From Techno to Teddy Bears – My Totally Crazy Bipolar Story

My bipolar journey started at age 23, in 1998. I had had a happy childhood, a fantastic time at university, where I was in a techno rig and loved going to illegal raves. After university, I did a bit of traveling and accidentally found a brilliant graduate job in the Netherlands. My social life was amazing! The free party family was close-knit and I had thousands of friends.

But I started feeling really weird. I had strange delusions and paranoias. I would smell weird smells and they would affect my delusions. For example, I believed that some Dutch people were cannibals. I would frequently get the smell of what I believed was rotting human flesh from their houses. I couldn’t sleep for ages and lost loads of weight as I believed Dutch food had hormones in to make you tall.

I remember one day lying down listening to the radio. I thought the radio was beaming out messages especially for me. I just had to decide what those messages meant. Then a song came on, Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain, I bet you think this song is about you, don’t you, don’t you?”

I cycled into town and booked a flight back to the UK for the next morning. When I got home my mom screamed when I walked through the door because I was so thin. She took me straight to the doctor. He sent me to the hospital.

When I got to the hospital, it was so posh! I thought it was some kind of trendy rehab. I was shown my room where I saw my pajamas and slippers on the bed. Suddenly it became clear to me that this was a mental health unit, and I was a patient.

I walked down the corridor and stood in front of the big doors.

“Let Me Out!” I cried.

Four big burly male nurses, who looked more like bouncers, in the traditional white uniforms jumped from the office and very violently threw me to the ground. They pinned me face downwards in the sign of a cross and injected me.  Everything went black. When I came around, I soon became painfully paralyzed and my tongue was sticking out. In my paranoid state, I was sure the antidote they injected me with was actually “the final injection”. I was very shocked to be alive the next morning.

My first admission was hell on earth. I was very paranoid and psychotic.

When I left, I got another graduate job, but after 7 months I became psychotic while at work. I was admitted again to the mental health unit and this is when I was given the diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

I moved away to live with my dad, in a new town. I nosedived into a deep, deep depression. My Dad lived in a picturesque 17th century cottage. But in the winter, it was absolutely freezing! I didn’t want to be alive. I couldn’t stand the thought of having further admissions into mental health units. I had left all my friends, and in this town, knew no-one. Who would want to be my friend anyway, now?

My lowest night was New Year’s Eve 2000. My friends and I always discussed which country we would celebrate the millennium in, which big party we would go to. However, I spent it in a village hall drinking lemonade with my dad doing a family quiz. My life as I knew it was over. I couldn’t think clearly with the medication. My life was not worth living, I thought. So, I took a big overdose when my dad and stepmom went to work.

I was taken to the general hospital, afterward, the mental health unit. I found the nursing staff at the new mental health unit to be very loving! They created a happy, friendly, and supportive atmosphere. Because of this, I never feared to go into hospital again.

I got a full-time job. But, my mental condition would take a negative turn and this ended with me being sectioned. I would become very manic and psychotic quickly. I didn’t have insight into the fact I was not doing well. My employer was understanding.

I met a man and fell in love. 12 years ago, my boyfriend found a lump on his neck. We were so shocked when they gave him 3 months to live. He was gone in 6 weeks.

A few weeks after his death, my dad who I was very close to, emigrated to New Zealand. Two weeks after this I was made redundant from my job due to the recession. My boyfriend had given me an angel made out of Lapis Lazuli before he passed away. One night I was looking at this angel and I thought it was talking to me, telling me to join him in the afterlife. So, I took a big overdose. I was in the hospital for days. I discharged myself against advice, so never saw the mental health team. This deep depression suddenly flipped into severe mania and psychosis, and I was admitted again.

My admission was horrible. A few patients bullied me. Normally, I would never put up with this, but I had never felt so forlorn. I was deeply depressed for a long time afterward. I flitted from job to job because I couldn’t hold my interest in a job for long.

I was given a new social worker. She sent me on a couple of group self-esteem building courses. These courses changed my life! One of the exercises we did was passing around our books after being in the course for a few days. Everyone had to write about how they felt about you. I could not believe some of the wonderful things that people wrote about me!

This gave me lots of confidence! With the help of a mental health company, I found a job teaching – something I hadn’t done for many years. I had a wonderful few years teaching English to speakers of other languages. I absolutely loved it!

Then one day my psychiatrist called me in. My Kidney function was going downhill. I had been taking Lithium for 13 years (as well as various other antipsychotics). My psychiatrist said to reduce my Lithium down gradually over 3 months. As I was on the maximum dose of Abilify (Aripiprazole) 30 mg I should be fine.

3 months later, I had taken my last little bit of Lithium, having followed my psychiatrist’s instructions to the letter, I’ve always been 100% medicine compliant. One Sunday after, I was chilling out in my kitchen. I was in good mental health state and I had been at work Friday as normal. I also had a good night’s sleep Saturday night. Absolutely fine.  But a chemical reaction suddenly went over my brain and due to the lack of Lithium, I became crazy within seconds.

I went out in the street, with a tub of salt, throwing it around, saying prayers, as I thought I was a saint who had the power to bless the land.

I ran upstairs to my flat, I was convinced it was possessed by an evil hobbit, so started throwing salt north, south, east, west, everywhere. Then in every drawer. But I couldn’t do that with my vases (I loved flower arranging so had many vases). Instead, I hurled the vases with great force into the road. SMASH! I was in a frenzy, smashing everything I could onto the road. All the time I had my stereo blasting out Black Grape’s “It’s Great When You’re Straight, Yeah!” as loud as it would play – which was very very loud. The police soon turned up.

In my head, I was back at the Criminal Justice Bill demonstration in 1994 where myself and over 50,000 other ravers rioted in Hyde Park, London after the government passed legislation to crack down on illegal raves. I picked up the heaviest object I could find and hurled it. It hit the police car windscreen. Suddenly there were police everywhere, as far as you could see left and right. The police got out and I was hurling my stiletto collection at them. Two police officers came to my door and calmed me down. Lots of police officers retrieved everything I had thrown out and brought it all back for me.

I cut my finger and the police officer said I needed to get it checked out so went to the hospital. I remember insisting I hold a bunch of flowers as I walked to the police van and insisting the officers on either side of me carry flowers too! And they did (so bizarre)! I must say the police were actually brilliant with me. I got into the back of the police van, with all my neighbors watching. Rather than take me to Accident and Emergency they, of course, drove me to the mental health unit.

I was in the mental health unit for 7 months. When I got there, I was not well. I had an imaginary friend for the first few weeks, I would talk to him and tell him what was happening. The doctors tried lots of different combinations of medications for months. But nothing worked. Nothing would bring me down from extreme mania. I didn’t sleep for 3 months despite being given the maximum sedation they could legally give me, lots of exercises, massage, and reflexology, but nothing worked. They said they had no option but to put me back on Lithium but at 500 mg instead of 1000 mg. I was also on Carbamazepine 1400 mg and Amisulpride 700 mg, as well as Diazepam and Temazepam.

One day, my best friend brought me in a lovely, big, soft teddy bear. That night I hugged the teddy bear and a miracle happened! After 3 months, I finally fell asleep, and I slept all night! It is undoubtedly just a coincidence that the medication kicked in that night, but I will always associate teddy bears with my recovery. Four months later, I was well enough to be taken off my section and discharged.

I was told, when I left, to develop other interests rather than work. So, I joined an art studio and I went there a lot, as I had always loved art. I also joined a band as lead singer. We had lots of rehearsals and gigs. I did all this for three years. Then, I became manic/psychotic again and I was in the hospital for 5 months. After this, I crashed into deep, deep depression. I became very agoraphobic and didn’t leave my flat for over a year, my best friend did all my shopping.

I had been collecting teddy bears for six years. My friends thought I was crazy, that it was a real waste of money. I found out that there were Facebook groups for teddy bear collecting and I soon became very, very involved in them. In March 2015 Barry, a teddy bear, came into my life. I started posting about him, building him up as a character. I soon got lots of friend requests and wonderful comments. I started going out and about with Barry, for better photos. People loved them! I soon found that people who loved Barry were becoming my friends. I have been to many events and met lots of my Facebook friends. In 2016, I decided to “come out of the Bipolar closet,” so to speak and be open about my Bipolar on Facebook. Of course, I was worried. But the response was amazing!  Absolutely fantastic! I have received so many comments and private messages saying my openness has helped others.

Now I write fictional stories about my teddy bears. Barry is becoming more and more well known in the teddy bear community. I’m making some really lovely friends all the time.

I had a hospitalization in December for four weeks and my antipsychotic was changed from Amisulpride to Abilify (Aripiprazole). I have lost 2 stones in 6 months, so feeling really great as I can fit back into many of my old clothes.

I’m happy! For the first time in my life, I’m content. The threat of potential future episodes, of course, looms over me.  But I’ve had so many, I’ve kind of learned to take them in my stride. I never ever thought I would be saying I love my life, but at the age of 42, I truly am happy! Not manic happy, but deep down inside happy. So happy.

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Shelley Derbyshire
Shelley Derbyshire
I love writing stories about the big love of my life - teddy bears, or stories from my quite colourful past. I live in the UK.