Getting to grips with Bipolar

I am what I call a ‘typical amateur’, I have 2 horses and compete British show jumping at around Foxhunter level. Much like most horsey people, I work and live to fund this crazy addiction.

Most evenings I can be found at the barn faffing around my horses, then at shows or training at the weekend. I also host a Podcast called ‘Short Strides’ which I started during the initial UK lockdown.

Its been something I’ve wanted to do for a while and I’ve met and spoken to some incredible people through creating the platform.

This year has been a real year of ups and downs – something I am sure I am not alone in experiencing!

In January, I had keyhole surgery and was then diagnosed with Endometriosis. A truly rubbish condition, which I had been struggling with for three years. I had been living with chronic pain for a just over a year, and when I had the surgery, quite honestly, I was excited. Finally, I’d be able to crack on with riding and competing without worrying I’d find myself unable to ride at an away show for example. 

The surgery was incredibly easy and straightforward, I bounced back physically and in true ‘horsey person’ form, I was back on a horse within a week. I had a week off work and then worked from home for a while, before jumping straight back into travelling to clients and going into the office. I have a fairly high-pressured sales role, but much like with show jumping, I thrive off pressure and a little adrenalin, so was really happy to be back at work.

  What I didn’t expect was to be hit with chronic anxiety the moment I got back to work.

I was told perhaps I had rushed back to normal life, or maybe I just didn’t realise the stress I had endured before and during the diagnostic process. I had suffered with depression and anxiety as a teenager, but nothing quite like this. It felt as if someone was consistently sat on my chest, I’d find myself driving to shows or to work and having to pull over because I simply couldn’t breathe.

I then also experienced quite chronic depression, some days I really didn’t want to ride or even go and see my horses as I was simply drained and numb. 

I went back to my doctor and they prescribed me an antidepressant and serotonin inhibiter, and diazepam to help me with the panic attacks and to help me sleep better.

These worked well for a time, and I was fortunate enough to be surrounded with a fantastic group of friends at the barn who supported me. We have our horses in an American barn style setting, so we used to put them on the cross ties and chat for ages about our struggles with mental health.

What struck me is that everyone had their own experience with depression and anxiety, but they had simply ‘pushed through it’ to minimise disruption for those around them.

We always used to end our conversations with how incredible our horses were at pulling us out of the ‘haze.’ And I always felt that if I could drag myself to see the horses, even if it was in pyjamas and only just to brush them, it used to lift my mood and give me some respite and the opportunity to mentally unwind and rest.

As the year progressed and I continued to take the medication (I came off the Diazepam as it’s considered a very addictive medication), but I still fundamentally felt really unhappy, and like something was really wrong. I was having times where I felt on top of the world and incredibly motivated and productive. I felt like I could run a marathon, record a podcast, go to a show and juggle knives all in one day!

Then I had times where I could barely roll out of bed to get my laptop to work. It was incredibly exhausting, and I was making decisions such as buying expensive things for the horses that they didn’t really need. (I actually nearly bought a horse unseen from Ireland because it was the same breeding and colour as one of my horses!).

It wasn’t until I saw a Doctor and then was referred to a Psychiatrist, that they thought I may have a mood disorder. I was obviously very confused but was asked to keep a mood diary and track how I felt, and then come back in three weeks for the Psychiatrist to review. After going through the diary, she diagnosed me with bipolar and prescribed me a new medication to help with the manic highs and lack of sleep I was experiencing. 

It felt good to finally have an answer and something to work with, but despite the support from friends and family, I felt very alone. I couldn’t articulate the feelings I was experiencing to others, which made it hard for those around me to believe the diagnoses.

It has been about eight weeks since I was diagnosed, and I am now able to understand my moods better and why I feel the way I do. I found it incredibly hard to tell people around me as I felt bi-polar has quite a bit of stigma attached to it.

I personally used to see bipolar depicted in movies, TV shows and even books, and associated it with someone who you’d consider completely insane! I thought, ‘I don’t want my clients or friends at the barn to think that!’.
But as time has gone on, I’ve been more open about it, and have been able to say to trainers and horsey friends that if I seem a particular way it’s due to ‘xyz factors’ and they have been incredibly understanding.

I’m still trying to work my ‘magical’ brain and find out what could trigger a manic high or low. I am far more open about it now, having talked directly about mental health and bi-polar on the podcast; however, I have not told my colleagues at work due to worrying about what they will think. I hope I will be able to effectively be able to articulate it eventually and pluck up the courage to tell them, but for now I’m giving myself some space to get to grips with it.

What I would love to see is more riders that are in the spotlight have the opportunity to speak out about their experience with mental health and I feel Riders Minds is a great platform to not only do this, but also to find support.

I can imagine it would take an incredible amount of confidence and bravery to do so, and I appreciate they’d be concerned about what their sponsors and owners think. But it would still be great to see some more open conversations poke through the ‘clear round reviews’ that we often see in the media.

I can imagine it would make for a far more open industry and showcase just the amazing community spirit and support we are trying to foster within the equestrian space." 

Thank you to Ella for sharing her story with us. If you are struggling with your mental health, Riders Minds is here for you, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.