yvette hess relapse signs bipolar disorder

Relapse is a bitch – a tale of mixed episodes and how YOU can help

I didn’t think I’d be writing about relapse so soon this year. Yeah, especially since I was doing well. Right? But here we are, talking all things relapse signs (in) bipolar disorder.

And I guess it must seem pretty weird that I write this post right after I shared my four unexpected lessons in my first year of sobriety, right?

Well, such is life. Actually, it’s more than just life, it’s the nature of my illness, Bipolar Disorder, combined with life stuff- all the day-to-day stress that any other “normal” person may endure.

According to Hilary Simmons from www.sane.org:

In bipolar disorder, a relapse is defined as the return of depression or a manic or hypomanic episode after a period of wellness. Sometimes it is possible to predict a relapse; often it is not. For many, the onset of a relapse seems to come out of the blue.

I think the frustration comes in when you’re considered, as I am, as high-functioning. I’ll write more about what this it entails later: the burden of being capable of so much.

With the facade of functioning, side by side is a sense of false control. Relapse can happen to anyone. And it is indeed a hard pill to swallow (I know, right?). Yet, knowing this, I still feel like I failed everyone including myself.

And that feeling like a failure is also normal.

So, what was the biggest trigger this year?


It seems obvious but what wasn’t so obvious, was how I didn’t foresee how big of an impact the various stressors would have on my wellbeing.

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Photo by Hanna Postova on Unsplash

Let’s take a look at some of the stressors this year. Maybe it can give us a clue as to some of the things we missed specifically referring to the relapse signs in bipolar disorder

The Stresses that ignited the relapse signs in my bipolar disorder


Yes, I kid you not. Being sober wasn’t all roses for me. I celebrated being sober for a year in August and I wrote more about it in earlier posts. I’ve written about how I felt like I woke up from a long sleep and found myself lost. I chatted to a new psychiatrist a few days ago and after explaining to her what’s been happening in my life (and my head), she said she could see how sobriety hasn’t brought me peace yet. Instead, it’s been incredibly difficult to find the peace in the chaos. I didn’t have the alcohol to ease me through some very traumatic events towards the end of this year.

Perhaps, I should see it as some kind of blessing. Why? Because if I were not sober, I’d totally miss the relapse signs in bipolar disorder- in my case anyway.


Yes, travelling was stressful. I relocated to a new town in December 2017 (which was helluva stressful too) which is almost 400kms from Cape Town where I did most of my business and networking. I would try to drive early morning (and yet, I’d leave around 12pm because I have to pack half my studio into my car). The drive would be around 5 hours, depending on roadworks, traffic and assholes on the road. On the long road, people take chances and my anxiety would peak on the drive.

Cape Town itself is also a very busy town, loads of cars and people and more assholes on the road. And traffic. The traffic! I’d always try to enforce a rule that I do not do anything early morning or late afternoon in Cape Town, just to spare myself of the stress- the violent, intrusive thoughts that come sit with me in the passenger seat. Maybe it was those gruesome intrusive thoughts that formed part of relapse signs in the bipolar disorder I missed.

A growing, thriving business

Geez, Yvette. A growing and thriving business cause you stress? Yes. Because the better you become or the more you grow, the more people expect. It’s normal. It’s business. Think about Apple. The better they become, the more people expect from the brand. Right? Right. How would you be able to link this post which talks about relapse signs in bipolar disorder to this? Easy. The fact that your business is growing, the more people expect from you, like more giveaways, more free work, attend more events, share this and that. It becomes a take, take, take and slowly you move into the realm of give, give, give- and you do s freely because – oops- we’re suddenly manic!

Home stress

I’d decided to include all home-related stress into one heading. I’m talking about where one week there’s kids’ homework, exams, to a microwave breaking out of the blue, to ‘running away’ from home for a month because I was so overwhelmed by the pain caused by someone very close to me. (You’ll have to wait for my book to know all about this saga). Oh yes, and people.


niklas-hamann-418782-unsplash relapse signs bipolar disorder
Photo by Niklas Hamann on Unsplash

These are just some of the major stressors that played a part. Let’s take a look at the actual relapse signs in my bipolar disorder I missed (and bit me in the bum).

  • Distracted/irritable
  • Racing thoughts
  • Excess energy
  • Hypersensitivity (to sounds)
  • Psychosis (early warning signs include Seeing shadows or flashes of light)

but at the SAME TIME

  • Constantly tired
  • Anxiety
  • Various body aches
  • Not wanting to be quiet/ still
  • Withdrawing

These were the symptoms revealed themselves slowly, not coming all at once. Imagine me being a DJ, spinning the decks, managing all that I must- cooking, helping with homework, managing a business- from social media to deliveries to social media, creating mockups, providing support to others offline, brainstorming new ideas and collabs, doing public appearances and interviews sharing deeply personal and vulnerable moments (what people only reveal to their therapists). All while experiencing violent thoughts of killing myself.

That. Is. My. Life. It always has been. But sometimes when relapse happens, it gets me at the knees and I go from just having suicidal thoughts to planning. There’s a difference which Natasha Tracy, fellow mental health activist and blogger writes about in her post about being suicidal vs wanting to die.

So, what now?

Now, I’m experiencing a mixed episode. This essentially means I experienced the fast, raciness of mania but with the negativity and bad of depression. Earlier this month I announced that I am no longer taking on any projects or doing events- I suppose as a way to just get some air. But I was still working on my book and trying to prepare for the holidays. I was also dealing with the after-effects of enforcing the boundary (saying no to stuff).

Anyway, it was a little too late.

I’ve been put on a waiting list for a psychiatric facility and also on new medication. Some of the meds (which I won’t disclose right now) are new to me and I’m adjusting. It’s a struggle as I’ve been med-free over a year (weaned off them with my medical team over a year ago with the alcohol). The meds stop me in my tracks. I know it’s a good thing because I was about to jump.

My days have been reduced to sleep and commenting on scheduled posts (thanks Tailwind and Hootsuite) but it’s draining. Yes, I know some of you will press on the fact that I should be looking after myself. I get it. I do. But my business is an extension of who I am- what I’ve worked hard to build. I have had to go against everything I know to find something, a special something that is ALL ME.

For the first time in my life, who I am is my career.

So, forgive me if I don’t want it to die. Wow. Did you see what I did there? All I want to do is jump but I want to keep my voice alive.

How can YOU help, you ask?

Well, you’re that you’re a bit more schooled on relapse signs in bipolar disorder (there are loads more  journal articles on this), and you have a bit more insight as to my headspace,  have a look at the easy, practical and impactful ways you can keep my business alive while I take a breath.

  1. Buy my artwork or  (I’m stating the obvious. Did you know you can use do an EFT, use Payfast OR Zapper to purchase? Well, now you know)
  2. Like and comment on my social media posts  (unfortunately as online businesses we rely heavily on reaching the right audience. Even a fun emoji or gif works wonders!)
  3. Sharing the post (bonus points for you -and me!- but it helps my work to reach the right person it connects with- which is the point of it all)
  4. Engage with others who comment on my post – that also helps a lot in terms of reach and tells the platform that the thread and content is worth reaching others.
  5. Write a recommendation/ review on my Facebook page. Again, this helps when people want to search for something or recommend me on Facebook. You can recommend based on you purchasing my products or your interaction with me over the years too.
  6. Provide feedback using my feedback type form – only 10 questions and gives me insight as to what is working and what isn’t (if you drop your email address in the comments- you’ll get free downloadable PRINT-READY contemporary art)

7. Send my contact details/ website or Instagram link to people who would like to work with me in 2019.

I don’t think it’s a huge ask.

These are some of the things I did this year

October 2018

Submitted memoir proposal (3 years in the making after Ulla committed suicide) – THIS IS HUGE

Podcast on Mental Health and the Arts with Rera Letsema in collaboration with VANSA (Visual Arts Network of South Africa)

Podcast Nasieinspiration 

Chalk mural for Cape Town Society for the Blind

Good Housekeeping Magazine interview in print

Beautiful News SA

Cape Talk interview

Keynote speaker Early Years Services (fundraiser for this organization that specializes in the development and support of children with Fetal Alchol syndrome)

KLOP! on Kyknet & Kie Interview

September 2018

Launch of affirmation journals (and subsequently sold out)

Launched Society6 store – digital artwork on imported goods

Collaboration with KIS furniture to provide exclusive decor art

August 2018

Named one of 3 top self-branded women in South Africa by The Brand Collective

Podcast Interview with counsellor Freddy van Rensburg on sobriety and spirituality

One year sobery celebration 5 August 2018

July 2018

First ever live performance of my poetry at the Craft and Graft as one of the featured poets. (I should probably find a good recording to upload)

Interview with Marian Volkwyn on 2Oceansvibe radio

Interview with Keri-Lee Stroebel on Hashtag Radio

April 2018

Cape Times interview – in print and online

First Solo exhibition at the AVA Gallery in Cape Town (as part of their ArtReach programme)- sold 4 works on the opening night as well as a full series on painted works to international travellers (value over R10000). (Review of exhibition written by arts writer Scott Williams here)

January 2018

Interview with Briony Liber Coaching- career and business coach “#CareerCorner: A journey towards fine art and mental health advocacy” (now my business coach 😀 )

yvette hess relapse signs bipolar disorder
“She with the Scarf” 2018. Ink on watercolour paper


I think it’s been a tremendous year! Let’s not forget the Revenue increase 2017 vs 2018, a 188% increase which helped me donate toys to the toy library run by the Early Years Services for the kids this Christmas. So, thank you!

We could probably blame all this activity on this relapse, and all the intense noise in the background, which often became part of the foreground. But, this year has taught me is that there isn’t only one trigger to ignite relapse or to see the relapse signs in bipolar disorder. In fact, sometimes it’s easier to be busy to ignore those very relapse signs in bipolar disorder that were there all along.

My psychiatrist tried to push on the point that I need to accept my illness. I believe I have. It’s easier for me to speak about my raging bipolar disorder or relapses or intrusive thoughts (although I have no clue as to how you’d react) than my scalp psoriasis which was caused by long-term use of Lithium – the go-to med for my illness.

I’m just having a hard time accepting this relapse because it wasn’t what I want for myself or anyone else. We can shop and talk about relapse signs in bipolar disorder – but it’s more this deep-rooted sense of failure that gets to me

Apparently, according to my psychiatrist, I have incredible insight and I’m very strong (if only you knew the full picture)- so I know that I haven’t failed. But it feels like it, okay?

Do you want to help?

Just take a look at the points I mentioned earlier. And send love and light, please.

Remember if you provide your email address in my 10 question feedback form (looking back at 2018), I will send you free, downloadable PRINT-READY contemporary digital artwork! It gives me a clue as to what I did right, where I can improve and what you’d like for 2019.

See you in 2019.

1 Comment

  1. Yvette I’ve finally found a quiet moment amid the madness to read your post (sitting in my car parked outside my son’s playschool after dropping my kids at school this morning).

    Your psychiatrist is so right. You are a very strong and insightful person. I may be your sponsor but you inspire me with your strength, passion and tenacity.

    I’ve been told that relapse is a part of addiction, so surely that holds true for other forms of mental illness too?

    I know that sense of failure only too well but like I told you, this is not your fault. It is not a failure. What counts now is what you do with and what you come away with. You have faced so many things this year and head-on. It is no surprise that this has happened. You are still doing great and you are facing this head-on too.

    This is another part of your journey, embrace it and take what you can from it.

    As always I am so proud of you. Keep on keeping on.

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