This Is All I Got For Now

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.3410eea79eaaabc721d3692d363f1361

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

Beautiful Ugly

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.


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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.


iStock_000009888591XSmallIt was a long road for me. Many years battling serious addiction. Cocaine, Pills, Heroin, anything really, but those were my drugs of choice. I am not sure why I am still alive, my present existence is an unlikely outcome. I have been homeless, I have ruined careers, lost possessions, and many other great possibilities were sacrificed for the lifestyle I became caught up in. It seemed like an impossible cycle. I was very low for a long time. I don’t remember a time when my reality was bearable enough to not desperately seek any sort of self medication I could find. The substances described above were those that I settled into after many years of trying anything to soften my waking life. I hear there is a correlation between bipolar and addiction. In case anyone is wondering, I was diagnosed Bipolar before my life of drugs. I’m sure the drugs worsened my condition, but they didn’t cause it. Needless to say my self-image was not in line with what those who loved me saw. Don’t get me wrong, I appeared to be functioning well. I achieved multiple degrees in university, awards, started careers, but I was a master at hiding it. The internal agony on the other hand was like being given a day pass from hell to carry out the image of a normal life, knowing that I didn’t live here and I was still always a citizen of hell.

When things were almost at their worst, I had spent everything on heroin and cocaine. While my fiancé worked away, I spent. When he came back and reality set in that there was no money, it was one of the
worse days of my life. I thought, “We’ve been through hell and back together, but this is the limit, and I cruised past that line with the top down, leaving nothing but a trail of dust.” As he stood there, left with nothing but a tumbleweed bouncing in my tailwind, he found the strength, and had the vision and optimism to forgive me, once I admitted what I had done. He didn’t hold it against me and continued to discuss what we were going to do and how we would deal with it. I had a new appreciation and confidence in the depth of his love for me, which he always expressed, but I couldn’t truly absorb. This is another one of the situations that we survived as a couple, but it gets worse. There was a new bottom to come.

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My world started crumbling down. Partly because of the drugs, the illness, and many months of extreme stress. Each making the other worse. At my worst I was using heavily every day, doing enough heroin and cocaine to kill a horse. I always mixed heroin, cocaine, benzos, not to mention all my bipolar medication. My fiancé told me that he thought I wasn’t going to wake up. He could never sleep because he kept getting up to make sure I was still breathing. My breathing would get so shallow from the heroin especially with the benzos. I never knew he did this. He said that he thought he would have to leave so many times, even though it would devastate him. He calls me his heart. His life. And he means it.

Things had become almost 100% better, thanks to quality medical and psychological care, including drug counselling and addiction professionals. However, one thing that I still hadn’t learned was how to love myself. I still didn’t have the tools to put that into action. I understood the concept, but was missing an essential component. I wasn’t sure what that was until recently, and that is the reason for this lengthy sharing. It is almost easy to lose sight of the depth of meaning when describing the beauty and wonder of life. It isn’t that anybody doesn’t believe it, or mean it, it is just easy to forget the unfathomable wonder and beauty that is being described. I thought I got it, and I did on a certain level. I even agreed. What I didn’t realize, though, was that beauty does not mean pretty. In fact, I have come to see that the true beauty in life is not pretty. Let me explain.

Something happened recently that allowed me the honor of a glimpse of life’s elusive beauty. Perhaps it is not elusive, just really hard to see clearly through our personal shit storms.

Just to fill you in, my fiancé calls me his heart, baby bird, squirrely bird, his life, tons of sappy pet names. (Don’t gag – it’s just so you will get the significance of something coming.)

 He and I were shopping a few days ago. Nothing special, just an average day, then a song came on. I had heard it before and liked it, but I didn’t personalize it. I had only heard it a couple of times. Then my partner walked up to me and said,
“This is the song that I would always sing in my head when I thought of you when you were really bad.”

“What do you mean?” I asked. He answered…

41ZQA0SKFGL“When I thought you were going to die, or that I was going to have to leave you to save you. I would never sleep, I checked your breathing every couple of hours I was so scared that you weren’t going to wake up. I really thought you were going to die. I would see you nodding off and losing consciousness while watching TV, or at the computer. I was getting ready to lose you. This is the song that played constantly in my head, and when I hear it now I remember that time and how lucky we are to still have each other. I would have died without my heart. You are my life, my heart, I love you more than you will ever know. How could I live without my Baby Bird? I felt so sad for you, a sadness I have never felt before.”
The Song
 
I almost cried in the store thinking about what he was going through during that time. I had no idea. I was seeing things through my eyes. Never truly knowing how to feel loved by myself or anybody else. I was so lonely.

I lived what he was talking about, I was there, but as myself. Even though it wasn’t his intention, he gave me the rare gift of really seeing myself through the eyes of someone who truly, selflessly, loves and adores me. I haven’t thought about myself the same way since. I felt sadness for myself in a way that you can only feel out of love for someone. It is no news to anyone that knows me that I have never held myself in high esteem. Trying to understand how to love myself was entirely lost on me. I didn’t know how.  His telling me about what that song meant to him showed me beauty. Beauty exists in love, and pain, true and selfless pain, exists only in love. My eyes opened to one of life’s moments of true beauty, and it was too beautiful to be pretty.

Soon things started to change before my eyes.

My rare glimpse of beauty began to show me not only myself through the eyes of love, but I saw others through eyes of love in a way I never have. Could this be what it means to not be able to love others until you love yourself? I was shown the beauty that existed out of my ugly. Beauty that could have only come into existencetumblr_nf1nbhqQIf1s8tfl8o1_500 because of my ugly. I consider this one of the defining moments in my life’s journey. Now, where I would have only ever seen ugly. The ugly of the person I only knew how to hate and blame. The ugly that I took personally, resented, hated, cursed, and worst of all, the ugly for which I had no ability to see with sympathy, empathy or love. Now I see. I first see the ugly, but now I am not fooled. The ugly, the illusion, is not the person, it is the manifestation of their pain. To see through the ugly, to the pain is where lies the window to the true person, to true beauty.

The rarest, most breathtaking beauty is that which is seen through the ugly. When you are loved at your worst. When you hate yourself. When someone loves unconditionally, never losing sight of your beauty. To experience that dimension and depth of love, and to be given a glimpse of yourself through the eyes of someone who sees only your beauty, when it is almost impossible to see anything but the ugly, is a gift. Those loving eyes cannot see the ugly as being a part of you, of who you are. Love sees through the ugly, understands it is the disguise of pain, and sees through to the true beauty behind. It is a special love to see that authentic beautiful ugly. The long-suffering and devotion of one who loves another through those open eyes, comes from the inability to give up hope that the one they love will one day get a glimpse of themselves through open eyes. To see their beautiful self the way they have always looked to the one who loves them unconditionally.
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I will never forget the first time I got a glimpse of myself through such loving eyes. I don’t think it is something you can give yourself, I think it has to be given. Stay aware lest the moment pass before your eyes, because if you are given a glimpse, life stops and you get lost in a beautiful moment of the infinite now.

My Bittersweet Bipolar

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.

images (73)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.

57568dec938a7c6e68298dc179c543e8I 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.

downloadHappiness 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?

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Ending The Stigma Of Mental Illness ~ Not Calling It Mental Illness Might Be A Good Start

download (4)It is wonderful to see that there is an increased awareness of and drive to end the stigma associated with mental illness. Bell did a great job with their “Let’s Talk” Campaign, raising $6, 107, 538, 60 toward mental health initiatives! There is more dialogue happening than in the past, and I think that more than ever people are speaking out about their illness, and that even those without a mental illness are speaking out for those suffering. I think that it will continue to grow and through education and dialogue the stigma will become less of a threat to so many suffering.

images (42)If I am totally honest though, I still feel as though I live under the shadow of stigmatization and fear the consequences of sharing my illness with others. I recently wrote a post about a couple of incidents that made it very clear to me that there is a misconception about what mental illness looks like. You can check out the story here.

I have been living with Bipolar 1 for as long as I can remember, although I have only been living with medically treated Bipolar 1 since my diagnosis about 10 years ago. I have come to terms with my illness. Although I have to admit that despite knowing now that my manic and depressive episodes had a medical explanation, and that my condition is stable with proper medical care and medication, I still am not willing to be completely open about my illness. I am very careful about sharing that part of myself.

images (39)The illness has caused me an incredible number of challenges, missed opportunities, loss, has lead to self-destructive behaviour and I have hurt many people that I love. Fortunately, I have had the privilege of working with medical professionals to monitor my medications, I have psychiatric treatment/counselling and I’m learning to recognize symptoms and to make positive lifestyle changes. Thanks to this I live a fairly normal and functional life. Proper treatment allows me to maintain balance and some stability, reducing the number and the intensity of episodes I experience.

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I have to ask myself though, why are we still differentiating between physical and mental illness? Mental illnesses are a result of brain functioning, and I’m pretty sure the brain is a part of the body. Is it not? Not to mention the fact that symptoms respond to medication, which can in turn allow a person to lead a relatively stable and balanced life.

Maybe we need to rethink the divide. If what is considered to be physical illness is usually diagnosed by definitive tests, is often visible, and is viewed as a legitimate affliction, then mental illness must be something else.

images (49)Unfortunately, differentiating between physical and mental illness gives the impression that mental illness is something different, that it is not an illness of the body and therefore must be a problem of the “mind”. The mind is associated with behaviour, personality, and amongst other things, the ability of one to change or choose their disposition. Maybe the very distinction is perpetuating the stigma. Perhaps the decision to no longer label one type of illness physical and one mental is a necessary beginning step in ending the stigma.

Why do we differentiate between mental and physical illness? Where does this come from? Why does it matter?

There is much debate over the definition of Mental Illness. It is generally accepted that it exists and that it can have serious and an often detrimental impact of the lives of those suffering.

While there is debate over how to define mental illness, it is generally accepted that mental illnesses are real and involve disturbances of thought, experience, and emotion serious enough to cause functional impairment in people, making it more difficult for them to sustain interpersonal relationships and carry on their jobs, and sometimes leading to self-destructive behaviour and even suicide. The most serious mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression, and schizo-affective disorder are often chronic and can cause serious disability.~ SEP

download (2)The mainstream Western view of mental illness has changed with increased knowledge and conceptual sophistication. We have moved past the  less sophisticated, ignorance based view that what we now call mental illness was demon possession, or the result of some other supernatural phenomenon. Could the archaic diagnosis of a spiritual or supernatural cause of mental illness  still be lingering in today’s perception?  What do we mean when we differentiate mental and physical illness? To me that would imply that a mental illness is somehow an illness or disruption in some part of a person that is external to the physical body wouldn’t it? Which in turn would have to mean that we are more than our physical body, and that our mind is something outside of our physical selves.

At this point some of you reading might be thinking “who cares”? Well, being diagnosed with what is called a mental illness as opposed to a physical illness can have serious, life altering consequences. Including employment, issues with insurance and discrimination, to name a few.

There are limitations and difficulty surrounding medical insurance, being qualified to receive care and benefits that someone with a physical illness would receive even though the mental illness is causing comparable limitations. There is fear of informing employers because of concern about jeopardizing a career, even though it would be beneficial for an employer to understand the illness so that he would understand that the employee might need a to step out for a moments or whatever the case may be, rather than not understanding and chalking it up to laziness or incompetence. For example it might be important for a diabetic to inform his or her employer so that there is an understanding and accommodation for certain behaviours and needs related to the illness. It does not feel safe, however, in the case of mental illness.

The reason that the parity debate exists at all is because our institutions (governmental, legal, medical, insurance/financial, etc.) are and have been (for hundreds of years!) invested in the idea that mental disorders (such as depression, psychosis, and anorexia) are somehow fundamentally different (less real, more the fault of the victim/patient, and less deserving of support) than physical disorders. Though we know today that this view (that mental disorders are different and/or inferior to physical disorders) is false, the legacy of these older prejudiced beliefs still rules:

~Within any given health insurance plan, the coverage for mental disorders is inferior to that provided for physical health concerns.

~Many health insurance providers don’t even underwrite their own mental health coverage, but rather ‘carve it out’ (sub-contract it) to other specialized companies.

~Mental and physical disorders are actually diagnosed using separate diagnostic books. In no other field of medicine (that I’m aware of) is this done! Mental disorders are diagnosed using the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the DSM)”, and physical disorders are diagnosed using the “International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (the ICD)”. Last I understood, the DSM is also considered a ‘carve-out’ of the ICD in that the DSM (published separately) is considered a code-compatible sub-section of the larger ICD which covers physical disorders.

~While there is stigma involved with all illness, you get stigmatized (discriminated against) by employers and society at large more when you have a mental illness as compared to when you have a physical illness. No one thinks less of you for consulting a physician for diabetes, but they generally will if you consult a psychiatrist for depression.

~ Mark Dombeck, PhDBlurring The Boundary Between Mental and Physical.

download (3)Clearly there are serious consequences in differentiating between physical and mental illness. Sure, there are differences, but there are also differences between illnesses that are both considered physical. Could it be possible that the distinction itself between physical and mental illness is adding to the problem of stigma?

I have been wondering about this for a while, so I thought I would ask the question. I have no training in medicine or psychology but I think it would be safe to say that most medical professionals treat patients based on the assumption that they are physical beings. Where would a “mental illness” originate if not in the brain? The brain is an organ. Why then, is an illness that is the result of improper brain functioning not physical? Hypothyroidism has been associated with Bipolar like symptoms, behavioural symptoms. The malfunction is in the thyroid gland, but is causing “mental/emotional” symptoms. Why is it not a mental illness? How about damage to the brain causing behavioural changes, or any other disorder that is considered a physical illness (like epilepsy, stroke, etc.) that is a result of activity in the brain? Why are those physical illnesses and not mental illnesses?

images (4)In my opinion, I don’t see how any illness that causes symptoms that are shared by millions of people, responds to some variation of the same category of treatments, and that originates in an organ in the body can be anything other than a certain type of physical illness. Illness is illness, and illness occurs in the body. Unless we want to get into arguments about the mind being something outside of or separate from the body, something supernatural, I’m pretty sure most of us would agree that what we call our mind is our brain in action. The mind is the state when the brain is alive and at work. A living functioning brain produces the mind, so mental illness by that definition of mind would be caused by a malfunctioning of the brain, causing symptoms in the mind.

download (22)It is a big question to ask, but I do think that the stigma surrounding mental illness is perpetuated by our continuing to treat mental illness as something different from physical illness. It is all physical illness. They may represent symptomatically different, but they all originate in a part of the (physical) body.

Sources:

Bell Canada (Bell “Let’s talk” campaign)

Seven Counties Services Inc., Blurring The Boundary Between Mental and Physical. By: Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

American Psychological Association: The roots of mental illness: How much of mental illness can the biology of the brain explain? By Kirsten Weir

Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy: Mental Illness.

 

What the bleep was that all about?

This week that has just passed was unbelievable. It was like anxiety was an entity that came into my apartment and curled up into a knot in my stomach. It was totally unexpected. The week before I had been feeling great. I had been to the gym every day, my medication seemed to be working like a charm. Once Sunday or Monday came of this past week I just didn’t know what happened! I could hardly shower, the ringing phone would send my stomach into knots, I didn’t even open my computer until today. I actually spent the entire week curled up in agony on the couch afraid of the phone, email, people, and just couldn’t do anything. I tried meditation, going for a walk, tidying up, but nothing worked, everything was unbearable! Finally,  it occurred to me on Thursday night what the problem might be. You see, one of my medications is very expensive so I decided last week that I would just take one every second day, you know, to save money. It didn’t occur to me until Thursday, well, yesterday that that could be the problem. I spoke with the pharmacist and he assured me that the drastic up and down that was happening from day to day was almost certainly the cause of my crippling anxiety. So let that be a lesson folks! Take medication as prescribed, I sure will, because that was unbearable! images

I feel like I can breath again!

Smile? Not for 8 bucks an hour I won’t!

It was happening, it was one of those days, one of those moods. I began to get hot, things were ringing up as wrong prices, people were waiting while I tried to get things worked out, waiting for managers to fix the system. Customers getting impatient in line, staring at me work. I started to sweat, I was seething inside. I was not blatantly rude to anybody, but I certainly was not overly friendly, and I most definitely couldn’t muster up a smile. It was taking all my energy not to flip the cash machine over, walk away and say “to hell with it!”.

Little did I know, a similar scene was soon to unfold…

A Story About An Un-medicated, Undiagnosed Bipolar Cashier

I have been on mood stabilizing medication for several years now. Sometimes I think I am fine and wonder why I need any medication at all. Then I remember back to when I was not medicated. I remember the unbearable irritability, the profound anger and rage of a volatile and explosive mind. I was so irritable that I couldn’t even stand myself, I was literally getting in my own way and on my own nerves. I thank god often that I didn’t actually murder someone in a fit of rage. This kind of irritability and anger could result from just dropping a pencil or stubbing a toe. I’m not even going to talk about driving… Well… maybe just a little. The only way I could manage to not rip off my own head to relieve the anger was to imagine my car having undetectable go-go-gadget weapons that would just disintegrate any driver that would send me into a fit of road rage, which was almost any driver. I can’t even go into the things I imagined doing to people who honked their horns at me. Needless to say, after thinking back at how unstable my moods were I remember why I am on my medication and all is well with the world (for the most part anyway).

I am telling you this because I was thinking of an incident from back in the days of my unmedicated madness and thought I would share. At the time I am surprised that I did not spontaneously erupt into a ball of flame and combust from the heat of my own rage. It took place in a store where I worked customer service, which is quite possibly the worst job I could have in my unmedicated days, heck, even medicated.

It was around Christmas time…

I was working at a store that I would describe as a small version of Ikea. It wasn’t all that bad for the most part. I mostly worked organizing shelves and stocking merchandise, things I enjoy doing anyway. It is not that I am not a people person, but I do not do well with a large number of small, superficial interactions, especially if I am in the middle of doing something and am focused on it. I also hate being interrupted and having to drop what I am doing just because someone needs to ask me a question. If I am in the mood for it, I am great at it, but if not (and I am usually not) I loathe it. I’m pretty sure I did a terrible job hiding my complete and utter irritation with the customers. Especially when they were asking me how much something was when the price was plainly posted no more than 2 millimetres below the item on a bright yellow tag. Just like on every single other item in the store. Either way, I was completely out of line. It was never the customers fault, I just quite simply was not cut out for dealing with people and had a bad attitude and an un-medicated mood disorder. Some days I was fine but others, when my mood was off, I could be pretty bitchy. Typically I wasn’t put on as a cashier and worked as much as possible on the floor, left alone to organize and arrange just as I liked it. Besides, that was what I was really good at anyway. I didn’t mind just filling in on cash for someone to break or something like that, but I hated being assigned there for my shift. I would rather eat glass.

I will just give a little background note here: Around the time of the incident myself and some of the staff who had been there for years had recently found out that a girl who barely graduated high school, had no education, hadn’t worked in four years and had no experience was hired as a cashier for 75 cents more per hour than the rest of us. More than people with university degrees who ran their own sections, and had worked there for years. So there was a little bit on animosity brewing anyway…

So, on a busy day during the Christmas rush my manager decides I should spend my shift on cash. I requested that I please work the floor, but it wasn’t happening. A bitterness seed sprouts open in my gut, uh oh, that familiar feeling is brewing. So, swallowing my contempt I slowly moped to the cash. I kept up appearances but inside I knew I wasn’t going to be able to hide my absolute disdain for the hundreds of meaningless interactions I was about to endure. People started to enter, the store became more and more busy. It was the Christmas rush. I wasn’t even that experienced on the cash anyway so I’m not sure why he would put me there at the busiest time of the year. It was happening, it was one of those days, one of those moods. I began to get hot, things were ringing up as wrong prices, people were waiting while I tried to get things worked out, waiting for managers to fix the system. Customers getting impatient in line, staring at me work. I started to sweat, I was seething inside. I was not blatantly rude to anybody, but I certainly was not overly friendly, and I certainly couldn’t muster up a smile. It was taking all my energy not to flip the cash machine over, walk away and say “to hell with it!”.

Little did I know, a similar scene was soon to unfold.

I was barely holding myself together, but I was managing to keep things civil, ringing up the items and saying “have a nice day!”. You know, the basics at least. Then they came. The curtain guys. I will never forget those damn curtains. The first gentleman said hello, I responded the same and took the package of curtains to scan them. I didn’t engage in conversation and certainly didn’t give them a friendly smile, full of Christmas cheer, but I wasn’t directly rude to them either. Not good enough. The second man, with his smug face, his half smirk and is condescending attitude snidely remarked,”Uh, you could smile you know.”

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I’m not sure where it came from, but before I knew what was happening my mouth was moving and I could hear my voice say, “Not for 8 bucks an hour I won’t.”. (Maybe some lingering bitterness about the 8.75 the unskilled labour was getting at the cash next to me?)

 Oh shit, oops.

He glared at me and snottily said, “You’re a little bitch.” “I want to see your manager!”


 

Silence

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Much of what happened next is a blur. I froze. It was as though every negative emotion hit me at once not allowing any of them to break through. The silence was palpable. There was a line up extending to the back wall of the store and only two cashiers.  I glared at the men for a moment, then without a word I slid their curtains back to them without completing the transaction, left the cashier station, walked to the managers office and calmly said, “I need to speak with you right now.”

imagesI was regaining my voice, emotions were starting to emerge.

My poor, clueless manager.

Trying not to lose it completely I informed him , my voice quivering from restrained rage, “They are pissed and want to speak to my manager, I really pissd them off.” Then it burst through and I snarled “But you can tell them that you are not my manager any more and I’ll be waiting for them outside of the store!”

By now I was livid, all the anger about the unfair wages amongst other issues I had with the staffing, hours and all the bullshit at the job bubbled up and as I gathered my things I proceeded to inform him that we all know about the new girl’s wage and all the other things that pissed me off about the store. Finally I said, “I told you not to put me on cash today.” and I stormed out the back door in a blaze of glory. Then, as promised, I awaited the men outside of the store. I watched them walk to their car. They looked back several times in fear.

“What are you doing?” “Are you following us?” “We are going to call the police!” they shouted in worried voices.

“And tell them what?”, I yelled. “That a 20 year old girl is going to attack two 40 year old men?”

I’m really not sure what I was planning to do, but I finally backed off and watched them until they were out of site. I’m pretty sure they were terrified.

Needless to say, I never returned to that store again. I hated working customer service anyway and it was worth giving up 8 measly bucks an hour to steal any ounce of pleasure they would have had complaining to my manager. It mustn’t have been very satisfying complaining to a manager about an employee who no longer works at the store.

Long story short, I no longer work customer service and I continue to take my medication regularly.

I am not proud of my behavior, but at the same time the emotions were so strong and so unbearable and overwhelming I couldn’t control them. If only I had known that I had a mental illness that was causing these powerful episodes. It was so difficult to live with.

Since being diagnosed and treated I live a relatively normal life. Of course I have up and down episodes but I know how to recognize them in time and I understand what is happening and what to do about it. I am so grateful to haver been diagnosed and been given a chance at a more balanced life.

It has been so long since I have been in such an unstable state that I sometimes forget what it feels like and how detrimental it is to myself and those around me. That is why, when I start to wonder if I really need my mood stabilizing medications, I think back and remind myself of the alternative, then swallow the pills.

I think he’s like, bipolar or something…

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I wanted to write this evening about something that has stuck in my mind for a long time. There were two incidences, several years apart, but they are very similar. They are both examples of stigma and how uninformed many people are about mental illness. Both occurred where I was working at the time, and both involved a discussion between co-workers (myself included). In each scenario several of my co-workers were talking about a regular customer, an acquaintance (more of mine than anyone’s). Each customer was a regular at each place I worked. Most of us had close to daily interactions with them, mind you they were the typical superficial interactions that a coffee shop regular would have with a seasoned barista. The customers were regular enough that we had plenty of time to observe each of them, their mannerisms and their perceived characteristics.

"He was different, very quiet. He kept to himself a lot."
“He was different, very quiet. He kept to himself a lot.”

In the first workplace, I actually had a chance to sit and chat several times with the gentleman and I happened to really like him. I could see how he could come across different or even a little strange, but he was actually quite interesting and very nice. He was just really quiet and kept to himself. He always walked to and from the shop and dressed like someone who might live a simple, natural life in a cottage by a lake. I could see why they found him to appear out of place.

In the second workplace, I had never personally met the individual, but I was listening to the conversation of a couple of my co-workers and immediately got the impression that he was not a nice guy. He clearly had some issues and they seemed to find it quite acceptable to make it clear that he was screwed up and most certainly not a good person. He had major issues, in their opinions.

In both situations, the conversations drifted to an end with exactly the same conclusion. Not one that was based on any previous training or understanding of the “diagnosis”, mind you. Nevertheless, it wawomen-gossip-at-work-e1359396952867s clear to them. The first pair, about a man that they had never actually spoken to, agreed that “Yeah, he’s bipolar. He creeps me out so much.” The second pair, the two that I was considering sharing that I have bipolar, quite simply stated, “I’m pretty sure he is like, bipolar or something.”

“I’m pretty sure he’s like, bipolar or something.”

This sentence has silenced me for far too long. Those conversations still paralyse me.

These people had no idea what qualifies as bipolar disorder. They didn’t know that I was bipolar. I am quite certain that neither of those men were bipolar. Those two scenarios pop into my mind often. I have not come out about my bipolar disorder to many people, and it is situations like that that keep me silent. It is my impression that bipolar disorder is perceived to be an illness whose sufferers are plagued with unsavoury characters, that they are selfish, dangerous or miserable. They are strange and not to be trusted. That is my experience of how those who do not know anybody personally (that they know of) who has bipolar disorder perceive a person with bipolar disorder to be. It scares me frankly. It makes me worry that suddenly those who I have been close to will immediately question every moment that we have spent together, that they will suddenly see me as something else. Someone that is not safe, that needs to be kept at a distance. This is stigma. This is what it does and how it feels.

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Sometimes I imagine what would happen if all of us with bipolar disorder were to come out and tell the world at the same time. At least there would be an accurate representation of what bipolar disorder looks like, acts like, is. They are people that they like, love and have known as friends for many years. That is what bipolar looks like. Just like the person they are sitting next to, sharing another story about the strange guy who just came in for coffee again.