Talented young medic loses battle with bipolar disorder which was wrongly diagnosed for six years
Updated: Jan 29
There was an article in the Daily Mail last week which detailed the tragic death of a young doctor who was suffering from bipolar disorder, and the parallels to my own story made me want to discuss it in detail.
Rebecca Marshall took her own life at the beginning of last year after experiencing her first symptoms of the disorder over ten years earlier.
Her devastated sister, Esther, was interviewed on Radio 5 Live this week, and a friend very kindly alerted me to the programme, and I am so glad that she did because there are so many important points to come out of this story.
The fact that Rebecca was a doctor, and both of her parents are GP’s really demonstrates the severity and seriousness of this condition, because it is so unbelievably brutal that even those with insight and education, often cannot survive it.
The main discussion point of the interview was the amount of time that it takes to get a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, since it took six years for Rebecca to be diagnosed as having the condition.
This parallels my own experience in such a similar way, because in my case it took ten years to get a proper diagnosis, even though I had experienced obvious hypomanic episodes and mixed states throughout that time frame.
The reason for this is that I was only ever seen by a GP at the beginning of my illness, so I was never diagnosed properly because the crucial questions which would have led to a proper diagnosis went unasked.
Unfortunately, most of us start our illness with an episode of depression and are immediately put on antidepressants but if you have bipolar disorder these drugs do nothing but WORSEN the condition.
For Rebecca, antidepressants masked the manic side of the illness (or could have actually created it when she ceased taking them) and for me all sorts of side effects and new symptoms appeared like insomnia, panic, fear, anxiety, and racing negative thoughts.
Withdrawing from failed medications caused even more terrifying problems like hallucinations, head spins and brain zaps, but even though I tried to explain the horrors that I was experiencing, I would just be prescribed another type of antidepressant and so the nightmare went on.
Antidepressants can cause bipolar disorder with 1 in 23 patients (probably more) going manic on them. Psychiatric drugs are feeding the epidemics of mental illness and quite frankly it’s terrifying.
Another important point to come out of this tragic story is the failures and shortcomings of the current system, something that Rebecca Marshall’s sister highlights through her family’s own frightening experience.
In one of Rebecca’s manic episodes, Esther even took her to hospital yet there was no duty psychiatrist, so they were sent home which is just so outrageous. But because of my own experience this doesn’t surprise me because a similar thing happened in my case with me reaching crisis point before anyone intervened.
Esther describes the episode as a ‘horror movie’ which encapsulates the terror pretty accurately because full blown manic episodes are frightening, not just for the patient but for all those that are trying to help us.
When you do get admitted to hospital things aren’t much better because you see a psychiatrist once a week for half an hour on the NHS and there is NEVER a duty doctor that comes to the ward. I once waited for 14 hours to speak to a doctor after a critical error was made on my drug chart!
At another time when my request to discuss my medication with the ‘consultant’ was ignored, I was bulldozed to the floor, carried down a corridor, dumped on the floor of what they call ‘136’ and forcibly injected.
When I recount these horror stories I even surprise myself that I’m still here because the trauma alone is bad enough to make you want to end your life, let alone the horrific nature of the illness Itself!
In the article, a professor of psychiatry from Oxford University explains that because bipolar disorder usually starts with depression, true bipolarity only emerges later when the patient experiences the upswing of the illness.
He also highlights the fact that the system does not currently cater to patients needs, which often results in failures (and in some cases suicide) by saying:
“We have a system that isn’t well adapted to recognising bipolar disorder. It is given no priority in early intervention and there are few NHS services specialised in its treatment.”
In my twenty-year psychiatric ‘safari’ on the NHS, I have never been seen by a specialist or an expert in bipolar disorder and hearing that there are any at all is a massive surprise to me!
In the end, I categorically told my parents that I would not be able to survive this disorder because I had already suffered from 5 bouts of depression lasting anywhere up to 18 months when I was suicidal in every waking moment, not to mention the destruction of the manias, and I knew I couldn’t withstand it any more.
I had also exhausted every avenue on the NHS, having had three hospital admissions, tried virtually every psychiatric medication including ketamine (which was an absolute disaster and sent me wildly manic) and had been left feeling completely hopeless, with no advice as to what to try next.
I only survived by sacrificing everything including my career and independence and hanging on by the fingernails through months and years of horrendous and brutal suffering.
I am now finally better thanks to a private doctor who reassured me that he could help with a novel treatment and different approach, and that, combined with a TONNE of patience, perseverance, persistence and determination has finally brought me to full remission.
It wasn’t until I spoke to this doctor (a bipolar expert) that I was ever asked the crucial details about my experience of bipolar disorder.
It soon became clear that through the catastrophic failures of medications, (particularly ketamine), that I was now rapid cycling between all sorts of different states like agitated depression (my heart twinging constantly), mixed state (insomnia and depression) and depression with flight of ideas (manic racing and jumping negative thoughts).
Knowing and understanding my symptoms and episodes in a more educated and intelligent way was the first essential step in getting better, and although my symptoms were still horrific, at least I could identify and label the states that I was experiencing.
I am now so passionate about this treatment being available and recognised as a safe and effective way to treat this illness, because I can’t sit back and let others suffer like I have.
I am going to be writing more about the amazing Dr Andy Zamar and the successful treatment that saved my life in my future posts, and have detailed the whole story in a combined self-help and memoir in an attempt to educate and enlighten others.
I know that through a combination of the advice I have to offer about how to survive, and the treatment that finally gave me my life back, that this can save thousands (maybe millions) of people, so I am determined to keep writing and campaigning until someone notices the importance of what I’m doing!
Reading these heartbreaking stories day after day is really upsetting and worrying me, especially when I know that these people can be saved, but it just spurs me on to keep writing and exposing everything from my story in a desperate attempt to help and educate others.
With 46 million sufferers worldwide, a fifth of whom do not survive, the importance of advice from those who have recovered and reached full remission cannot be overstated.
If you would like to read the article in the Daily Mail, then you can find it here.
The radio interview with Esther Marshall can be found on BBC Sounds - Radio 5 Live - Drive which was aired at 4.00pm on 13/04/21 - the interview starts at 1 hour 46 minutes into the programme and you can find it here.
Thanks for reading,
Speak to you soon,