The internet is great for sparking thoughts with pithy quotes, quirky questions, and cartoons for adults that make you nod in that sage ‘I know exactly what you mean’ kind of way. Facebook is full of more of these kinds of things than updates on the people who you only stay on Facebook to see. One struck me the other day and I had an instant answer but chose to scroll on by because the answer was more than a soundbite.
If you have one wish, what would it be? Eradicate mental illness.
Today I am holding onto the strands, willing them to stay together so that when this anxiety attack is over I haven’t unravelled them all. I’m berating myself for the millions of little decisions that impact my mental health, while trying to calm myself and say ‘You will get through this, it will not last.’ This constant push and pull of my mind fighting itself in this endless spiral of thoughts that swirl in tight formation at its worst and float in loose waves when all is falling into place.
I know there are many people who suffer from depression, anxiety, OCD, bipolar, schizophrenia. The severity varies, the symptoms vary, no two experiences are alike. Some people prefer to hide it away, pretend to the world that they are okay. Others do not deny what their symptoms mean, some educate, some use it as defence for bad behaviour, some just try to make it work and ask for help when they need it. I can only speak from my own experience and if I could have a chance at life without bipolar, I would not hesitate to say yes.
Some days my bipolar looks like a grumpy day that anyone else will have. It can be just a few hours and can be shaken off with a good run, great music, or a hug from my husband. Other times it is a grumpy day that lasts for weeks, that doesn’t shift even when the usual fixes have been applied, an underlying feeling that something isn’t right. It can be a panic that builds, fists tightening, nails scratching at skin, the inability to get out of the car to go into work. It can be a series of setbacks that tumble together, piercing the armour that you’ve spent months repairing from the last attack, to leave you a sobbing mess, unable to even articulate what it is that is causing it. It also disguises itself as endless rounds of mindless games on an iPhone that to anyone else looks obsessive and a total waste of time, which it really is, but you do it because it stops the racing thoughts and gives you a break from your head trying to insult your very existence. And it can look like the deepest, darkest hole you can imagine that swallows you whole, taking your happiness and hope. JK Rowling was onto something when she created Dementors.
There are other times that my bipolar doesn’t look any different to someone having an awesome day, where ideas come to you in a rush, where every idea is more brilliant than the one before. It will look like the shiniest, happiest day, full of energy, action, excitement, and rainbows. It will be bursts of cleaning, of new fitness regimes that are awesome!, spending sprees just because you can and oh my god, shiny things! It will be the inability to sleep, of restless legs that just won’t stop, of talking and mumbling and rambling for hours. It will be a series of one bad decision after another that puts you in incredibly dangerous situations but you are superman, nothing can go wrong. You just might pull it off, but more likely you won’t.
I am struggling to make peace with reaching a point where I believed, I hoped against hope, I would ‘manage’ bipolar and I would be a functioning member of society, but that just isn’t the reality I have arrived at. I have built strong foundations with medications that have been stable for YEARS, I regularly take them, I do not entertain any ideas of coming off them. I see the same psychologist and psychiatrist that I have been seeing since my breakdowns in 2008, they know me, they help set me on the right paths, and are still an essential part of my treatment. I have stable, healthy relationships that nurture and support me. I am the luckiest girl there is to have the most patient, caring, amazing husband who does his best to understand my crazy head. I eat well, I exercise, I do yoga, I have routines for bed time and ones for waking up. I am studying towards something I am passionate about and want to make a difference, however that will look. My life is stable enough to be talking about having a dog again, which was my greatest wish in 2007 when giving my dogs up was a line in the sand to say ‘You aren’t coping’.
I do all of these things and there is still the rollercoaster.
Admittedly the highs and lows are no where near the extremes they used to be, but they do not stop. One day I’m feeling strong and confident in my job, the next I’m worried I am going to lose my job because I have no focus and need to retreat into the fetal position. I wonder how long before goodwill is exerted and it becomes a business decision to cut their losses with me even though I am good at my job when I am functioning. I worry that my amazingly patient husband will reach the end of his tether with me and decide that it is too much. I fought hard for these things in my life and every day they are threatened by the shit my head spins. Some days I don’t hear it at all and then there are the days it has taken out billboards on the freeway with flashing neon signs to point out every flaw and failure that will sting the most at any given time.
I was once asked if the ‘highs’ were awesome. Nope, in my case they are not. They don’t produce mountains of paintings or sonatas that inspire the world. They leave devastation and poor decisions that need to be made right. I can live without that. I can live without the guilt that envelopes you when you come down and realise what you have done, that acidic stench in the pit of your stomach that lingers when you remember things you are ashamed to admit to anyone. I can live without my head using these ‘screw-ups’ as evidence of failure and incompetence when it plunges me in the opposite direction, because you know the ride has only two directions and all you can do is brace yourself for the fall.
Intellectually I know all of this. I know this is the reality and it is manageable in a way that has minimal impact on those around me and how I function. All the pieces can fit together and make the picture on the front of the box, it’s just not one of those days, not one of those weeks, not one of those months. I am incredibly hard on myself because I know I have those days where it just works, I know how happy and content I can be, and I blame myself when it isn’t that way. I blame myself and not the insidious illness that I have. I don’t allow myself an inch to just say ‘It’s bipolar and this is what it means.’ I blame myself for the pieces slipping out of place, of days of not eating in the best way to support my body, of missed workouts and oversleeping. They are my ‘fault’, my ‘bad habits’ that I can beat out of myself, they are my ‘mistakes’ and they are my responsibility to do something about. I still cannot admit that they are things I can’t control in the way I believe everyone else does [insert maniacal laughter as everyone says ‘no one has it altogether!’]. My ‘failings’, my guilt, my own fault.
If there is a silver-lining I’m yet to find it. I knew my husband before I was diagnosed with bipolar and I am almost certain I wouldn’t have been as afraid as I was to embark on this love story of my life at 20. The relationships I have with my family now I could have had much sooner if I didn’t have bipolar screwing with my head and the wrong medications for me making me even more screwed up. I am positive that the relationship I had with my first husband would have stayed as a six week relationship and not been a ten year one that ended in divorce. I’m not saying that I wouldn’t have made mistakes, I’m not saying it would be all roses and Tiffany’s boxes. I just think without this added layer of complexity I would have been able to make better decisions that were true to me, that I wouldn’t have been afraid to listen to my inner voice that told me at the time to not go back to him, to go do the university course that I had had my heart set on. I can happily live without the physical and emotional scars that I carry from bipolar, I can live without their daily reminders of the hospitals, the mental health act sanctioning, the suicide watches. They are not something you chose to have in your life because they don’t make great conversation starters.
If I had one wish, I would wish that bipolar did not exist and life had its normal ups and downs that weren’t clouded with a disease that has no cure, that is misunderstood and that can take so much from you.
That is my wish.