women who had experienced my same form of bipolar. I found a few snippets and articles, but what I desperately needed was to see a story about someone who had come out the other side--a success story--a mom who was living a stable and happy life. But all I could find were the horror stories--the broken marriages and hospitalizations.
For a long time I felt that my life was ruined and that I was going to struggle for the rest of my life to keep my bipolar under control. It was truly frightening. My hope is that my story will provide comfort and hope to mums who have been diagnosed with this illness postpartum or who are struggling with any form of postpartum mental illness. I hope to reach any individual with a mental illness who feels alone, hopeless or judged. And I hope we continue to open up the conversation about the way we view mental illness as a society.
My dream is that one day people might feel as comfortable talking about their mental health as they do about any physical ailment. We wouldn’t dream of judging someone because they suffer from arthritis or diabetes. We don’t look away if someone is in pain with a broken leg. Mental illness should be no different.
We have to keep talking about mental health. We have to become better at helping those who are suffering. We have to make it “normal” and not awkward. We have to become more educated so we can help. We can't bury our heads in the sand or look away anymore.
For more from Hannah, visit The KITE Program.