I’m wearing a crown to raise awareness of the 1.3 million in the UK who, like me, live with bipolar disorder and I am also raising funds for Bipolar UK.
The start of my bipolar disorder story
Age 19, whilst training as an actor at The Royal Academy of Dramati Art (RADA), I started to struggle with low mood. A doctor prescribed SSRI antidepressants – which triggered a manic episode, the hallmarks of which were: decreased need for sleep, risk-taking, and as I became psychotic, delusions and hallucinations.
I can’t remember which crazy adventure marked my first manic episode (memory loss afterwards is common). Getting a 2am train to Brighton, convinced I was a moon goddess due to preside over a beach rave? Trying to climb on to the tube track at Leicester Square? Spending several hours conversing with a vision of the Virgin Mary?
Whichever it was, I ended up in hospital, held under Section 2 of the Mental Health Act for 28 days of assessment – after which, I had a new diagnosis – Bipolar Disorder Type 1 – and different medication, which I’d need to take for life.
No future after my bipolar disorder diagnosis?
At 21, I somehow managed to graduate from RADA. But as my best friend went to the Royal Shakespeare Company to play Juliet and Desdemona, I was locked away on another psych ward, life passing me by.
At 22, I got a day pass from yet another hospital to interview for Oxford University. I got in, but didn’t even last one term because I wasn’t stable enough to cope. It felt like I had no future.
I spend the next few years in and out of hospitals, nearly losing my life a couple of times. When I was well enough to try to piece myself back together, there was precious little left.
A new career as a playwright
Then at 25, I wrote a play about my experiences, Bright. Produced by Soho Theatre and published, it launched a new career as a playwright – but seeing my story on stage was traumatic. I decided I didn’t have bipolar and tried never to think about it again.
Diaries from my thirties show this approach didn’t work: the manic highs followed by paralysing depressions continued. Promising contacts with people who are now famous evaporated because I operated only at 0 mph or 90, with no consistency. I did seek help, but never stayed on medication once a crisis passed, narrowly avoiding more hopsitalisations.
Finding stability – until the pandemic
As I hit my forties, I thankfully found some stability, maintaining a career in theatre, well supported by a lovely partner, friends and family.
Then in 2020 came the Covid lockdown. Being told I couldn’t go out, that they were ‘just keeping me safe’ reminded me of those extremely unsafe psych wards. I began to unravel.
Around Christmas 2022, I was juggling work deadlines and started to have trouble sleeping, which triggered a hypomanic episode. I felt like Joan of Arc, convinced I was on a mission to spread the joy of living – which, inhibitions erased, I posted all over social media.
Eventually, thoughts racing, unable to sit still and starting to hallucinate, I called my GP begging for help.
Medication and a turning point in my bipolar disorder story
Once medication kicked in and I came back to reality, I had a choice. I could delete all my posts – or own my experiences and use them to raise awareness and money.
The stark fact is, nearly 50% of people with bipolar will attempt to take their own life. Up to 20% will succeed – and the wait for NHS mental health support is dangerously long. The only UK charity dedicated to helping those living with bipolar disorder, Bipolar UK , provides a vital lifeline.
My appeal for Bipolar UK smashes its target!
So during May, Mental Health Awareness Month, I wore a crown and a badge encouraging people to ‘Ask Me About My Crown’, and went about my daily life in London.
Total strangers were eager to listen and learn, which gives me hope that we have a chance to #endstigma around bipolar disorder. I aimed to raise £300 for Bipolar UK – which we hit in two days. By the end of the month, we’d raised the incredible sum of £1,150.
What next? Change the world!
I’ve had lots of lovely messages from people thanking me for sharing my experiences, telling me to keep going. So I’ll continue to blog on Instagram where I’m @polly_wiseman and Twitter where I’m @firecrazee.
Though I’ll take a little break from wearing my crown, I’ve left my Just Giving appeal running to help more people. If you’d like to support the cause, you can find it here.
I don’t think I’m Joan of Arc any more, but with your help, I might just change the world!
Another way I’m trying to end stigma is by curating a Mood Fest which brings together mood-disordered creatives, psych professionals, and researchers to celebrate the creative and disruptive possibilities of neurodivergence. If you’re interested in collaborating with me on this, you can contact me via my Instagram on @polly_wiseman or Twitter at @firecrazee.
Editor’s note: If you have been affected by anything in this article, please speak to your GP or access these resources from the NHS: