They were like wolves. No, hyenas. Ripping and tearing, feasting on my most intimate frailty. I tried to fight, to make my worth known. I wasn’t very convincing. God, I couldn’t convince myself. I just didn’t know that. They could smell it. The fear. The insecurity. They loved it. They hunted it, gorged on it. Before I knew what happened they had all had a piece. Bellies full, my self shredded and torn, they relished. I was good for them. Their egos. I was their bond. I just didn’t know it.
The issue of stigma involving mental illness is alive and well, but who is responsible to stop it? How can it be stopped? I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I don’t even know if I am truly convinced that I have the right to say that I am sick when I really truly am sick. Stigma is often self-inflicted, I have come to believe. Not that I am openly stigmatizing myself, or directly and purposefully perpetuating it, but by allowing myself to be affected by it. By that I mean by allowing myself to feel or believe, whether unconsciously or not, that what is being implied through stigma is truth. For example, I wasn’t able to continue in my last career because I wasn’t able to maintain a depression/manic free state. Sure, it was a good job and I was able to go on medical leave, but ultimately I left the job that I loved because of instability. Why then, in the back of my mind is my default feeling about this that it is my fault and that I couldn’t keep the job because of some personality flaw, or some other flaw that is in my control. Why do I feel like I screwed up and that in reality, didn’t deserve to keep the job. It makes me feel bad. I know intellectually that I was sick, but I can’t feel that it is true. I don’t feel that I have the right to say that I am sick. It has to stop.
This has got me to thinking. While it is important to educate about mental illness, and that will help combat stigmatization against the mentally ill (I personally don’t see the difference between mental and physical illness, but that is a topic for another time. In fact, I did a post related to that here. ), I think it is probably most important that we focus on ourselves . We need to change the language both in general and in the way we are referring to ourselves and our situations. If we are experiencing depression, anxiety, mania, or are referring to a time that we were, we should boldly and unapologetically say that we are or were sick. That we have a brain disorder. The brain is an organ in our physical bodies and there is an imbalance in the chemicals and therefore it’s functioning. The problem is not some abstract condition that we cannot identify. It is a direct result of our brain chemistry, it’s that simple. It is not up for debate. We are sick. Just as a cancer patient is sick and has a physical illness, one of our organs is not functioning properly so we are sick. That’s it.
The fact that the personality is formed by activity in the brain makes it very obvious that if there is an imbalance, and therefore a disruption, in brain function it only makes sense that the personality would be affected. The personality is not a choice. The fact that a person is suffering from extreme irritability during a depressive or manic state does not mean that they are an irritable person. The personality is not the self, in my opinion. The self is our bodies and the personality is a function of that body. We cannot chose it.
Additionally, our brains create and recreate connections all the time. The creation and recreation of the connections, how the brain is “wired”, is affected by our environment. I believe that the environment can contribute to mental illness insofar as a propensity for mental illness exists. It has been shown that some people who have the predisposition of mental illness may or may not develop such, and that outside stimuli, such as trauma or abuse, can trigger the illness. That is not to say that the person is not really sick and that the person can choose to get over the trauma and move on, back to not having a mental illness. They have a mental illness. Someone might have the propensity to develop a certain type of cancer but never become sick, while someone else in the same situation might participate in a lifestyle that increases their chances of developing the illness. That doesn’t mean, that if latter develops cancer,that the cancer isn’t legitimate. The brain is affected by intangible stimuli. Stress might result in stomach aches and headaches or worse, and it can also trigger a disorder in brain function. Mental illness is nothing more than physical illness, it just has a different manifestation. Sick is sick.
Honestly, until we stop trying to change other peoples’ opinions or impressions of mental illness, and start talking boldly, confidently and unashamedly about our illness just as though we have any other illness, I doubt the problem of stigma is going anywhere very quickly. If we own it, speak openly about it, and expect others to accept it like they accept any other serious illness, then eventually they will.
It has been forever since I posted here. That is not for lack of trying. It’s just that I have been down more than up over the past few years and every time I sat down to write there was just nothing there. I couldn’t find anything to say, I lost the motivation to do anything. Quite frankly, mental illness sucks. Bad.
I swear to God I don’t know how so many people make life look so damn easy. It isn’t for me. For some reason I can’t seem to get life right. I know I have talent, I’ve always been at the top of my class, the team captain and the competitive pianist. A typical type A overachiever. I have three university degrees and even a professional degree. What gives?
Right now I am job searching. Most jobs I have ever had are ones that I should have been able to do better. I am a hard-working, dedicated employee but for some reason I see my peers passing me by. Is this typical of people with mental illness? Is that why I feel so behind compared to other people my age? I am not married, have no children, don’t own a home and probably never will. I am pretty, hard-working, and if my achievements are any indication, very smart. I always get along with my coworkers, when I have a job, and I do well at work. Why do I have so much trouble? I don’t get it. It seems like I take 3 steps forward and 3 to 5 steps back, but life just keeps on moving ahead without me.
How do I figure this out. I want a normal life but I don’t know how to get one. Almost every job I do is one that I really am overqualified for. Perhaps I lack confidence. Perhaps I am sending out a bad vibe or I’m on the wrong frequency. I don’t know, but at this point I’m willing to try anything to catch up in life. Does anybody know where I can get help with life? Is that a thing? I’ll try just about anything. Help!
Wow, it has been a really long time and a lot of really awful things have happened since I was regularly posting here. For the past 5 months or so I have spent varying amounts of time staring at this computer screen. Each time there is so much that I want to fill you in on, a multitude of stories that I’ve yet to get out.
It kind of reminds me of the Simpsons episode where Mr. Burns gets a check-up. Well, each particular story is like one of Mr Burns’ little illnesses. The little bugs or illnesses are so numerous that they should have already killed Mr. Burns. He continues to live, however, because they are all blocking each other and cancelling each other out. Check out the video, it might make some sense to you. It is my best attempt at explaining myself.
If only a slight breeze would pop one of those stories out and the rest would flow. I guess that is kind of why I am writing this. It is something, even if it is simply me writing about not being about to get myself to write.
I feel like everything is just swirling above my eyes, up there somewhere and there is just so much ‘stuff’ in that cyclone that I become overwhelmed and I can’t figure out what to pick, what to start with. I don’t know which to write about, I don’t know which chore to start with, which move to make next. I feel like I have been hog tied with a big sock duct taped into my mouth. All I feel like I can bear to do is sleep. The whole swirling mess that is every day life just keeps spinning and I have grown weary, a ceaseless fatigue that just lingers. I don’t know how to move quickly, I am slow, I am perpetually tired. The very chore of fighting to achieve an upright position is a chore so big to me lately that I have considered just not getting up anymore. Just saying, “fuck it” and letting everything crumble around me until someone just deals with my limp, uncooperative body. This temps me often.
On the positive side, I have posted something. I feel like something budged. I think I made some room, wait…I did. So, there are a lot of stories to tell, lots of psychological findings I have come to learn. I recently found new hope and have learned that up until now, I’ve been prescribed mostly incorrect medications. I feel that many of you will be interested to learn about what I have discovered from my new, fabulous psychiatrist in whom I have a lot of hope. I want to share that whole journey as it unfolds, and will catch you up shortly. It is exciting, particularly if you have been dealing with Mental Illness in North America.
Stay tuned, I will return, I can feel a small breeze coming through that sliver of space I just freed up. Talk soon! xoxo
This is the most personal post I have written. It may sound sappy to some. I hope not, because I am putting myself out there right now. I’m hoping somebody will connect.
Beautiful isn’t pretty.
I don’t usually share this part of my life with anyone, well, ever. It is about addiction. This time I will because it is the only way I know how to share what followed. It took a long time and it is only by chance (or was it?) that I was given a glimpse of such beautiful ugly. I hope it will be for someone out there.
It is difficult to live with Bipolar Disorder. It has taken many years since my diagnosis to find the proper medical care, treatment and medication to finally get a handle on it. At least I can now recognize and manage what I see happening, unlike never knowing what is going on with me, living an unmedicated nightmare. However, I have come to see Bipolar as an opportunity to gain wisdom and perspective. This, at a cost of course.
While Bipolar Disorder presents unique challenges and difficulties because of the extremes of emotions experienced. On the other hand, by allowing us to experience extreme depth and hight of human emotion with an intensity that, if one can make it through and learn to embrace the ride, provides us with a unique and profound perspective. I don’t say “if one can make it through and learn to embrace the ride” lightly. Many make it through, but get stuck in an incessant loop of hopeless depression to frantic mania never seeming to find that middle ground for long. Never stopping to look around, look from where they’ve come and appreciate the shift, to contemplate and use the experience.
I believe that this thing, brain disorder, mental illness, whatever it will be called, is not for the faint of heart. It is a bitter-sweet gift. It is a tragic path to wisdom if we keep our eyes open and our heads up (when we can). Through understanding there is nobody that we can’t help through a difficult time, because we have been to the depths. While mania is considered to be a negative symptom, we experience feelings and emotions, even ecstasy that we could never otherwise have experienced. I understand that these “gifts” come at a cost; Wisdom is gained through suffering…perspective through experience. If we keep our eyes open we will recognise how profound what we have just suffered while in a depression was, and be grateful for the shift. When we are feeling good, or great, or on that fine line between happy and hypo-manic, we should open our eyes and be grateful for what our suffering has led us to understand. With experience we will learn to recognize the fine lines between tired and depressed, happy and hypo, sad and sick…
It is the fine line between happiness and illness that I have found to be one of the most difficult challenges. It can seem to ruin happiness. Never being sure if it is true happiness or the illness. Having to monitor yourself once you feel good in case you start to feel too good and then have to adjust medication to take away your long lost joy. With experience, though, true joy and happiness become more apparent, and it will not be so difficult to decipher what side of that fine line we are on. As I get older and the longer I have
this illness the more clearly I understand what true happiness feels like, and the larger the distinction between healthy happiness and illness has become.
Happiness is pure. It is contentment itself, depending on nothing for its existence. Happiness is calm. Feeling happy does not have to equal (and usually doesn’t) fast, frantic and energetic all the time. Happiness is peace with just being. That is how I know the true happy moments. When happy, I do not have the urge or feel a pressure to do anything in particular. I just am. When I can feel well while simply being, then I know that I am on that beautiful side of the fine line.
The longer I have this illness, the more I feel a sort of deranged gratitude for the experiences that have allowed me to gain a unique perspective. I have experienced human emotion above and below what seemed survivable. There is a beauty and a wisdom that comes from surviving anguish and pain. Wisdom is a gift. I greatly value what I have learned and how living with Bipolar has shaped me. At times I might have said otherwise, but when I am healthy, I would never give up what I have gained through living with Bipolar, it is worth it. Would you?