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Campaign: Highs and lows of bipolar inspire Collier Row couple to help others

PUBLISHED: 08:48 10 May 2016 | UPDATED: 08:55 10 May 2016

Christopher and Anne Pullan with Ruth Galvin (right)

Christopher and Anne Pullan with Ruth Galvin (right)

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The Recorder has launched a major mental health awareness campaign with charity Havering Mind. This week Emma Lake speaks to Anne Pullan about bipolar disorder.

Bipolar disorder

Bipolar – sometimes known as manic depression – is a severe mental health illness characterised by significant mood swings including manic highs and depressive lows.

The majority of individuals with bipolar experience alternating episodes of mania and depression.

Both males and females of any age and from any social or ethnic background can develop the illness.

The symptoms can first occur and then reoccur when work, studies, family or emotional pressures are at their greatest.

In women they can also be triggered by childbirth or during the menopause.

The key to coping with bipolar is an early diagnosis, acceptance of the illness and adapting your lifestyle so you are in control of the symptoms as much as possible.

Management of the illness can be achieved through strategies involving medication, health care, therapy and self-management.

Anne Pullan didn’t know what had hit her when she began to experience the manic highs and enduring lows of bipolar in 1982.

But after medication brought her symptoms under control, Anne founded a support group with husband Christopher, which has been helping others for more than 30 years.

She said: “I became ill in 1982 completely out of the blue, we did not know what had hit us at all. We just did not have a clue about mental illness.”

Anne, 73, of Collier Row, was diagnosed with manic depression, now known as bipolar disorder, which causes dramatic mood swings.

Hints and tips

Monitor your mood

Understand your triggers: Recognise patterns and take action to avoid the trigger or minimise its impact

Learn your warning signs: Being aware that you are about to have a change in mood can help you make sure you have support systems in place and that you can focus on looking after yourself.

Stick to a routine

Speak to friends and family

Manage stress

Manage your finances

Plan ahead for a crisis: Make a plan for how you want to be treated

She said: “The highs are wonderful. You just feel absolutely euphoric and everything is going right but you are quite selfish and I was quite horrible. The longest I’ve been on a high is five days because you would literally just wear yourself out and then you come down.

“The lows are the exact opposite and go on for longer – it’s not good. I was suicidal at one time because of the loneliness of it.”

Anne was admitted to Warley Hospital, Brentwood, where eventually a balance of medication was found to keep her symptoms under control.

She did have relapses after being discharged but they were rare and she has been well for the past 11 years.

In the 1980s, Anne and Christopher were provided with scant information about the condition and no follow-up care, so they set out to do their own research.

The couple attended a meeting of charity Bipolar UK in central London, where they joined a queue to sign up for their local support group.

Upon reaching the front, they were told there was not a group to join, but undeterred, Anne and Christopher started their own.

After 31 years, the group, which has about 20 members, still meets each month to share experiences and access support.

Anne said: “We are what they call a social group, we’re not very formal.

“Sometimes we don’t even mention the illness for half the evening and sometimes it’s all we talk about.

“It’s people who are like-minded, so they understand what you’re feeling.

“It’s really helpful just to know that other people feel the same things that you do and understand what you’ve gone through.”

The group also offers support to carers and family members.

Anne and daughter Ruth Galvin stressed the importance of this while recalling the difficulties they faced early in her illness.

Ruth said: “When it first happened it was just really scary because it wasn’t talked about and obviously we didn’t have the internet or anything like that. It was all quite daunting.

“It’s so good now that it’s out there and discussed in the media because people going through the same thing can go for help and there’s not such a stigma any more.”

When ill, Anne would experience hallucinations and, during highs, pursue projects including painting rooms and emptying the house of red items – which Christopher later had to retrieve from a charity shop.

When experiencing lows, she was unable to complete simple tasks and detached herself from those around her.

Ruth said: “The lows are the worst for the family because you feel absolutely helpless.

“There’s nothing you can do or say that can make them feel better.”

More than 30 years on, Anne said she cannot envisage ever having another episode, but she and Christopher remain committed to helping others through the support group.

She has shared her advice to those going through similar experiences: “Do what the doctor says and take your medication. It will pass.

“My life is so full now with my lovely family.”

To find out more about joining a bipolar support group, or for advice and support, contact Bipolar UK on 0333 323 3880 or attend a meeting about the formation of a new Romford peer support group, from 7-9pm on May 24 at Trinity Methodist Church, Angel Way, Romford.

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