Mental Health,  Personal Accounts

Embracing Diversity by Living Positive and Strong: A Powerful Woman Living With Bipolar and Touching Lives

My name is Caren Manneke, I am 30 years old, engaged to be married. No children yet. Am currently a Masters student at USIU-A pursuing an M.A in Clinical Psychology.  I have seven years working in the mental health field. I currently work as an addiction counselor at The Retreat Rehabilitation center.

My biggest fears are to allow people to see the person I truly am. Every day is a struggle to hold my thoughts, emotions and feelings together. Some days are fine, others better and others completely terrible. I have Bipolar II disorder and somehow this problem has played a big role in who I am in my life. It all started in my childhood, I was born and raised in a dysfunctional environment. Despite the dysfunctionality, I somehow went through my early childhood oblivious to the challenges that surrounded and threatened my development. Despite the complexities, I survived. I was a likeable child, I had learned the mechanism of being pleasant. It made people like me and it helped a lot in gaining protection and the adoration of the various families that took me in as their child.

Finally at age six, I settled in a good home with a stepdad and my mother. It was great at first and it felt amazing to have a family. Unfortunately the joy was short lived. My parents went through a divorce and I was left in the custody of my father. All through primary school to high-school my dad took care of me. He was my father and my mother. I still had contact with my mother but it was not consistent. I began to feel resentment towards my mother for leaving us. I was too young to understand their reasons for separating. During primary school, I began struggling with esteem issues, I frequently got sick (it was mostly psychological), and depression. I was a difficult teenager who had severe temper tantrums. I was very manipulative towards my elderly dad (he was in his 60s raising up a teenager). Sometimes, I felt highly energetic. I couldn’t sleep for days especially if I was home for school holidays.

My father thought I was just a rebellious teenager. I could watch T. V all night long. If he managed to switch it off I would camp under my bed because I couldn’t sleep. I also struggled with sleep because of I had bizarre thoughts at night that involved a strong unexplainable belief in paranormal things. My father had to constantly supervise what I was up-to in the night because I would engage in a lot of tedious activities at night all the way to dawn. I was a weekly boarder in primary school and a full boarder in high school. Interestingly, I did not struggle with sleep issues in school.  My mind was wise enough not to waste the limited sleep time.

My performance in school was generally good and I transitioned successfully through each grade. I was a decently smart kid. My father excused a lot of my unacceptable behaviour at home because of my school performance. When I joined my “A” levels in Uganda, I began struggling with the fact my father had a chronic illness and he died the same year I joined school, I dropped out after he died. After my father’s death, for almost eight years I was plagued by depression and hyper-mania. My problems were perpetuated further by the fact I had gotten into an abusive relationship with a man that struggled with an undiagnosed mental disorder as well. I had no idea what was wrong with my life, I was dysfunctional, underachieved and withdrawn. My mother had tried to intervene in my life but I was too angry at her because I felt that she rejected and neglected me. She had also settled, gotten married and had my sister while abroad.

I was extremely jealous of my sister because she had everything that I didn’t have. I chose to shut out my extended family on my mother’s side as a result, except a few cousins who I considered my siblings because we grew up together a certain time in my childhood.

I got my first job but my personal problems were really interfering with my job. In 2013 I suddenly quit my job and literally ran away from the abusive relationship. I got another job but due to the stressful demands of the second job I fluctuated between severe depression where I seriously considered suicide and manic symptoms which made me feel like superwoman at work. After a year I impulsively quit my job for the second time. I had reached my maximum. I luckily got a chance to work again for my previous employer from my first job. Like a boring pattern, I again began struggling with poor decision making skills in my personal life and it was beginning to severely affect my work. My employer recommended I see a professional. In early 2015 I officially got diagnosed with Bipolar disorder.

It came as a total shock because I was a practicing counselling psychologist yet I had never had the insight to realize that my brain was sick. Slowly, I got better insight about why my life had ended up the way it did.  I was also on medications which I struggled with initially for sometime due to some changes it created on my body and mind. I did not like the side effects. My employer was so kind to support my wellness by offering management and medications for my disorder. Things began to stabilize in my life. I had a very understanding partner who supported me during my challenges. He was also conversant with the issues of mental disorders. We don’t have children yet, though we openly talk about it.  My biggest fears is ‘transmitting’ mental illness to our children. So it has affected how I view bearing children for now. For now we are quite happy with our dog that fills our lives with happiness and responsibility.

Another good thing that happened is that I worked through my resentments and mended my estranged relationship with my mother. We are very close now but I feel that my mother is still in partial denial about my mental illness or the fact it runs dominantly in her side of the family. She prefers to deal with issues from a spiritual perspective so our views on things don’t always agree but we have learned to compromise with each other. Till today I still have to take medication that includes mood stabilizers and sleep inducers. I also had to settle on the idea there is no cure for Bipolar. I have learnt self-acceptance and sometimes I find a sense of appreciation about my life experiences because it made me more resilient. Having Bipolar has also made me a better counselor. My empathy towards people with struggling with mental disorders has become genuinely reinforced by my experience. My interests and passion for psychology has become more heightened as I want to understand more on mental health.

I am currently doing my masters in clinical psychology in the hope that my life will be dedicated to helping people with mental disorders. I tried to start a Bipolar support group for women but it’s not doing so well because I as other members in the group get depressive and withdraw then we neglect the group for months. It’s hard juggling school, work and my relationship. By making sure I adhere to my medication and find ways of coping in a healthy way I manage to keep juggling and moving forward with life. As I said in the beginning it’s not perfect, some days are dark and cloudy and I wish I didn’t exist. Other days are too exhausting, confusing or too fast. Most days I walk around with a plastered happy face mask that shows that am alright, but deep inside am waging battles in my mind.

Lastly I would like to encourage anyone struggling with a mental disorder that life doesn’t stop when you get sick, yes it’s difficult, but it’s a momentary pause. You can continue your life’s script all it takes is a will, hope and dreams. Keep on fighting and take it one day at a time.

Caren Manneke®

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