Sheila Wignall is believed to be one of the oldest people to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder as she was only found to have it at the age of 69. Now, 73, Sheila tells AASMA DAY about why she wants to raise awareness of bipolar and how she has lived a full and varied life.
Wandering through the streets of Longridge dressed in just vest and shorts, no underwear and bright pink shoes, Sheila Wignall knows she must have looked a peculiar and colourful sight.
However, she has little memory of the incident which happened when she was in the grip of a manic episode, a feature of her bipolar disorder.
Cringing as she recalls the memory, Sheila, 73, who lives in Longridge, near Preston, says: “When I came to, I prayed it wasn’t true, but it was.
“I spent the next few weeks frightened and embarrassed and worried about facing people in Longridge again.
“But when I did go into Longridge again, the reaction I received was far from what I expected.
When I am suffering the depressive side of my illness, I am aware of everything, but feel very poorly.
“People were glad to see me and gave me a hug and a kiss.”
Sheila says she did not realise she had the illness and in her own mind, she thought everything was fine.
She experienced her first manic episode at the age of 69 and vividly remembers being at home thinking someone was going to kill her.
At first, doctors thought it was a one-off encounter, but after Sheila experienced another manic period, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Since then, Sheila has suffered a number of serious bipolar attacks, been sectioned a few times and been admitted to mental health hospitals on several occasions for weeks at a time.
She admits when she is in the manic phase of the bipolar, she is hard to manage and cannot remember the things she has said and done and confesses she has offended people without being aware of it.
Sheila, a mum and grandmother, explains: “Bipolar seems to be different and individual to each person.
“Mine is severe and different because I started so late in life.
“Doctors have told me they have never come across a case like mine with someone being so old when they first develop bipolar. It is very rare.
“I also present a different case as I go into my manic periods very quickly and come out quickly too.
“I have highs and lows.
“When I am suffering the depressive side of my illness, I am aware of everything, but feel very poorly.
“Sometimes, I don’t even feel like getting out of bed.
“When I go into the mania, it is severe. I am aware for so long and then I absolutely don’t remember what I say or do.
“But I can promise you – it’s never good!
“However, in between attacks I really am very well and can carry on with no problems at all.”
When Sheila first started experiencing symptoms of bipolar, she thought it was Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome as she has suffered a lot of tragedies in her life.
She is convinced the heartache she has suffered brought on her bipolar disorder.
Sheila’s husband Ken died of heart problems at the age of 48 while waiting for a heart transplant.
Sheila also lost her grand-daughter Alexandra a few years ago at the age of just 17.
Alexandra was diagnosed with a rare cancer of the muscle which spread to her lungs.
Her son Trevor, then died of genetic heart disease about three years ago, also at the age of 48. He was only four days older than his dad when he died.
Sheila had an eight year relationship with another man who died as a result of health problems.
Sheila says: “I think all the tragedies I experienced led to my bipolar.
“I was very close to my granddaughter Alexandra and it hit me very hard when she died. My other grand-daughter says I have never been the same since.
“I was totally devastated when she died.
“At first, I think I was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress.
“I felt as if I had been to war and suffered the after effects.
“I think this then brought on the bipolar.”
Sheila says she knows she is difficult to manage when she goes into mania episodes and there have been a number of incidents over the last few years.
She says: “I once grabbed a large tub of talcum powder and started spreading it all over the house.
“I also once sent for the police and told them someone was trying to kill me and they sent out an armed police officer.
“I am nearly always aware my son is on the scene and when the ambulance arrives, he gives the paramedics advice on how to manage me.
“Never once have they got me into the ambulance voluntarily. I always scream and break things with my arms and legs.
“I have even grabbed a vase and smashed it.
“Once, I apparently tried to climb on to a moving car.
“I know it must be difficult for my family to cope with me when I am like this.”
Sheila is now on medication to control her condition and level out her moods.
She has been admitted to hospital when she suffers serious attacks and says she is thankful that doctors have now decided to treat her with young adults.
She says: “Doctors say I am treated with the young ones because I am not like a typical 73-year-old.
“I have a young attitude, but unfortunately, I am still 73!”
Sheila says that despite suffering many hardships, she has led a full life with lots of happy times and wouldn’t change her life for anything.
She has a new partner who she is very happy with and she loves crown green bowling and is a top player who has won many competitions.
Sheila, who taught line-dancing for years, says: “It was after my husband Ken died that I took up bowling. If he had lived, I know he would have done it too.
“I got in the team and became the top player.
“I was the first woman to win President’s Day at the Royal British Legion and last year, I was the first woman to be asked to bowl with the men at Parkfield in Preston.
“I also won President’s Day at the Conservative Club in Longridge last year.
“I represent North Lancashire and Fylde with bowling, although last year, I was not well enough to play. I also bowl in competitions abroad.
“If the bipolar had happened to me 30 or 40 years ago, I would probably have been put in a psychiatric ward for life.
“Luckily, these days, treatment in the community is tested first and I can live as full a life as possible.
“I want to raise awareness of bipolar disorder and other mental health illnesses because invariably, with them you do make enemies and lose friends.
“I do think if anyone can beat this or manage it with medication, it’s me.
“I am lucky as I have only been affected in later life while usually people are diagnosed when they are much younger and may never have experienced another life, even though most of them are very bright people.
“I have made many friends throughout my treatment, both patients and staff and the care I have received has been second to none.
“I am very grateful to my friends and family and the community who have supported me and looked after me.
“People in general have been wonderful and know to look out for the signs of mania so I can be admitted to hospital before it turns into a full blown episode.
“I certainly have not had an easy life, but I wouldn’t change places with anyone.
“I have had a full life and a different life and have only been diagnosed with bipolar disorder in later life.
“I have been through a lot but have always come through the other side.
“I am a strong character and am happy with my life.”