Stories of Hope: An Interview with Marie McCormack
This is part of a series featuring individuals who share their life experiences with mental health issues. Recently, I asked mental health advocate Marie McCormack about her history of mental health challenges and her current activities. Here’s our interview:
DS: Tell us about when you first started becoming aware of concerns related to your mental health. How did these issues continue to affect you before you sought treatment?
MM: I was 20 years old when I began my first ascent into mania. I had been through a tough time throughout my childhood and teenage years in the lead-up to that point in my life.
As a child I had been a carer to both parents, who each suffered from mental health problems; my dad suffering with bipolar disorder and my mum with schizoaffective disorder. When I was 8 they divorced and I began living solely with my dad. My life became much happier away from my mum, who struggled to cope.
Sadly, when I was 16, my father, who was my best friend and sole carer, passed away due to heart problems. A few weeks after my dad died I became involved in an relationship during which I became pregnant very early on with my daughter. The relationship very soon turned abusive, both physically and emotionally. I gave birth when I was 17, and although I had tried to get away from my abuser, he continued to live with me refusing to move out, even when I had asked him to leave.
I had always had my ups and downs, even since childhood, but the spring of 2007 was to turn my life upside down. I began to feel happy, more than happy, I became euphoric. The euphoria in turn morphed into full blown mania. The newfound confidence had given me the courage to shout angrily down the phone to my abusive ex “GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!” And so he did. I guess he finally knew that I meant business and so he finally left. Thanks mania.
After a few days running around London (sometimes barefoot), getting myself into unsafe situations, whilst experiencing racing thoughts and delusional ideas, I was reported missing, and was picked up by the police. The police took me to the nearest hospital, and I was sectioned under the Mental Health Act for my own safety.
I spent one month in a psychiatric ward slowly being brought back down to earth with a cocktail of drugs that helped to slow me back down and feel back to my normal self once more. After 28 days I felt relatively okay again and was released back home.
DS: What was the turning point that led you to decide to seek help?
MM: The manic episode which landed me in hospital also landed me a new, shiny diagnosis. I had bipolar disorder, which kind of, if I thought about it, made sense. I feel that the trauma and stress I had experienced up until the age of 20 had created a pressure cooker inside my head, and the manic episode was like all of the pressure exploding out, that is how I imagine it, anyway.
DS: What has your treatment consisted of, and what have you found that has worked well for you?
MM: Since the age of 20 I have had one major relapse into mania, three years later at the age of 23. I had stopped taking my medication as I thought I could be okay without the drugs. I was proven wrong, and ended up back in the psychiatric ward for another 28 days. Since this last manic episode I’ve also suffered from a few deep depressions during which I have experienced severe low mood and suicidal thoughts.
What has helped me a lot with my recovery is that I have accepted the fact that medication helps me. It might not be for everyone but for me personally, I cannot live a stable and happy life without meds to help keep me balanced and I have a feeling it might always be this way for me.
Over the last few weeks I’ve actually been able to reduce and come off of the medication I’ve been on for around 10 years and I must say that I feel incredible for it. I hadn’t realised that it had actually been fogging up my brain quite a bit. Since reducing and coming off the anti-psychotic I was on, I have an abundance of energy and my mind feels clearer and sharper than ever.
I’d like to emphasise that everyone with bipolar disorder is very much unique (like snowflakes!) and so are each of our brain’s chemistries. Some of us will need medication our whole lives, others will need it only temporarily. However I must highlight how vital it is to remain under the care of a doctor that can help, in any case, in order to be supported to stay emotionally healthy and happy whilst living with bipolar disorder.
I have also kept up attending appointments to see doctors, and I have got to know myself in such depth that I am now aware of my triggers, along with the warning signs that I am slipping into hypomania, mania, or depression.
I have truly become an expert in my own mental health, not by choice but because I have needed to become an expert in order to keep myself happy and well, for both me and for my daughter who is now 13 years old.
DS: How are things going for you now? Are there challenges you are still facing? What have you learned that has helped you stay positive and healthy?
MM: Currently things are going really really well for me. I still have highs and lows but I am able to manage these mood fluctuations extremely well, mainly due to the fact that I know myself and my condition inside out at this stage. I have learned that I must look after myself, I have to watch out for the triggers that could send me either too high or too low.
I try to eat well, I exercise regularly and I take time out when I need to do so. I’ve also had a few years of therapy which has helped a lot.
It has taken ten years but I feel as though I have made peace with my condition. I have learned to accept that the bipolar disorder is here to stay, a bit like an unwanted lodger inside my head. I couldn’t kick it out if I wanted to.
However, if someone one day told me that I could wave a magic wand and swish no longer live with bipolar disorder, it may surprise you to know that I would choose not to wave that magic wand.
As much as I would not wish the debilitating effects of bipolar disorder on anybody, I also would not change the journey that I have been on since my first manic episode ten years ago.
Dealing with this condition has given me an opportunity to get to know myself on a deeper level. It has given me the opportunity to strive to be healthy and happy and it has helped me to grow into the compassionate, empathetic and understanding person I am today which in turn helps me in the work that I do to support and motivate other people suffering from ill mental health.
DS: You’ve been active in mental health advocacy and social media. Tell us about your involvement in those activities.
MM: Over the years mental health has become my single greatest passion in life. I am driven and determined to help others to feel they are supported and not alone in their mental health difficulties.
I recently began writing about my experiences of living with bipolar disorder on my blog and within the first week of being truly open, honest and authentic about my condition and my struggles, I have only received warmth and encouragement from others who have stumbled across my story online.
I feel grateful and humbled by the kind words said by people about my first foray into writing about my experiences of having this lifelong condition. I’m excited to continue to write more about mental health and my experiences of having bipolar disorder.
DS: What would you like to say to encourage others who are still working on their journey of recovery?
MM: To others still working on their mental health recovery, I would like to emphasise the importance of speaking up and out about your issue, and having hope that it may help you.
Maybe you are considering going to see your doctor to initially seek the treatment you so desperately need in order to get well again..
It may be you are thinking about opening up to a family member or friend about how you are feeling deep inside.
It may be you’d like to start that tricky conversation at work with your boss around your mental health and how it affects your ability to do your job well.
You might be thinking about sharing your story, as I now have. You may want to give others hope, to help them to feel less ashamed and less alone with your words and experience.
To anyone out there who is considering doing any of the above, I want to tell you to be brave and to have hope. I know first-hand that speaking up in any of these ways can be daunting, terrifying even.
Reaching out can make us feel so very vulnerable, but reaching out can also change our lives around for the better.
I wish you heartfelt good luck in your own personal journey and above all try to remember, to be brave and to have hope.
Marie McCormack is a 30-year-old Mum of a teenage daughter who is passionate about a career in mental health, working to fight the stigma surrounding mental health. She recently began writing a blog about her experiences of bipolar disorder and is very much enjoying this exciting new endeavour of writing, which she has always loved to do. You can connect with Marie on Twitter, Instagram, or through her blog. You can also check out her motivational page on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
Thanks so much to Marie for her wonderful story of hope!
Would you like to share your story of hope? I plan to feature more personal accounts like this from time to time on my blog. If you are interested in sharing your story, please notify me via my contact page. Also, please subscribe to my blog and feel free to follow me on Twitter, “like” my Facebook page, or connect on LinkedIn. Finally, if you enjoyed this post, please share it with a friend. Thanks!