I don’t make a secret of being bipolar – hell, when did I ever make a secret of anything in my life? To be honest, these days it is so much a part of me, and yet so little part of my life, that I forget about it most of the time. Until it bites me in the bum once in a while, or it is brought up as part of a medical review.

Let’s give you a bit of history. I was diagnosed 12 years ago, long before it was trendy, after years of crippling depression and occasional bouts of frankly weird behaviour. Finally, the doctors realised that anti-depressants were making very little difference (and now, with the benefit of hindsight, it has been acknowledged that they made my behaviour a lot more erratic) and I was handed a new label: “Type 2 affective bipolar disorder”. Actually, I was pleased to get a label, though I’m not keen on the practice of shoeboxing people. I figured that maybe I wasn’t crazy after all, and things could get better.

I took a medication called Sodium Valproate for a very long time – it’s not altogether bad stuff, though the list of side-effects is scary. I mean, weight gain, loss of libido AND lack of energy? Come on, Doctor! Sadly, as well as all of this, the pills weren’t really stopping me from either getting depressed, or having very unpleasant weird times. Quite a few years ago now I found myself going into hospital (voluntarily, I might add!) as my desires to remove myself from the world I found I couldn’t deal with became less of a pipe-dream, and more of a game-plan.

Being in hospital for a few weeks enabled me to start again, from the bottom up, with the aid of a new medication: Lithium. I still take the stuff every day, and whilst it also has had side-effects, it has helped me manage things very well. Unfortunately, the Lithium has caused me to have hypothyroidism, which isn’t great, but honestly, the chance to live a life where I feel in control and mostly happy is worth a few thyroxine tablets.

So how does this connect with my transition? In many ways, not at all. However, one of the biggest fears I had when approaching my doctor about being trans was that I would be turned down flat due to my medical history. After all, people with bipolar often come up with some pretty flighty and impressive schemes, and at that time, are convinced that the way they feel is right and valid. So imagine a registered female bipolar patient walking through the door and saying (in many more words, of course) “I’m a man”! I was terrified I wouldn’t be taken seriously. Thankfully, I needn’t have worried.

More than one doctor specialising in transition has reassured me that bipolar disorder and gender dysphoria are not mutually exclusive conditions, but I believe that there will always be, in the background, the thought that my bipolar has led me to somehow believe I’m transgender. And that I’m really really good at convincing doctors…

Except…except that I am so much happier, mellow and balanced these days. That I am starting to like my own body and self for the first time ever. That I haven’t had an episode of mania for around 3 years. That I haven’t had an episode of serious depression for over a year (and that was very much related to my job at the time). That I no longer classify myself as “ill” or “surviving”.

Now don’t get me wrong – I don’t think that the decision to transition, and the process of doing so, have somehow miraculously sorted out my bipolar. I’m not daft, and I’m still taking the tablets. Many trans people live with bipolar, and I would never suggest they stop their medication. Don’t.

Two of my doctors have suggested that it may be possible to consider reducing my Lithium dose, in a couple of years, as they both believe that many of the issues I have experienced in the past that have been attributed to bipolar, may actually have been connected to my gender dysphoria. It makes sense if you think about it, but is also confusing, and unsettling, as when I was told back in January 2000 “You have bipolar”, I clung onto it, and have remained clinging ever since, only ever seeking solutions within the boundaries drawn by that diagnosis.

Now I am having to find ways to continue managing the bipolar symptoms on the rare occasions they come up, whilst also appreciating that those symptoms may simply be me. At the same time acknowledging that things may still change as I pass through my second puberty and into a new adulthood. Phew.

I was once told I have a lot of baggage – which is true – and a lot of that is to do with the mental health issues I have had over the years. There are many people who still choose to judge me based on those past issues. But then, as I’ve said before, our experiences make us who we are. Mine have made me pretty unshockable, able to empathise with the problems of others, and with the firm understanding that we all tread different paths through this life, some wigglier than others. That’s my mental wealth.