On World Bipolar Day 2022 BDRN Research Champion Julia Savage talks to us about her experiences of having bipolar disorder and her opinions of the importance of research into bipolar disorder

What were your early experiences of having bipolar disorder?

My first experience of mental ill-health was at the age of 18 years, I had lost a 19 year-old friend in a traffic accident, causing me to suffer from sleep deprivation. I was unable to concentrate and behave in a rational way. I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital feeling confused and frightened. I was given good care and treatment. However, I felt stripped of my confidence, ashamed and embarrassed. I also feared the stigma I would have to live with once back in the community. 

The result was that I walked with my head down avoiding any eye contact for years.

I gradually gained confidence by working in our family business and soon found the courage to see friends socially. I never spoke of my illness to strangers fearing rejection as a result.

I eventually worked full-time, outside of the family business, and widened my circle of friends. I had some mood swings but they were not of any significance.

When were you diagnosed with bipolar disorder?

Ten years later, after the breakdown of a long-term relationship, I had a second admission to a psychiatric hospital and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The diagnosis helped me understand my behaviour and learn more about managing the illness. I still felt uncomfortable telling others of my illness unless it was appropriate.

During my recovery I attended college and re-trained in administration skills and went on to hold down several jobs over the years. I gained confidence, resilience and further insight into my mental health.

My last episode in hospital was 8 years ago due to an overload of stressful situations. By this time I was more comfortable within a psychiatric unit and once again received good care.

Afterwards I took on voluntary work followed by paid work which I continue today.

What have you found has helped you cope with your mood symptoms?

Methods that help with my coping strategy are walking, keeping a daily routine whenever possible, good diet and meeting friends socially. My partner has been a constant support to me for the past 20 years. I also contribute to research by completing a weekly ‘True Colours’ graph, provided by the BDRN.

I believe that talking to someone you trust and feel comfortable with is key to maintaining good mental health. Reaching out and expressing your feelings is sometimes difficult but I have found it has become easier with practice.

In your opinion why is research into bipolar disorder so important?

Research is an excellent method of capturing information from many participants with bipolar disorder, each one having their own unique experience.  It helps to gain a further understanding and knowledge of bipolar disorder and this can lead to new and improved methods of managing or treating this illness.  BDRN True Colours for me, plays another role as a tool to help manage and monitor my moods.  The graphs created can act as an aid when attending medical appointments to illustrate my changes in mood.   BDRN have also completed advanced research among women with bipolar disorder and pregnancy. Ongoing research has led to much more support being available for women before, during and after pregnancy. 

Julia Savage BDRN Research Champion