It’s been a while since I’ve written a post about bipolar disorder.
As is known by my regular readers, anorexia has entirely dominated my life for the last year or so (and much of my life prior to this), so a lot of my focus recently has been documenting my relapse and subsequent recovery journey. My last bipolar episode was in 2018 and my mood has been largely stable since this time thanks to a combination of antipsychotics and mood stabilisers that have been tweaked many times over the years until we found the medications and dosages that kept me balanced. Currently, it is not having much of an impact on my life; if you are relatively new to this blog you might not have seen me discuss it at all.
However, I feel like I need to say something now. It has been a difficult week or so for those of us with this diagnosis, watching on as the world laughs and insults the high profile breakdown going on across various news outlets. We have seen the memes and the screenshots circulate on social media.
Yes, sometimes when unwell we can behave in a way that can appear strange to the outside world. Sometimes we might do things that are offensive or bizarre. When I am manic I too think I am the funniest, cleverest, most important person. I also think I deserve to be paid attention to and that I should get more credit for my ideas and projects, despite the fact that they might not make sense to you. They don’t make sense to you because you are not clever enough to understand them, my brain says to me.
Mania can make people say or do things that people looking on think are amusing, but there is nothing funny about this illness. Bipolar disorder is in a class of mental health problems referred to as ‘severe and enduring mental illness’. It is chronic and there is no cure. It has the highest suicide rate of all mental illnesses and people with this diagnosis have a lifespan of up to 20 years less than the average person. We often have to manage our symptoms with medications that can be harmful and come with debilitating side effects, and are left with the decision to either live with the symptoms of the illness or suffer through the effects of the drugs.
Yes, there are many of us who manage to get the right balance and can go long periods of time with our symptoms in remission. We can work and have families and do the same things as other people. But, although we are well on the surface, that doesn’t mean the illness isn’t having an impact any more. Because even when we are symptom free, that anxiety of wondering when our next episode will happen remains. It is difficult to try and get people who do not experience this to truly understand how it feels to be a victim to your own mind. To know that no matter what medication I take, or food I eat, or sleep I get, or exercise I do, that at some point my sanity will snap again and that it could be entirely without warning. How do you prevent something that sneaks up on you so quickly?
Mental illness isn’t pretty, and that’s the reality. We can’t just say ‘be kind’ when people are displaying symptoms that are palatable and socially acceptable, or easy to understand. Mental illness is not an excuse for our behaviour, but it can be the reason. The aftermath of a manic episode can sometimes feel as bad or worse than the episode itself. The horror at checking your bank balance. The cringing at looking back at what you have said. The hours spent trying to get your home and life back in order. The hangover from not sleeping for days that makes you feel like you’ve been run over.
I cannot even imagine how magnified this feeling must be knowing that the whole world has looked and watched your deterioration. Not only watched it, but mocked it. So while people are making screenshots and jokes, remember that everyone else with this diagnosis can hear you.
And we aren’t laughing.