No More Blame, Bias or Shame
I don’t know what to write about so I’ll just start saying anything that comes to my mind. Maybe that’s the best way, as trying to force writing is a bit like trying to pull a car out of mud. Writing to censor myself in front of an audience doesn’t seem to create inspiration or drive in me. I cannot worry about being judged. I cannot censor myself. I need to take the risk and be vulnerable, to a point, but not to the point where it hurts me.
Accepting that I have Bipolar leaves me with a vulnerable feeling. I feel a bit of a red, embarrassed feeling. I don’t know why. I shouldn’t feel this way. If other people don’t want to talk about mental illness, that is their issue, not mine.
But a thought comes to mind, and it goes like this: “You are exaggerating, being silly, making things up, being dramatic” etc.
About something that has affected me my whole life.
We are not full of “self pity”. We do not make things up. We do not choose to live life on a constant roller coaster ride.
We do not choose to feel so depressed we are suicidal. Nor do we choose to feel so destructive, we want to put our fists through glass, punch walls, kick and throw things, cut, hurt or destroy ourselves.
Bipolar is not a choice. It has chosen me.
I can choose to do all I can to help myself though. I can choose to view myself as a strong woman, not a victim.
Meds have stopped the crazy meltdowns and screaming in the street when something goes wrong. They have stopped the violent rages.
Before diagnosis and meds, I was unable to face the part of me that screamed, yelled, cried and destroyed things, then wept in a little ball for long periods of time. I was simply unable to cope, scared and embarrassed. I constantly worried that people would see me in this state, judging me as mad, bad and dangerous to know. Somehow not good enough.
But I am good enough. And so are you.
The days of pretending to be normal and hiding myself from myself are thankfully over. This sets me free.
I don’t know what ‘normal’ is, apart from that it’s a setting on a washing machine.
I’ll never be ‘normal’ and I’m okay with this.
My moods will never be normal. More controlled perhaps, but never normal.
Mental illness might not define me, but moods define my day. Some days, the moods are stronger, other days more manageable.
My moods change rapidly in a day. I can feel inspired one minute, dull and flat the next. I can be outgoing one minute, then suddenly this will change and I want to hide from the world. Some days it hurts to talk to people or do anything.
The highs feel great when they are not full of irritation, anger or panic attacks. They are great when they are not destructive. I want to do ten different projects at 2am. I feel great, invincible, touched by God, inspired and super-charged. But the problem with highs is that they are always followed by lows. It’s like the crash you get after drinking coffee, eating sugar or taking drugs.
The lows pain me. They are a psychic pain that hurts from deep within, a pain I can’t control or stop, but long for an end to. I can’t help but hang on for dear life, clutching at the couch in despair and fear when the lows hit. All I want to do is sleep away the pain. Eating and self care hurt with the effort.
It is worse than this when I don’t take my meds. I’d hate to think where I’d be without meds. Arrested? In hospital? A chronic drug and alcohol addict. Dead. I have been there when I was young, and live to tell the story.
No meds, no life. No recovery no life.
Today I have a choice: Accept myself and my condition, treat it and live my life.
I can’t fight the moods. It makes them too powerful. I can’t take away the moods. I have tried all my life to do that and it doesn’t work. I have no choice but to ride the tiger and go with the moods, not against them. I’m tired of fighting a losing battle.
I can meditate, exercise, talk, write and do my art and music. There is peace in accepting my illness, peace in the face of no peace. I can be helpful and productive in my life.
I am here for a purpose and so are you.
Our brains might be different, but we do not have to devalue ourselves for it.
We are unique. We are valuable. We have gifts. Always remember that.
I am not feeling particularly inspired today, but that doesn’t mean I am uninspiring as a person. Some days, the creative juices flow more than others. On the days when I am feeling flat, I worry that inspiration has left me for good. It hasn’t. Like the sun, it has just gone behind the clouds for a bit.
Starting new ideas is easy. Keeping with them is harder. Especially when the universe does not seem to be listening. During these times, it can be a challenge to take my place in the world knowing that I matter, that my ideas mean something and are worth pursuing.
Physical and mental disorders can take a toll on the sufferer. Even though meds mean less duration and severity of mood, breakthrough symptoms can still strike me.
Getting on the right combination of meds is a major issue with treatment and management of Bipolar Disorder. Too high and I’m sleepless, anxious, distracted, jittery and agitated. Speech is pressured and constant. I think my ideas are the best ideas in the world. These ideas demand for attention. Thoughts race through my brain like noisy ghosts. I am caught in an undertow, pulled along and swept away. I paint the bathroom at 3am. No activity is too outrageous. Life gets unmanageable very quickly. I cannot function for the anxiety that rips through my body. Anger and impatience take me over. I feel like I am high on drugs without taking any. Take less antidepressants and more Latuda.
Depression is the worst one for me. I’m scared, slowed. An unbearable flatness takes me over. A pain like no other. I can’t think straight. I want out of the pain. I can’t run nor hide. I want to sleep. I can’t eat. I can’t stop crying. Either that, or I can’t feel anything. I feel dead inside. It’s distressing beyond belief. More antidepressants and Lamictal.
Right now, I am flat. Not suicidal. Just flat. And I have many wonderful things to live for. But the fires of the mind are causing me distress, and I can’t cope.
So here are some of the things I do to help myself get through the difficulties:
Pat a dog. Or a cat, or any animal for that matter.
Have a coffee in a coffee shop and write out my thoughts honestly, no censorship.
Take my dog to the beach.
Carry around an adult colouring in book and use it. Helps with anxiety symptoms.
Make art, or music if I am up to it.
Curl into a ball and ride it through, knowing it will pass.
Call someone non-judgemental and talk to them.
Meditate using the Smiling Mind app. I’m sure there are other good meditation apps out there for those who live outside of Australia.
Write a gratitude list. Even if I can only think of one thing to write down. By writing that one thing, I always think of other things I am grateful for.
Help someone. Gets me out of my head. Smile at someone. Be nice to someone.
Watch a movie or documentary.
And the list goes on.
For as long as there is life, there is hope.
There are times in my life where I have become stuck, believing I will never overcome obstacles. When people say ‘have faith’, what does that mean? I am not religious, but if this form of faith works for you, then I am glad it does.
When I first started drug and alcohol recovery in AA, Bill Wilson, it’s founder, talked about having ‘faith as small as a mustard seed’ This concept jumped out at me from the get-go. Faith for the faithless. I could handle that. Faith in bite sized pieces. Faith for people of all ages, nationalities, denominations and beliefs, religious or non-religious. I needed whatever hope I could cling to.
I came into AA and NA recovery a garden-variety wreck. I had no sense of hope whatsoever, because I was staring into the face of death. I didn’t believe anything could improve for me. I hated the world, and myself. I was psychotic, believing I was worthless, that my family were better off without me.
I stole whatever I could get my hands on.
I must have had faith though, because I stepped into my first meeting, thinking, that maybe, there was the tiniest possibility it would help me.
I went to a run-down inner-city meeting of NA for the first time in my young life. I knew I had a problem with drugs, but I couldn’t identify the alcohol problem. Whatever. Booze is a drug so powerful and destructive, it can destroy every organ in the body. It’s just a legal drug. Identifying as an alcoholic would come a bit later, when I showed up at my first detox.
Alcohol and cannabis were my daily-use drugs. Pills, coke, acid, speed and codeine were running a close second, threatening to bloom into full-blown addiction, especially coke.
I didn’t think I was enough of an addict to join recovery. I was too young. I wasn’t sleeping on a park bench in Hyde Park. I was doing postgraduate at uni, writing assignments on Adolescent Development and teaching at Vaucluse High School, totally off my face. It was about that time I overdosed.
Heroin addicts urged me to get help immediately, telling me my drug was worse than theirs because it had made me crazy.
Point taken. So I packed my bags and headed off to recovery. And the rest is history, one day at a time.
Having faith, for me, means I cannot tackle all my life problems at once. It means I stay off abusing substances one day at a time. It means seeing the beauty all around me, no matter how small.
It means taking life one step at a time.
When I am upset about the worlds problems, I have to make a decision to bring my affairs, and my reality back into today.
When Bipolar Depression hits me hard, I remind myself to see beauty in the face of a passing child, in my dog putting her little head on me, in my partner, a kind and good man, in my parents and brother, who I am close too. Addiction didn’t take away my family, and I remind myself of this.
I am hoping this coming Winter will be Depression-free, that the meds will help me.
Whatever the outcome, I will be kind to myself and keep moving in a forward direction, even if things try to send me backwards.
To begin is hard. To get my thoughts out into the world beyond my mind is healing, and yet I don’t always find the time to do this. Sometimes, many times, I find myself small, a tiny fish surrounded by, and swimming within a huge, swirling torrent of Bipolar Disorder Type 2.
Bipolar 2 has been described as ‘Soft Bipolar’ It isn’t. Swirling torrents, and constant noise in the brain are not what I would describe as a soft experience. I may not be running down the street naked, but I have come close to doing so.
24 years of recovery in AA and Al-Anon (and some time spent in NA) has given me the strength so far to not act on every impulse Bipolar throws at me. However, Bipolar is extremely powerful, and, like addiction, it is way more powerful than I am.
Bipolar. Do stupid things faster with more energy.
And I have done some crazy stupid things.
Like driving my car on the footpath.
Nearly killing myself on drugs and alcohol.
Acting out sexually with really stupid people.
Yelling out at people in the middle of the car park exit facing lines of beeping Range Rovers, Nissan Pajero’s and other cashed up army tanks wanting to go home.
“Don’t use this car park, it is stupid!”
Hurling objects through the air in a rage that takes me over, and having people call in the Crisis Team. Then when they finally arrive and ask me how I am, telling them I am fine. Pretending to be ‘normal’ Denying and refusing help when help is offered.
Being a suicide risk.
Presenting myself at Caritas in the middle of the night, but telling them I was okay, when in reality, I was at risk of doing something really, tragically stupid. Devastating for myself and my loved ones.
Telling myself I am stupid, when in reality, I am not stupid at all, I have a condition.
And many other experiences over the years, too many to mention in full.
Fortunately, the myth of ‘Soft Bipolar’ is being debunked by mental health professionals these days.
The reasons for this is because Bipolar Disorder is on a spectrum, with some people experiencing more depression symptoms on one end (blue), while others experience more mania (red) on the other end of the spectrum.
Bipolar 2 Disorder is heavy on the depression side, often getting misdiagnosed for years as Unipolar Depression before correct diagnosis is reached. This happens because people don’t tell the doc when they are feeling high, because ‘hooray! Life is great! I’m not depressed!’
People usually seek help for the nasty, unpleasant symptoms such as suicidal depression. This is what I did for years, because I was in a psychic pain that was indescribable and profound, and I wanted out of that pain. The highs were a relief from the lows.
Bipolar 2 Disorder has a high suicide rate, but I am a woman of tough Scottish blood, and I refuse to be a statistic. I take my meds every day because if I don’t, Bipolar will destroy me.
I was prescribed antidepressants, which are dangerous for people with Bipolar because they send them into orbit, into mania or hypomania.
And what goes up, must come down.
Sleepless highs, then crashes. Not being able to function.
Losing jobs before they are even found. Not being able to concentrate due to the noise inside my brain.
Which really pisses off bosses, coworkers and clients, who have no idea why it is like it is.
I have just lost all my dog walking work, in part due to the sporadic nature of the work, so, not my fault.
However, one woman witnessed me having a meltdown in the street outside her house due to me not being able to concentrate enough to keep track of the keys.
Is this why work has suddenly ceased to exist with her? I’ll never really know, however, I have a history of losing work, not being able to stick to careers or projects, melting down under pressure, and just plain old running away.
Spike Milligan called it advancing in the opposite direction.
Being too depressed to get out of bed or get out of the house. Or so hyper that it pisses people off, or just plain old angry and irritable.
Soft Bipolar has derailed many a career, dream and project for me. I don’t say this to complain. It is just a fact.
If anybody tells you mental illness is made up, fake, attention seeking or deliberate bad behaviour, they are wrong.
I give such people a body-swerve. They may not be fully aware of the facts regarding mental illness, and this is innocent on one hand, misguided on the other, and damaging to my sense of self worth.
I am simply a person doing the best I can with what I’ve got.
And I’ve done well in many areas.
I am a survivor who is flourishing in spite of a mental illness that can really take it out of me.
It has been a pleasure to write the interview feature articles that I have featured on my blog over the last few weeks. It is always hard to tell the story of another dealing with mental illness. But to have people trust in my ability as a writer and allowing to put in words their […]
I don’t know what to write about. It feels like such a long time since I last wrote. I am feeling really affected today. I watch video blogs by a lady I find very helpful and insightful. She has Bipolar and Borderline Disorder, so she battles this thing on two fronts. I take my hat off to her. In one video, she talked about fearing depression. I can relate to that. I could be having an off day, or even an off few hours, and I automatically think it’s the big D coming on. It’s understandable we fear depression. Going through it is frightening, stressful, out of control. I never know how long it’s going to go on for. Days, hours, weeks or maybe months? I’ve had it for longer than that, and got very suicidal. Nobody seemed able to diagnose anything or put me on the right meds. It’s testimony to my inner strength and 12 Step recovery that I survived this terrible period. It went on for a year, and it terrified the crap out of me.
Depression is worse than coming off drugs. You can’t sit, you can’t stand, you can’t think. You want to be everywhere, and yet you don’t want to be anywhere. I get the agitated, distressed type of depression where I feel like I am unravelling. My brain is in a sludgy, mushy fog. I can’t get up or do anything. Everything feels dull, turgid, bleak and pointless. My body aches. All I want to do is sleep and escape. Sometimes there are tears, sometimes nothingness. Depression is a pain like no other.
Telling someone to be positive, wake up to themselves and to think of people worse off than themselves is pointless. This approach may work for a normal, blue day, but it does not work for someone experiencing Bipolar or Major Clinical Depression. The reason for this is down to chemical imbalance in the brain. Our brains simply misfire. Our brains cannot be relied upon.
Depression is not a choice. I don’t know where this highly illogical line of thinking came from, and I wish it would go away. Thinking people choose or fabricate mental illness is like thinking people choose diabetes or stroke. Such thinking is harsh and lacking in any form of caring or compassion. Such thinking promotes even more stigma and bullshit.
All we want to do is get well and stay well.
I am Steph, and I have Bipolar. I find those words difficult to say, probably due to the stigma and misunderstanding surrounding mental illness.
It was once the same way with alcoholism and drug addiction. In 1992, I walked into my first 12 Step meeting. It was hard to say ‘My name is Steph, and I am an alcoholic/addict’ I felt embarrassed and self conscious. I kept wondering if I really was an alcoholic or an addict, even though life told me I was. I had gone through the wringer of addiction, and yet the stigma surrounding it told me otherwise.
Deny, bury, hide in shame. Do anything but face it and heal.
Stigma, misunderstanding and judgement of mental illness and addictions does nothing to address the widespread problem of it in the community.
Ignore the issues, and they don’t go away. Instead, such issues only fester and grow in the darkness of ignorance, denial, misunderstanding, embarrassment and unwillingness to face things.
I also have a chronic pain condition, but I find it easier to say I have this. People seem to understand and sympathise with having physical pain.
Telling others about my Bipolar 2 diagnosis is a different story altogether. I have mentioned it to people, then found they are awkward and unwilling to engage in conversation about it.
Maybe it’s because Bipolar Disorder is a misunderstood illness that too few people know about. They don’t know what to say or do. They don’t know where to look. They don’t know how to respond. They can’t relate to something they don’t have or can’t see.
And they say all sorts of weird shit.
Shit such as:
‘It’s all in your head’
Indeed it is. That’s why it’s called a mental illness.
‘You just need to pray, meditate and visualise/think positive thoughts, and it will go away’
Ah. If only life were that simple.
‘Everybody gets what you’ve got’
Bipolar is a serious illness that claims lives. It is nothing to do with the daily ups and downs of life that everyone gets.
‘You don’t look like you’re one of those crazy people’
Looks are deceiving. Unless I was in a severe psychosis, and/or running down the street naked, you wouldn’t know I had a mental illness just by looking at me. Many people with Bipolar are high functioning people.
‘People who say they have Bipolar are just using it as a way of avoiding responsibility’
Nobody chooses to be ill. People wouldn’t walk up to someone in a wheelchair and tell them they are avoiding responsibility. Mental illness is incapacitating.
My name is Steph.
I am not crazy. I am not fragile. I live a good life in spite of the illness and it’s struggle.
I am in a loving, committed relationship with my partner. It is possible.
I am not zonked out on meds, alcohol or street drugs, even though I take meds.
I write, make art, walk dogs and play music.
I am a woman. I have fun. I have friends.
I manage panic attacks and insomnia right now. The noise in my head is constant, with small, rare breaks in between.
This year, I had depression and suicidal thoughts for no other reason than my brain misfires.
I am a good person who cares.
I am Steph. I have Bipolar Type 2. It is a part of me. It is not all of me.
I am a human being.
Throughout my life, I always felt different, and I never knew why. Growing up, I felt this lingering and persistent feeling like I didn’t belong or fit in anywhere. I was torn between wanting and not wanting to belong. It felt confusing.
I have always taken solace in my art, music and writing. It seemed to be the one place where I could shine, where I could say a big “stuff you” to all who either ridiculed or rejected me.
Being outrageous was my defence. That was when I wasn’t retreating into my shell of vulnerability and fear. Fear of what? I wasn’t really sure.
In spite of all this, there were times when I was the life of the party with the other kids. I had this little gang of girls in primary school who I had fun with, and another kid, a boy, who I had a close, but tumultuous friendship with. He was like me in many ways.
My friendships were like my Bipolar. Up and down. There one minute, gone the next.
I could never accept myself purely as I was, and I think that is sad.
Back then, I didn’t know I had Bipolar. The teachers had no clue either. They spoke to my Mum about wanting to send me to a child psychiatrist or psychologist, I’m not sure which one. They thought I had Autism because I had this habit of rocking back and forth. At times, I was behavioural. I was creative. One teacher I loved thought I was ahead of my time.
I was known for my love of animals. I felt for them, cared for them, brought them home.
It was the late 70’s and early 80’s. Nobody knew then what they know today about mental health issues.
I didn’t recognise the many gifts I possessed, nor did I realise I needed to be able to do things in a way that worked for me. In those days, every kid was expected to conform to a cookie-cutter standard way of thinking, doing, being and believing. None of it was me. I rebelled in frustration.
I viewed my world through a glass differently.
I still view my world through a glass differently.
I hear music and noise constantly in my head. I move my hands and tap my feet in time to some tune only I can hear and recognise. I hear radio chatter. It never stops. I live with it on a daily basis, never knowing anything different.
When depressed, everything moves in slow motion. I feel like I am swimming through treacle. It is painful and awful, distressing. I don’t function. I am unwell.
I live life through the kaleidoscopic lens of Bipolar. And today, I realise that is perfectly okay.
I don’t have to beat myself up for not being able to function in many employment situations. I walk dogs for a living, which supplements my Disability Pension. It is my way of doing something for myself, within my capacity. I work limited hours. Working too many hours causes me to unravel and break down.
I am not lazy. I have a mental illness. I didn’t choose it. It chose me. While at times, it is a struggle to live with Bipolar, I know I am an okay person who does the best she can in every area of my life.
There are some days when I hate my Bipolar. That’s just how it is for me. I want to kick it’s arse, but instead, it kicks my arse, and is way too powerful for me.
So I ride it out, and try to be good to myself when I am being kicked around by Bipolar.
I no longer act out in self-destructive and dangerous ways. (Drug and alcohol abuse) This has got to put me ahead of my game.
I write about my experiences. In doing so, I share my story with others. This is my way of accepting me for me. I no longer hide in shame. Writing helps me to overcome the stigma surrounding mental illness.
I hope my writing helps others. Maybe someone will relate.
Because we are all beautiful as we are, illness or no illness.
We are brave and strong. We have learnt many skills in order to cope and thrive in spite of having mental illness.
Since being diagnosed with Bipolar 2, I have found support from others who are in the same boat as me.
It’s nice to know there is a local and an international community of people who also see life through a glass differently.